Saturday, February 10, 2018

Slurp-Worthy: Kagoshima Edition

To any ramen lovers, Kyushu is heaven for the region was known to be the birthplace of the Japanese noodle bowl and there’s no lack of shops – big or small – offering the bowl of hearty, comforting, high-quality noodles in soup served in a variety of condiments and styles. While the Hakata-style ramen, one rooted from Fukuoka in the north, was the more prevalent styles, partly thanks to a few popular chains opening up branches across Japan and overseas, there were others offering something different, like those in Kagoshima, the prefecture in south of Kyushu.

I was eager to check out a few ramen shops in Kagoshima, as a bowl of good Kagoshima-style ramen is much harder to find elsewhere. My first stop was Komurasaki (こむらさき), which has two branches, one in the buzzling Tenmonkan area and one (which I went) inside the Kagoshima Chuo train station. It’s one of the older ramen shops in town, established in 1950. The restaurant was packed when I got there during lunch hours, but with a 5-minute wait they were able to seat me at one of the counter seats.

Kagoshima ramen was different in both appearance and taste. My bowl arrived soon after I sat down and handed over my order ticket. Inside the bowl was chunks of pork, as opposed to thin slices like those in Hakata-style ramen, with both the texture and look reminded me of Cantonese “Siu Yuk” roast pork. Underneath was sautéed cabbage, shiitake mushrooms and raw green onions. Noodles were of the soft types without addition of kansui (alkaline water), definitely less bouncy than the ones I am more familiar with – I guess it’s similar to what we got from a packet of instant ramen. And the broth was clear with a much lighter taste – still made with pork bones but also with chicken and salt, I suspect. Minced garlic was the only condiments available at the table, and there’s no half-boiled eggs available on the menu.

Well I can’t say I fell in love with this style of ramen after finishing my bowl here at Komurasaki (I am more for the richer taste), but it’s good to try something different more classic to the region.

When? January 10 2018
Where? Komurasaki, B1/F AMU Plaza Kagoshima, 1-1 Chuocho, Kagoshima, Japan
こむらさき アミュプラザ鹿児島店 鹿児島県鹿児島市中央町1-1地下1階

A couple days later I checked out another ramen shop called Tontoro on a side street right next to the train station. Unlike the bowl at Komurasaki, the style of Tontoro was more a hybrid. The tonkotsu-based soup was still on the light side but already one level richer with some creaminess. Pork was served in chunks, and according to the sign at the counter, they use only the rare cut of the pork near to the shoulder called “Ton-toro” (that’s how the shop was named also). Meat portion was smaller than usual but it is tender and tasty with good balance of fat. The noodles were of the thick, bouncy type, and the optional half-boiled egg, served whole, has a hint of smokiness though mine was slightly overcooked. In the bowl woodear mushrooms and fried green onions were served as condiments, and one could also enjoy pickled daikon and mustard leaf on the side, available off the jar at the counter. To me that’s the bowl of noodles I preferred.

When? January 11 2018
Where? Tontoro, Jingu Building, 3-3 Chuocho, Kagoshima
豚とろ 鹿児島中央駅前店 鹿児島県鹿児島市中央町3-3 神宮ビル1F

Kyushu Travel Series (January 2018):

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