Grilled as you like it

Ippudo ramen in Hakata June 26, 2010

Filed under: Eating,Japan,Travel — laurel @ 4:10 pm
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Ippudo’s honten kasane aji ramen

After Beppu we were off to Nagasaki, but not before changing trains in Fukuoka/Hakata. It was around dinner time, so we decided to try one more time to find the Ippudo Honten. Ramen is one of my favorite foods when traveling in Japan for many reasons. First of all, it’s hard to mess it up, so wherever you find a ramen shop, you are almost sure to find a good meal. It’s also filling yet affordable. And finally, it’s one of those foods that will be hard to find once we go back to America, so we had better enjoy it while we can. Ippudo is a famous chain of Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen shops, and we often stop in at their Ueno location for lunch when we’re on the way to the airport.

I had read in the Japan Times that the original shop has a honten-only tonkotsu made with additions of caramelized onions and chicken broth that sounded worth searching out.

We already knew where one location in the Tenjin district was, so we stopped in there to get directions to the honten.

the hand-lettered menu

Hakata pork bun: a quick and cheap snack

They directed us a few blocks down the way. We found this location. The long line of guidebook-in-hand customers snaking out the door was a good sign that we were on the right track…

…but the fact that the shop had two stories should have been a dead giveaway that this couldn’t be the original shop! When it was our turn to be seated, the host kindly told us that we were in the wrong place and showed us a small map to the honten that was affixed to the outside wall of the restaurant (but obscured by the long line of customers). The real honten was actually still a block away.

Ippudo Honten

Aha! Finally, we found it on the third try. Of course there was a line here too, and this location was much smaller, so it wasn’t moving as quickly. We were starting to feel pretty hungry, but we were inside soon enough.

bowls waiting to be filled with ramen goodness

help yourself to some pickles

hitokuchi (one bite) gyoza

Of course, we had to get the honten kasane aji ramen since it was what we had come all this way for. We also got an order of hitokuchi gyoza to snack on. The honten kasane aji ramen came topped with not just onions, soft-boiled eggs, nori, and charshu pork slices, but also sliced vegetables, naruto (fish cake) and mini wontons. Don’t make the mistake of ordering your soup and noodles “futsuu” (average); instead I always ask the waiter “osusume wa?” (what do you recommend) and get it that way. This is how I learned to order the noodles on the hard side. The noodles continue to cook in the hot ramen broth, so they’ll be too soft and plump by the time you’re finished if they’re already average to begin with. So what’s the verdict on honten kasane aji ramen? I think it was indisputably worth the trouble.

I love the slogan on the staff T-shirts: your happiness of eating this ramen makes us happy

While you’ll have to go to Hakata to try the honten kasane aji ramen, you can enjoy Ippudo’s other ramens (I recommend the akamaru) here in Gunma at their new(ish) Takasaki location:
群馬県高崎市上大類町809番地1号 | Gunma-ken, Takasaki-shi, Kamioorui-machi 809-1


Silver Week in Kyushu: Hakata/Fukuoka June 19, 2010

Filed under: Eating,Four seasons in Japan,Japan,Travel — laurel @ 11:25 pm
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Fukuoka’s yatai street

September in Japan has the public holidays Respect for the Aged Day and the Autumnal Equinox. Respect for the Aged Day always falls on a Monday, while the Autumnal Equinox always falls on September 23rd. If, by a quirk of the calendar, there is only one day in between them, a new holiday called Kokumin-no-hi (People of the Nation’s Day) is created. Well, last year, just such a day occurred. Like Golden Week in the spring, many people used this extra-long holiday (which became known as Silver Week) as an opportunity to travel. We took Thursday and Friday off too and took a whirlwind tour of Kyushu.

First off, we flew into Fukuoka, which is also known as Hakata. They used to be two cities but are now one. It seems that they haven’t been able to settle on a name yet (Officially it’s Fukuoka, but the train station is Hakata). We had an afternoon to see the city before heading off to the hot spring town of Beppu.

A very narrow building along the river

We caught a bus to get to an area called Bayside Place. Wikitravel had recommended it as a good place to go for a date… well, not so much. As far as we could tell it was closed for renovations… or maybe just closed. The Hakata Port Tower is in the same area, so we went up to the top for the view. After enjoying the scenery we came back down and walked back to the downtown area.

Now we were getting hungry. Since we were in the Tenjin area, we stopped into an Ippudo Ramen that we passed, seeing if it was the honten (original store). It was not, so we appeased our stomachs with a Hakata pork bun before heading back out in search of food.

Hakata pork buns

waiting for a seat to open up at a yatai

Hakata/Fukuoka is known for it’s yatai, which are open air food stands like the ones you see at festivals. We went walking along the yatai street at Nakasu looking for something to eat. It was really crowded, so we found one where the wait seemed reasonable and enjoyed a bowl of Tonkotsu ramen. Tonkotsu is Hakata’s famous style of ramen made with a thick, white, pork bone broth, thin noodles, and slices of pork.

tonkotsu ramen

After dinner we went walking through the colorful Canal City shopping center before catching our train.

Canal City

Canal City

See more from Fukuoka at Alex’s photoblog


Ivan Ramen May 22, 2010

Filed under: Eating,Japan — laurel @ 10:07 pm
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shoyu ramen

On my second try I made it to Ivan Ramen, the Tokyo ramen shop owned by transplanted New York chef Ivan Orkin that has received lots of favorable attention from both bloggers and newspapers such as The Japan Times and even New York Times. So why was it my second try? Well, the first time I went, I showed up in time for dinner on a Saturday, only to find that they’re only open for lunch on weekends. So next time I was in Tokyo I was sure to get there at lunchtime. And I wasn’t the only one. There was a line of hungry customers stretching back into the adjacent alley. As we waited for a seat at the cozy counter inside, we passed around a menu to whet our appetites. With just 10 seats around the bar, it was sure to be a long wait, and my stomach was really rumbling by the end.

