One of the most exciting things about ramen is that you can really delve in and start getting to know the regional varieties that make this iconic noodle dish so special. Variations in broth, noodles, and toppings make every bowl unique. What better way to do that than visiting some of Japan’s special ramen towns? These five areas have been recognized as culinary hubs with countless ramen shops to visit and enjoy. Get ready to experience some of Japan’s best ramen.
Considered to be one of the original styles of ramen, Tokyo is a central fixture when looking at the history of ramen in Japan. For this reason, you’ll find some of the oldest ramen shops across the country located right in the capital, as well as some of the most famous chefs! There’s a lot of competition on the Tokyo ramen scene, meaning there’s plenty of fantastic ramen to enjoy right across the city, from hole-in-the-wall joints outside major train stations to bigger establishments that have taken their expertise internationally. Tokyo ramen has Chinese origins when immigrants in the 1900s would create their favorite noodle dishes from home; this recipe was adapted and developed into the Tokyo ramen we know today. Tokyo specializes in shoyu (soy sauce) based ramen which heavily uses dashi for that rich umami flavor as well as chicken, pork, or vegetable stock. Contrasting the rich, dark color of the broth you can expect to find an array of colorful toppings like chopped scallion, sliced pork, menma (bamboo shoots). Other typical treats include a creamy soy-marinated soft boiled egg and a slice of nori (seaweed) on the side. Get ready to fall in love with Tokyo ramen, the only trouble will be choosing which restaurant.
What better to warm up with during Hokkaido’s snowy winters than a bowl of hot ramen? Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, is famous for its rich miso ramen which typically features medium thick wavy noodles and hearty chicken or pork. Although a relatively new addition to the Sapporo ramen scene as this particular style of miso ramen was only introduced in the 1950s, it has become very much synonymous with the city and you won’t have trouble finding a bowl to sink into. Sapporo miso ramen is typically topped with sweet corn, butter, bean sprouts, finely chopped pork, and garlic. Occasionally you’ll find local seafood such as scallop, squid, and crab toppings too. Unlike many other ramen styles, the ingredients are stir-fried and cooked with the broth before being topped with noodles. Finally, a layer of hot lard is often added at the end to keep the soup underneath steaming hot for as long as possible. This ramen dish will keep you warm and full while exploring everything that Sapporo has to offer.
Considered one of Japan’s three major ramen noodle dynasties, alongside Sapporo and Hakata ramen, there’s no shortage of ramen shops to enjoy in this western corner of Fukushima Prefecture. In fact, the ratio of ramen shops to people is one of the highest in the country since ramen is a typical breakfast staple in Kitakata! One of the most unique things about this ramen dish is the noodles. Considered to be a Chinese style of noodle, the texture is firmer, wider, flatter and curlier than your typical ramen noodle. You’ll find they are more slippery than standard noodles, making this a particularly fun ramen to slurp down quickly! Kitakata ramen typically uses a shoyu (soy source) base with pork and niboshi (dried sardine) broth but this can vary dramatically from shop to shop. The water used comes from nearby Mount Iide which adds to the delicacy of the flavor. On top, you can expect to find generous servings of chashu (barbecued pork belly), chopped scallion and bamboo shoots.
Head right to the southernmost island of Kyushu to try this creamy specialty. In the Hakata district of Fukuoka, you can try their namesake Hakata Ramen, a form of tonkotsu ramen, which has been making waves on the culinary scene both locally and internationally. The signature milky white broth is made from pork bones which are boiled for many hours on high heat creating a thick consistency and cloudy appearance. The broth is paired with thin noodles which can be served in five different levels of firmness for a bit more bite or a softer noodle style, if you choose. It’s also perfectly acceptable to order a second helping of noodles to go with your broth, something which is generally not encouraged in other ramen towns. This is because the noodles are so thin that they absorb the broth quickly and become soft, so it’s better to eat them quickly and add more! In terms of toppings, Hakata ramen is quite minimal with some chopped scallion and sliced pork but you can often add other toppings like soft-boiled eggs. You can also try Nagahama Ramen which originated at the same time in Fukuoka. It’s very similar but is certainly interesting to compare the two!
Local to Hiroshima, Onomichi ramen is a delicate and refreshing ramen loaded with flavor. Made with a shoyu base using chicken bones and small fish from the Seto Inland Sea, you’ll notice two things that define this ramen. First are the floating seabura which are silky chunks of back fat, which infuse the light broth with hits of flavor. For this reason, you’ll find this ramen is served very hot and it’s best to enjoy it that way. Secondly, you’ll find springy flat noodles made from wheat in this style of ramen which absorb all of that delicious soup and make this a particularly hearty dish. Toppings typically include scallions, roast pork, and bamboo shoots but you’ll find variations across the different ramen shops.