Ramen is a popular noodle dish in Japan. The soups vary greatly, and are the chefs' closely guarded secrets. This particular ramen shop in Omiya had been opened as part of a TV competition to find the region's best ramen chef.
First prize in the competition was the restaurant, and a points board outside keeps track of who is selling the most ramen. Each chef was responsible for one flavour of soup. As there were four of us, we tried one of each. Each bowl of ramen cost ¥630, or ¥730 with egg added.
醤油ラーメン - Shoyu Ramen
Originating in Yokohama's Chinatown as "Tang Mein", Shoyu (Soya Sauce) Ramen became popular in Tokyo when the first dedicated ramen restaurant was opened in Asakusa in 1911. It caught on quickly, and within a few years ramen chefs around the country were experimenting with their own variations, swapping the pork soup stock for chicken or fish. The classic ramen remains pork stock based, with a slice or two of Chasiu (Chinese Roast Pork) floating on top.
味噌ラーメン - Miso Ramen
Sapporo, 1954. Ramen Chef Morita Omiya sought to create a unique taste, different than the shoyu ramen everyone else was serving, but familiar and appealing to Japanese tastebuds. Thus was born Miso (soyabean paste) Ramen, originally associated with Sapporo, now popular worldwide.
塩ラーメン - Shio Ramen
Originating in Hakodate, Shio (salt) Ramen is the simplest and lightest of the popular variations. It's recent popularity is associated with its repuation as a healthy alternative to the other flavours, especially if the Chasiu is left out.
とんこつラーメン - Tonkotsu Ramen
Tonkotsu (pork bone) Ramen is said to have been invented by accident in 1937, when a chef in Kurume city, Fukuoka left the soup simmering too long, and the pork bones disintegrated becoming part of the soup. Luckily he tasted it before tipping it out, and a new flavour of Ramen was born. Other areas of Kyushu adapted the Tonkotsu soup in their own way, nearby Hakata (across the river from downtown Fukuoka city) becoming famous for its unique blend of thin Taiwanese noodles and Tonkotsu soup.
Although the shop in Omiya served Tonkotsu Ramen, our JR Railpass also took us as far as Hakata station one lunchtime to try the real thing at this shop recommended by a friend from Fukuoka. The ramen here cost just ǂ for plain tonkotsu ramen, or Ͱ with Chasiu (roast pork).