The Birthplace of Tonkotsu Ramen
Fukuoka Prefecture is on the island of Kyushu in the southwest of Japan. Bordered by the sea on two sides and blessed with beautiful countryside, Fukuoka is known for its wide variety of local dishes. The most famous of these is tonkotsu ramen, a noodle dish popular with children and adults alike.
Tonkotsu ramen has a thick, creamy soup and ultra-thin noodles. As you slurp, the rich broth clings to the noodles and fills your mouth with umami flavor. Tonkotsu ramen is so popular, there are now restaurants serving this dish all over the world.
A Fine Soup for Fine Noodles
Tonkotsu ramen was invented around 70 years ago in Kurume City, Fukuoka. According to the tale, the distinctive milky broth was an accidental discovery, made by a food stall owner who over-boiled his soup. Instead of the usual clear soup, he ended up with a thick, creamy broth, but one taste of this delicious concoction was enough to convince him to sell it at the stall. Word soon spread, and it wasn’t long before other stalls started cooking up the delicious soup.
The secret to tonkotsu soup lies in the ingredients and the boiling. Each ramen chef has their own recipe to create their own unique flavor, maybe adding vegetables to the process, or keeping the soup on a rolling boil for days.
The super-fine noodles of tonkotsu ramen are another feature of this dish. Food stalls in Nagahama in Fukuoka City began using thin noodles as a way to quickly serve the busy fishermen working at the nearby fish market. Thin noodles need less time to cook, so they could serve the workers faster, but they also turn mushy if left in the soup for too long. Stall owners got around this by serving smaller portions and offering a noodle refill, or kaedama, to customers who still had soup left at the end of the meal.
You can also choose the firmness of your noodles from soft to very firm. But not many locals choose soft: for the people of Fukuoka, the firmer the better.
Eat and Meet at the Fukuoka Food Stalls
When the sun goes down, Fukuoka’s cities are lit with the red lanterns of Japanese food stalls. Hakata is one of these cities, and while you can try everything from yakitori to oden, tonkotsu ramen is the most common dish served.
Restaurants and stalls usually have a selection of free toppings like pickled ginger, sesame and spicy takana pickles to switch up the flavor. A little is good, but don’t add too much or you’ll spoil all that hard work.
The stalls are closely packed and cozy, making it easy to strike up a conversation with your neighbor. Sampling the friendly Fukuoka atmosphere alongside a hot bowl of tonkotsu ramen is the best way to enjoy this dish.