RAMEN KAONASHI is currently serving as a Recipe Partner at Ramen Hero. As an experienced ramen chef, he will introduce us to Japanese ramen trends and even share some of his favorite recipes. If you are interested in his other content, check out his Blog and YouTube Channel!
Back with another recipe, this time for Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen! Japan is filled with regional, local ramen styles, but none may be more popular than the Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen. Be sure to check out the RAMEN KAONASHI video where I introduced this recipe. Back to the recipe at hand, Tonkotsu ramen is popular not just in Japan, but all over the world and many of you may already be familiar with this style. But what exactly is Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen? What are the characteristics of this style and what makes it so delicious? I will answer these questions while going through this recipe which focuses on the noodles of this unique style.
First and foremost, what kind of ramen is Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen? Hakata is a port city in the northern part of Kyushu which is located in southern Japan and Tonkotsu Ramen is said to have been born in this area. As you may know, Tonkotsu is a cloudy pork bone soup with very fine, straight noodles which have a low water content. Many ramen shops offering this style adopted a “Kaedama” system which allows customers to order more noodles after their initial serving which you can choose the cooking time for. Most common toppings are chashu, negi, and wood ear mushrooms. Provided at the table are red pickled ginger, spicy mustard greens, and sesame seed to give customers a mid meal flavor change.
So what out of these characterizes Hakata Tonkotsu ramen the most? That is of course the iconic rich and creamy soup, but when talking about the history of the style, the noodles can not be overlooked and let me explain why.
The main characteristic of the Hakata Tonkotsu noodles, as mentioned above, is that they are ultra straight and have a low water ratio. The ratio of water is determined when figuring out how much water is added to the flour. For example, if you make noodles by adding 30g of water to 100g of flour, you have a water content of 30%. However there are various methods to this calculation as in this case, we account only for the water and flour, but others may take in to account the weight of the salt and kansui alkaline salts. For the time being, with this article we will go with the first calculation method.
Based on that definition, the ratio for the noodles in this recipes is 29%. The ratio is a bit low for regular ramen, but a tad high for Hakata Tonkotsu as Hakata ramen typically uses thin noodles with a water content of around 24-28%. Also important to note, the amount of noodles in a serving of Hakata ramen is quite small at around 110g and has some historical context for this portion size.
One of the reasons why Tonkotsu Ramen developed in Hakata and nearby Nagahama city is that it was a popular meal at the market place. The market is busy all day and so a meal which can be prepared and eaten quickly was the go to choice, hence the proliferation of the low hydration noodles which have a short boiling time. However, one short coming of the low hydration noodle is that it is not suitable for large portion sizes as they easily absorb moisture and become soggy. In order to combat this, the “Kaedama” system was born so that customers can get their fill without having soggy noodles. The idea originated in Nagahama, but was then adopted by shops in Hakata.
In America, it’s probably unlikely that customers go for a bowl of Hakata Tonkotsu ramen with the purpose of finishing in less than 5 minutes as originally intended. More often than not, customers will take their time in enjoying the ramen so it becomes necessary to increase the water content so it can stay in the soup longer without it getting soggy. Even with Ramen Hero’s Totally Tonkotsu ramen kits, while it is close to the Honkaku Hakata Tonkotsu, it features noodles with a slightly higher water content.
Japanese ramen culture is both unique and interesting, but it’s not entirely necessary to bring every aspect to the United States. Rather, the purpose should be to adjust with the American dining culture to better appreciate the dish as a whole and these noodles are a perfect example of it.
So how do you go about making the noodles in this recipe? First off, the ingredients should be quite simple as it uses only flour, water, kansui alkalines, and salt. It can be said that these are the bare minimum for making authentic ramen noodles. As for what type of flour to use, a firmer flour is preferred for Hakata Tonkotsu noodles. In Fukuoka, where they actually have a flour called “ramen flour” exclusively for ramen noodles. The noodles served at Ippudo and Ichiran uses this brand of flour. The flour has a protein content of around 10.4% and an ash content of around 0.42%. Let that be a guide if you want to get in to the specific composition of the flour you choose for this recipe.
The recipe calls for you to dissolve kansui and salt in to the water before mixing with the flour. The tricky part is the next step when putting the dough in the plastic bag and forming it in to a sheet. If you leave the dough to rest in a ball shape, gluten will develop making the dough hard and difficult to stretch. By rolling the dough in to a sheet and letting it rest in this state, the next steps will be a lot easier.
After rolling out the dough and cutting them in to strands with a pasta maker or noodle cutter, your noodles area ready. The recipe says to cut them in to thin strands, but the usual thickness of a Hakata ramen noodle is about 1.1mm which if you’re using a proper ramen noodle cutter, corresponds to the 26-28 blades.
Within the framework of Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen, it is often said that the noodles are thin, but some shops may use slightly thicker noodles while other shops may opt for a flat one. Furthermore, authentic Hakata Tonkotsu ramen noodles are cooked slightly al dente, but personally, I find that the soup is more enjoyable when the noodles are cooked a bit longer. One of the joys of making ramen yourself is that you can experiment and test what you like best. While it’s nice to try and make ramen as authentic as possible, there is joy in customizing to your own preferences.
And of course, it is entirely possible to do these experiments with the ramen kits made by Ramen Hero. Adjust the cooking times of your noodles and see how it pairs and affects the flavors of the soup. By repeated trial and error, you’ll soon find the perfect cooking method leading to a more delicious ramen overall. “Happy slurp your Tonkotsu ramen!”