Thursday 13 September 2018

How to Eat Ramen in Fukuoka, Japan

On this trip I'm being assisted by the Japan National Tourist Organisation.

I arrived in Japan yesterday by ferry from Busan, South Korea, and one of the first things I did was eat ramen. Fukuoka is famous for its particular style of the noodle dish, known as Hakata ramen after its most historic district.

The best place to go for the real thing is Ichiran, a ramen chain which has outlets dotted across the city. I found one in an underground food hall near Hakata train station.

There's a little bit of self-education required so you can order, but there's English language signage so it's not too difficult. 

The first thing you see upon entry is this vending machine:

If you have a closer look, you can find an array of choices beyond the basic ramen dish. 

Note that there's no credit card option here. Japan is still a cash-oriented society for small purchases like this, so you'll need to have cash ready. The machine very efficiently accepts notes and coins.

I ordered the ramen and their special vinegar. I could have added lots of toppings to that, and maybe a beer or a tea, but I wanted to keep things simple on my first try. And that came out to 1,010 yen (A$12.60), which was easy to produce as a 1000 yen note and a ten yen coin.

It's worth noting at this point that even without adding an extra order of pork slices on top, this is not a vegetarian dish. The broth which is the foundation of Hakata ramen is made by boiling pork bones, which is what gives it its characteristic taste. I'm usually vegetarian, but today I was being 'flexitarian' for research purposes.

The machine spits out some tickets, and you take these with you into the dining area, which is a compact space of private alcoves - one per diner:

Once seated, you'll find a form in front of you which is to be filled out with the provided pen, allowing you to tailor your dish in a number of ways from noodle firmness to level of spiciness:

When this is completed, You press a button on the table top, and a partly concealed staff member behind the screen takes the tickets and your order preferences. Once cooked, it's delivered to your table via the same gap, and the curtain is then drawn down.

There's another form on the table for extras which you can order while eating - an extra serve of noodles to dunk into the soup, for example - but otherwise you're all set. You have ramen!

Hot, tasty, Hakata ramen...

Who's hungry?

You can find Ichiran outlets at its English-language website.

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