What to eat at Japan’s Ramen Stadium

Ever since I began working at the Japanese noodle chain Ippudo
many years ago, I’ve been fascinated by porky tonkotsu ramen. I
regularly crave its salty twang. It’s easy to fall in love with
this noodle soup. Its firm noodles, rich meaty broth, and the rush
of MSG that comes with it inspire something between foodie devotion
and chemical dependence. Hoping to fuel my ramen obsession even
further, I began scheming a pilgrimage to Fukuoka, Japan, where the
pork-bone style of ramen originated. When an old friend from my
time at Ippudo told me that he was going to be in Kyushu, I decided
that it was finally time to visit. I told him to meet me at Ramen
Stadium.

Ramen Stadium is
located on the top floor of the Canal City, a
massive shopping and entertainment complex in Hakata, near the
Nakasu “Entertainment District” of Fukuoka. Hakata is an
amalgamation of bars and a red-light district — and it is also
the spiritual home of tonkotsu ramen, a warming antidote to
Hakata’s vices. World famous ramen chains Ichiran, Shin-Shin, and
my former employer, Ippudo, all started in Hakata so this stadium
isn’t just another food hall gimmick. It functions more as an
appropriate and convenient corral for Japan’s best noodles.

I arrived at 11:00 AM and checked into the Grand Hyatt. Staying
at the Grand Hyatt is ideal if you plan on making multiple visits
to Ramen Stadium, because it’s directly connected to Canal City.
The front side of the hotel leads directly to the yatai (street
food BBQ) stalls of Nakasu, while the back leads into Ramen
Stadium.

Every hour the fountain show begins in Canal City and shoppers
congregate by the arena-like Center Walk. A different song
accompanies each show with a sequence of water jets programmed to
dance to the music. The set list ranges from “Ride of the
Valkyries” to an elevator music treatment of
“Obla-Di-Obla-Da.” Every morning, the festivities kick off with
“Pomp and Circumstance” at 11:00 AM. This is the song that
alerts us that Canal City is now open for business.

You can easily spend a full 24 hours exploring Canal City, so
that’s exactly what I decided to do. First stop: ramen, of
course.

Each stall of the eight stalls in Ramen Stadium has a vending
machine at the entrance from which you order your meal, and a host
clamoring for your attention, hoping you’ll choose their shop
over the others. These good people will help you figure out how to
work the vending machine if this is your first time ordering lunch
from such an apparatus. Don’t forget your receipt and change. The
receipt is your meal ticket.

I first spot the most famous stall here: Hide-Chan. It’s one
of Hakata’s most renowned tonkotsu ramen shops. Most guidebooks
point visitors to Hide-Chan above all other stalls, and the lines
prove it, but I was more excited about tasting something new.
Hide-Chan has great ramen, but the rest of these ramen shops are
Japan-only experiences. You can get a solid bowl of miso ramen from
Sapporo Daichi, for instance. This style of ramen is loaded with
smoky chashu (roast pork loin) and a particularly gooey soft-boiled
egg.

However, Ramen Kentaro, which can be easily located by a sign
that says “Umami” next to the Japanese characters, turned out
to be my most memorable meal. Before the bowl arrives, you’re
offered a smaller bowl filled with concentrated dashi (seaweed and
anchovy stock) to taste. Save the dashi to add to the ramen when it
arrives. If you really want to punch up the flavor, add some of its
chili laced umami garlic paste. A little scoop of this dressing
changes the bowl from subtle to sensational. The noodles here were
the most delicate that we tried, and the toppings include a grating
of fresh yuzu citrus to help keep this the most refreshing bowl in
the complex.

Finally getting a bit sick of pork, I finished the day off at
Fukuoka-based Gasnotomato Ramen Sanmi, which creates a tomato based
soup for its ramen and offers a blanket of shaker Grana Padano
cheese on top for a small additional charge. It’s the most
divergent of the eight ramen vendors, but the flavors will be
familiar for ramen lovers. The flavor resembles a tomato-shio (salt
broth) stock than a hearty tomato sauce. Because the red broth
stains a lot more than a classic tonkotsu, Gansotomato thoughtfully
provides bibs.

Between shopping, eating, and relaxing, I stumble upon an
adorable performance from local J-pop girl group Dream Mate. I put
down the chopsticks to go take a look, and I wasn’t alone. Tween
shoppers dropped their bags and smooshed up to the stage on the
ground floor. It recalled my ‘80s childhood, when malls mattered
enough to be the backdrop for MTV music videos starring the peppy
Tiffany. After catching half of a set from Dream Mate, I decide to
wind the evening down at the mall’s Welcome Center, which has a
bar that serves flights of local shochu and craft beer.

My second morning at Canal City feels like a recurring dream.
“Pomp and Circumstance” plays again and I ascend from the first
floor hotel to the fifth floor, where I will recieve my morning
ramen bowls. I’m meeting my old friend from Ippudo and I want to
keep the ramen classic as possible. We work up an appetite with a
few games drumming along to
Taiko no Tatsujin
at the stadium’s Taito Station arcade, then
it’s ramen time once again.

Locals Nagahama Number One and Ramen Jinabo are excellent
examples of Hakata-style ramen, each with its own personality. The
former had extra fine noodles and a richer broth than the others,
while the latter contained a deep flavor of wood-ear mushrooms to
help add an earthy balance to the pork broth. We split bowls, which
all of the shops happily accommodate, and then we split hairs over
the finer points of these Hakata classics. Jinabo had the more
balanced broth, but Nagahama’s noodles gave it a boost. I insist
that my friend tries the exquisite yuzu-laced ramen from Kentaro
that I enjoyed so much the day before. Like any food destination,
Ramen Stadium is twice as fun when you get to guide another excited
eater through each vendor.

Canal City is a bubble. Even after only one day, I’m used to
its comforts. I fear that the outside world will be cold, dry, and
tasteless without Ramen Stadium. However, other taste temptations
from one of Japan’s best food cities beckon. Melt-in-your-mouth
intestine hot pot (motsunabe), fluffy omelettes stuffed with spicy
cod roe, and the city’s signature one-bite gyoza are all must-try
fare. Checking out from the Hyatt is bittersweet, but after six
bowls in twenty-four hours, it’s time to eat something, anything,
besides ramen.

The post 24
hours inside the Fukuoka Ramen Stadium
appeared first on
Matador Network.

Source: FS – All-Travel destinations-News2
What to eat at Japan’s Ramen Stadium