We were on a mission to find Japan's best ramen. And because I'm a food freak, that means if it takes a one-hour train trip and a four kilometre walk in the winter rain to slurp noodles in the birthplace of tonkotsu, that's what we do (I'm not always this demanding, I promise). From Fukuoka we jumped aboard a train to Kurume, where the first pot of rich, thick and iconic tonkotsu pork ramen was supposedly first created. Our destination was Taiho Ramen, a 60-year-old ramen shop owned by second-generation ramen master, Katsuki Hitoshi, aka the 'Ramen Samurai'. Katsuki gained this moniker from promoting the craft of tonkotsu beyond Fukuoka and throughout the country. While we didn't get a chance to meet Katsuki in person, we did see the Taihou staff making ramen an art in their open kitchen.
The chewy, handmade noodles are dunked in the boiling water for mere minutes before being thrown in the air and into the bowl.
She's not pretty, but this heady broth, rich with pork fat is cooked for more than 18 hours to get their signature flavour.
This was their traditional mukashi ramen, known as 'old-fashioned ramen'. Taiho also proudly boast about having used the same pot to make the broth since they opened in 1953. They claim it has never been emptied, so each bowl still contains some of that original 60-year-old master stock. Delicious. Our historic bowl of mukashi ramen was topped with crisp nori, a scattering of scallions, bamboo shoots, pickled ginger (a Fukuoka speciality), rich and fatty roasted pork, a gooey boiled egg and *dun dun dun dahhhh*crumbly bits of crispy pork lard. A little OTT on the animal fat, potentially, but the flavour was the richest, most satisfying I have tasted in all of Japan. And when it's freezing cold outside, and you've just made your partner walk through the rain to feed your ramen nerdiness, this steaming soup makes it totally worth it.
11-8 Tōrihokamachi, Kurume-shi,
Fukuoka-ken 830-0005, Japan
Open: 11am to midnight
Images: Leigh Griffiths
Words: Eloise Basuki
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