Monday, November 9, 2009
The Fukuoka Ramen Stadium
Fukuoka, Hakata is the heart of ramen country. Hakata is the land that gave birth to tonkotsu ramen, the whitish ramen made from pork bones that proudly considers lard a seasoning and is of the belief that not finishing the broth at the bottom of a bowl of ramen is a direct insult to the chef. This isn't broth that is meant to keep the noodles warm while you eat them, this is broth that stands up and demands you notice it. This is broth that can lay you out. Making tonkotsu ramen is a complicated affair, with many shops spending two days on each batch, taking small amounts from the stock at different times during the process to end up with a final batch of complexly-layered and impossibly rich soup.
Therefore, it's no surprise that Fukuoka took umbrage at Yokohama's Raumen Museum and decided make a ramen stadium of their own, complete with a gift shop and educational displays. Located in the heart of the largest and most soulless malls I've seen yet in Japan--Canal City, the ambiance isn't particularly appetizing but it is conducive to shopping.
Not being able to pass up the chance to go to my third ramen museum in three weeks, I headed straight into Canal City after waking up. Luckily, because I'm unemployed, I don't wake up until after 11. By the time I got there it was lunchtime, but the stadium was fairly empty. The stadium had ramen shops from all over Japan, but I decided to try a ramen hailing from Kyushu, the prefecture that Hakata is part of, primarily because it has the highest fat content available in a ramen. When in Rome, as they say.
I can't pretend that seeing chunks of lard floating in my soup didn't make me squirm a bit, but within moments I was nearly unable to move, sedated by the tonkotsu as effectively as if I had been hit with a tranquilizer dart. A good bowl of ramen can take a lot out of you. Angel-hair thin noodles, a few fried onions, pork like there was no tomorrow, who could complain?
Although I had the option to add more noodles to the remaining broth to help it go down more gently, I declined and set off to the gift shop where I purchased my second ramen-themed Hello Kitty notebook, a ramen mug and a box of instant ramen from one of the famed Japan ramen houses. Ramen chefs are like celebrity wrestlers, they stare out at you menacingly from the front of the boxes with arms crossed, daring you to mess with them. Ramen is men's work, it seems. As I've yet to finish a “large” bowl of ramen—they come in two sizes, the large one goes for 100 yen more but is twice the size—I can't really dispute this, it's a man's world out there.