Kurume, Japan: The Birthplace of Tonkotsu Ramen

In 2016, I visited the city of Kurume, Japan, located in the southwestern island of Kyushu.  Kurume is notable for two major contributions to the Japanese economy: Bridgestone, the world’s largest tire and rubber company, and tonkotsu ramen.

I guess that’s why the noodles were so chewy.

Vocab check– the word tonkotsu literally translates as “pork bone,” with ton 豚 meaning pig, and 骨 kotsu bone.

A little backstory: it is said that in 1937, the owner of a street stall (屋台 やたい yatai) called 南京千両 (nankin senryou) – named for the Chinese city of Nanjing – wanted to combine the flavors of a a stir-fried ramen dish called champon from his hometown of Nagasaki with the trendy at-that-time dish of “Chinese soba.”  This became the first Kurume-style ramen.

However, the peculiar aspect of tonkotsu ramen isn’t the ingredients so much as the broth.  A few years after the Kurume-style ramen was created, the owner of another Kurume yatai called 三九 (sankyuu, like “thank you”) accidentally turned up the heat too high while preparing the soup.  In essence, the collagen-rich parts of the pig – e.g. its trotters and neck bones – formed a gelatin which led to the whiter, silkier, and cloudier qualities that distinguish Kurume tonkotsu ramen from most other varieties.

Sculpture Representing the Birthplace of Tonkotsu Ramen
Sculpture Representing Yatai in the Birthplace of Tonkotsu Ramen, Kurume, Japan

If you’re a seasoned ramen consumer, you may also know that Kyushu is famous for Hakata ramen and Nagahama ramen, two styles which originated in the island’s largest city of Fukuoka.  Though the Fukuoka types have adopted Kurume’s broth, there is a significant difference as to how Kurume’s ramen is prepared.

Piping-Hot Bowl of Kurume Ramen, JapanKurume-Style Ramen, Japan

Firstly, Kurume, chefs use a broad-rimmed cooking pot called a 羽釜 (はがま hagama), and reuse the broth.  In Fukuoka, the apparatus is a 寸胴鍋 (ずんどうなべ zundou nabe), or a stockpot, and the broth is not recycled.  Thus, the intensity of the flavor of Kurume’s pork bone broth is stronger.

Moreover, whereas the ramen for both Kurume and Fukuoka have a low water content, Kurume generally has thicker noodles as compared to the latter.

Especially when the weather is colder, writing about ramen warms me up, and makes me excited to attempt to sample all different types of regional ramen available in Japan.

Have you tried Kurume-style ramen?  If so, are you a fan of the unique broth?

Tokushima Ramen (徳島ラーメン)

Located on Shikoku, the smallest of the four primary islands of Japan, Tokushima is a small seaside city best known for a 400-year old dance called the Awa Odori, an historic indigo trade, a citrus fruit known as sudachi, and Tokushima Ramen (徳島ラーメン).

Tokushima ramen may not be one of the better known bowls of noodles throughout Japan, having only been popularized at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum in 1999.  It’s saltier and sweeter than the average Japanese ramen, generally has thin and soft noodles, and unbeknownst to me at the time, comes in three different types of broth.

Tokushima Ramen at 麺王

The most common broth is brown, using tonkotsu (豚骨), or pork bone broth, and a darker soy sauce.  Fried pork, spring onions, and a raw egg (already mixed-in in my photo) round out the Tokushima style.

Other types of Tokushima ramen might be yellow, due to chicken or vegetable broth and a lighter soy sauce, or whitish, using tonkotsu and a lighter soy sauce.   Also, rice is a common accompaniment to Tokushima ramen, as if there weren’t enough carbs on the table.

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