During your stay in Japan, if you find yourself in the southern island of Kyushu, stopping into the city of Fukuoka. Fukuoka, found in the north of the island of Kyushu, sits in close proximity to both Taiwan and South Korea, making it an easy weekend trip for visitors from these two locations. While in Fukuoka, a piping hot bowl of ramen is a must. Here, we’ll give you the rundown on choosing the best ramen to suit your palate, in addition to providing a quick guide to some of the best spots in Fukuoka.
Every year, tourists make their way to Japan ready to dive into the finest of culinary experiences. Japanese food, known for its simple delicate taste, and attention to detail, is just as much about flavor as it is about presentation. A meal at a sushi restaurant embodies that image of subtlety and elegance often associated with Japanese food, but it’s good to get a taste of the other end of the spectrum. Enter ramen, a hearty soul food popular among students and office workers. There is an art to finding the perfect ramen. If you have only ever had cup ramen, having a bowl with fresh ingredients like roasted pork fillet, soup made in-house, and noodles rolled and cut by hand, is an experience that will blow your taste buds away.
When it comes to Japanese cuisine, different regions are known for their distinct flavors, and sampling the regional specialties across Japan is one of the most enjoyable parts of traveling the country. Fro example, it’s generally known that food in Kanto, the Tokyo region and its surrounding prefectures, is saltier and more concentrated in flavor than food in Kansai. The soup used in udon is one such example of the regional difference In Kantou, the broth used for udon is almost black in color and salty wereas a light, nearly clear broth is preferred in Kansai. Like all regions in Japan, people from Fukuoka infuse their food with flavors and balance made particular to their liking.
The Secret’s in the Soup: Broths used in Ramen
The soups used in ramen fall into four different categories: soy sauce, salt, miso and tonkotsu. Soy sauce and salt are simpler and lighter in flavor. At the other end of the spectrum, miso and tonkotsu are heavier and more concentrated. People from Fukuoka take great pride in their ramen, and even claim that the process of extracting the flavor from pork bones that is central to making tonkotsu broth, originated in Fukuoka. This rich stock is something that can be found in other Fukuoka delicacies. Motsunabe, another local speciality, is a hotpot dish made with stewed vegetables and tripe. The base for the hotpot is very similar to tonkotsu broth.
Ordering Your Ramen and Choosing the Firmness of Your Noodles
When you enter a ramen shop, you might notice there’s no cash register in many places. Instead, a small ticket vending machine, often including small pictures of each menu item, sits outside the building or inside near the entrance. The first thing you need to do is purchase a ticket. After purchasing the ticket, hand it to the the shop staff behind the counter.
From there, you get to choose the firmness of your noodles. While there are more options, here are your basics:
extra firm barikata
Most people tend to prefer firmer noodles because if the ramen is too soft to start, the noodles will absorb the broth and become soggy by the last few bites. In Fukuoka, where the tonkotsu broth is quite heavy, this is especially true. So to really get the local experience, have your tonkotsu ramen served up with kata or even barikata noodles.
You might also notice on your ramen excursion: slurping your noodles is totally acceptable in Japan! Don’t be surprised if you hear the sound of others eating in the shop, that’s just the sound of pure ramen joy.
Eating on a Budget: Second Helpings of Noodles, or, Kaedama
If you’re coming in for dinner after a long day of being outdoors or shopping in one of Fukuoka’s malls, maybe one bowl of ramen isn’t enough to leave you satisfied. For the hungry customer, a second helping of noodles is available at an incredibly low price. This service called kaedama, translates to changing the ball, the ball referring to the round shape created by one serving of noodles. So how much will kaedama set you back? Typically, a bowl of ramen costs between 500~1000yen. Asking for kaedama is only 50~100yen, literally 10% of the original price! Because ramen is so affordable, people from Fukuoka might have go out for ramen as often as once or twice a week. Domestic travelers will also come from as far north as Hokkaido just to sample this regional specialty.
