Hakata’s ramen speciality is tonkotsu. Take a load of pork bones, collagen and fat, boil it for days, add some stock, there’s your soup. Chuck in very thin noodles, pork belly slices, little mushrooms called kikurage, pick the extras, and you’re ready to slurp. But every ramen place tastes different, and it’s not just the toppings. Bubbling up in the piggy graveyard pile of fat and bones and odds and ends, there’s a precise and secret recipe. A good tonkotsu soup has the depth of flavour to bemuse the pallet of a wine taster.
There’s so many tonkotsu places here, even a “Raumen Stadium” at the top of Canal City, our biggest shopping centre, that you never need go somewhere twice. But you will because, with every slurp, your appreciation for the strange and complex mysteries of bone soup will deepen and you’ll judge each place in two regards: “Never coming here again” and “Definitely coming back.”
I’ve never tried bad ramen, just bland, but that’s the worst of crimes in tonkotsu world. No second chances, no reprieves. There’s always somewhere nice you just walked past the other day that you can try instead. At the Stadium it’s cut throat. Customers can rate their food and service on quick review slips, and if results are mediocre they get the boot and someone else moves in.
The perfect ramen. I’ve been close but never found the peak. How to choose? Some follow their nose, but I’m a sucker for black bowls and half-boiled eggs. I ticked all the places with pretty pictures in Ramen Walker and cycled, sometimes for hours, to chase tonkotsu nirvana. But no matter how delicious, there’s still the doubt that somewhere–perhaps the one you eyed the other day–a better broth is lurking. All noodle lovers chase a ramen-on-a-stick. We’ll never find the perfect, and hope secretly we won’t, because then our journey would be over. If you’re just starting your journey then good luck, don’t use too much takana, and if you’re out of noodles but still hungry, just wave ¥100 and shout, “Kaedama kudasai!”