Once seated, I ordered the slow-roasted garlic mazemen and Alex got the shoyu ramen. We also split the roasted tomato meshi, which was more food than we needed, but it looked so good that I really wanted to try it. Ivan was really friendly, chatting with us while he made our ramen.

slow roasted garlic mazemen with everything (charshu, hanjuku tamago, onions, and ao-nori)

Mmm… A taste of these delicious dishes revealed that it was worth the wait, but next time I think I’ll try to show up a little earlier to beat the crowd.

roasted tomato meshi


Honke Daiichiasahi Takabashi Honten Ramen March 8, 2010

Filed under: Eating,Japan,Travel — laurel @ 9:53 pm
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Next stop: dinner. I found a recommendation for Daiichiasahi Honten ramen near Kyoto Station in Meets Regional’s Best Guide of Kyoto. The ramen is topped with sprouts, negi, and charshu in a shoyu broth. The shop is your typical, fluorescent-lit, sparely decorated ramen joint. Sitting at the counter, we could watch the chefs filling bowls with topping, boiling noodles to order, and tending to a giant cauldron of broth on the back burner.

We split an order of gyoza too. The super-thin skins and golden sear on these were near perfection.

We got there in time to beat the crowd (though it was nearly 10:00 pm), but there was a growing line by the time we left.  A line out the door is a good sign that the ramen inside is worth waiting for.

Of course, Daiichiasahi isn’t the only good ramen in town. In fact, Shinpukusaikan Honten next door was also good enough to merit mention in the Best Guide of Kyoto, but they were closing up shop by the time we got there, so the choice was easy.

Goodnight Kyoto


Ichiran Ramen September 28, 2008

Filed under: Eating,Japan,Travel — laurel @ 12:02 am
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After our trip to Yokohama Chinatown, we returned to Tokyo. We did some shopping in the sporting goods district in the Jimbocho area. We returned to Ueno station and had time to grab a bowl of ramen for dinner before we had to catch our train home. We went to Ichiran, a well known ramen shop that specializes in tonkotsu, Kyushu’s rich pork broth for ramen. The chain is based in Hakata, the home of tonkotsu.

At the door, you tell the hostess how many seats you’ll need at the counter while you buy your tickets for your ramen and toppings. The seating area is actually a long counter with individual “stalls” to provide customers with some privacy from the patrons to their right and left while they eat. After you’re seated, you fill out a sheet with options to personalize your ramen: how rich do you like your broth, how spicy, a lot of onion or a little, how well done do you like your noodles, and so on. You place your sheet and meal tickets on the bar in front of you, and a server comes to the other side of the counter and takes your tickets. A few minutes later, you recieve a steaming bowl of ramen prepared to your specifications. Since you’ve already payed, just eat and leave when you’re finished. Someone will probably be waiting to take your seat as soon as you stand up.

The menu is fairly bare bones: it’s pretty much just the bowl of ramen and some optional add-ins such as a soft boiled egg, kikurage (wood ear mushrooms), extra pork, extra noodles, and some drinks. What they lack in variety they make up for in quality. I really recommend the soft-boiled egg (han-yude tamago), which is cooked just right here. Alex got the kikurage with his ramen, which is pictured above. The broth is rich, creamy, and flavorful and the noodles are tasty too. If you have an average apetite, this bowl of ramen will surely fill you up, and if you eat more than the average Joe, you can order extra noodles. If you’re sensitive to spice like me, look out for the chili sauce that you can add to the broth: it’s hot!

The restaurant is located in the Ueno Station building, so it was really convenient for us to grab a quick dinner here before heading home. If you find yourself in Ueno with some time to spare, I recommend you check out Ichiran for a bowl of delicious tonkotsu ramen. It’s even open 24 hours a day, how convenient!


Ueno Ramen April 26, 2008

Filed under: Eating,Japan,Travel — laurel @ 7:43 pm
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D wanted to be sure to try some real ramen while he was visiting Japan (none of that instant stuff), so a few hours before it was time to go home, we found a nice little ramen joint in Ueno. I’m pretty sure it’s called Himuro. They serve a Hokkaido style miso ramen, shio ramen, shoyu ramen, and kimchi ramen. That’s the kimchi ramen in the picture above, and miso ramen with extra charshu pork below. It comes with a few slices of char-shu pork, menma (pickled bamboo shoots), sprouts, nori or wakame, and green onions. You can also add a hardboiled egg or a few other toppings for a bit extra. We ordered the miso ramen, kimchi ramen, and some gyoza. The ramen is salty, flavorful, and filling. The hardboiled eggs were a little inconsistent, with one being a bit on the overdone side. We really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere and the friendly staff here too.

On Saturday afternoon, it was hopping, but we liked it so much we came back later with T and my dad on Monday and enjoyed a more leisurely lunch. This time I tried the shio ramen, which was garnished with lots of ground sesame. You can also order any flavor “big size” but I don’t think I would need to since the regular size is pretty filling. After we finished our lunch, T gazed longingly at the giant bowls for the “big size” portions and said, “I think I should have gotten one of those…”

mmm… ramen…