Where to Go: Fukuoka’s Ramen Hotspots
So now that your palate is primed for a good ramen tasting, we’re giving you the top 3 ramen hotspots in Fukuoka. Boasting quality and variety, these locations are great if you want to see a spread of ramen restaurants before choosing.
1. Ramen Stadium in Canal City Hakata
Topping our list is Canal City Hakata’s Ramen Stadium. Located on the 5th floor of a large shopping mall, the Ramen Stadium offers 8 different restaurants each with a different flavor focus to choose from. To start, for a lighter ramen with plenty of fresh ingredients, we recommend Ganso Tomato Ramen Sanmi. This ramen, developed with the help of an Italian chef uses a tomato soup made in house with the freshest ingredients. Another recommendation would be Ramen Kurume Honda Shoten. This shop is known for its incredibly creamy soup, you’ll want to drink it down to the last drop.
Address: Fukuoka-ken Fukuoka-shi Hakata-ku Sumiyoshi 1-2
Website (only available in Japanese): https://canalcity.co.jp/ra_sta/
2. Ramen Street in Hakata Station
If you are coming in to Fukuoka by Shinkansen, you’ll be passing through Hakata Station. Upon arrival or before heading home, Ramen Street, located on the 2nd floor near the bullet train exit, is a great place to go for a quick bowl of Hakata Ramen. The station itself is a great sightseeing and shopping with three adjoining department stores, Hakata Hankyu, Hakata Marui, and Amu Plaza. Before leaving Fukuoka, we recommend grabbing a bite on the 2nd floor and then heading into a department to grab some regional souvenirs to complete your stay. The 12 restaurants found on Ramen Street are all popular and known by name among locals. Many of the restaurants here also offer more than just ramen. At restaurants Ikkousha and Nagahama No 1., patrons can have plates of steaming fried dumplings, called gyoza, served up alongside their ramen. At the Pikamatsu First, you can try other local noodle specialties, included sara udon (literally plated udon) and champon, another style of soup noodles with plenty of vegetables and seafood. We also recommend looking for awakei ramen（泡系）which has a signature frothy broth. Not only is this strip of restaurants close to public transport, it’s also open late! Some restaurants will keep their doors open as late as 24:00. (Please check individual restaurants for closing and last order time)
〒812-0012 Fukuoka-ken Fukuoka-shi Hakata-ku Hakata Station Chuo Machi 1-1 2F
Hours: 10:00-24:00 *Please note hours vary depending on restaurant.
3. Ramen Kassouro, or, the Ramen Runway, at Fukuoka Airport
Outside the Fukuokan Airport Digital Directory for the Ramen Runway
Finally, allow us to introduce the Ramen Runway. (No, there won’t be a fashion show…) Ramen Kassouro opened inside Domestic Terminal 3 in the Fukuoka Airport in November 2017. The concept for this hotspot was to bring together ramen restaurants hailing not only from Fukuoka, but to present a variety of options, celebrating ramen culture all across Japan. This strip of 9 stores is designed to look like an actual outdoor airport runway, and eating at Ramen Kassouro will help get you in the mood for takeoff. If you’re stopping here after having had your fill of the Fukuoka flavor, it might be worth exploring the two designated pop-up spots, featuring stores with interesting flavors and add-ins for the adventurous diner. The site (only available in Japanese, but includes pictures) lists the price of the most popular menu items for each store, which range from 600-1,000 JPY. After having your fill of ramen, you might also want to stop in the green tea drink and dessert shop, Saryo Itoen. Enjoy your bowl, then grab yourself a green tea latte before heading on to your next destination.
*Please note that this is only accessible through the domestic terminal. Fukuoka Airport runs a free shuttle bus, so if you plan to eat here and board an international flight, it is accessible, but make sure to plan for the extra time.
Address: 〒812-0003 Fukuoka-ken Fukuoka-shi Hakata-ku Shimosui 778-1 Domestic Terminal Building 3