Friday, November 2, 2012

Ramen Stadium

Hakata has numerous regional food specialties of which I was able to indulge: [Hakata] ramen, mentaiko (spiced cod roe), and takana (salty pickled mustard leaves) at the table in ramen-ya (ramen shops). Aside from yatai (street vendors), Ramen Stadium at the top floor of one of Canal City's wings presented us with five ramen options.

Canal City Ramen Escalator
Escalator to Ramen Stadium at Canal City

At the front of each ramen-ya is a barker greeting and encouraging hungry customers to their restaurant much like the steamy street stalls just a block away, an attraction for tourists and a destination for locals. Japanese street stalls date back in the 1700s and are different from American food trucks in that you can eat at the stall seated on a stool.

Canal City Ramen Stadium
Ramen Stadium, yatai style

Unlike yatai where one orders from the cook, the restaurants here have a vending machine standing prominently at the front of each store. A touch screen in English, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese displays menu items from types of ramen, drinks, and side dishes like gyoza.

Canal City Misono Vending
Restaurant vending machine

Money is first deposited, then selections are made. Once the transaction is finalized, printed ticket stubs for each item ordered spits out, and change is given. As we walked in, we were shown to our table and relinquished our tickets.

My shoyu ramen was topped with grated ginger, citrus zest (unusual), and wispy shaved onions. Of course, I gifted the onions to my father. Under the toppings are bits of ground meat and wood ear.  The sliced pork was tender and smoked - the best slice I've ever tasted. I don't usually like cha siu because it's often soggy and fatty.

Misono Hakata Shoyu
Hakata shoyu ramen

Instead of the usual curly noodles, these noodles were straight. It is so refreshing to be able to order ramen with confidence the noodles aren't overcooked or grossly undercooked. It was just right, with an appropriate chew.

I realize that Hakata ramen is synonymous with tonkotsu ramen, pork bone broth that is milky white. The broth was greasier looking than I expected coming from a shoyu broth because of the ground meat and the possible use of pork in the broth. Another surprise, I didn't bloat from the salty soup.

Gyoza (Japanese dumplings made with pork, ginger, garlic, leeks) was delicious, served as expected -- crisp and charred on the bottom, and yielding soft-chew all around. As a gyoza fiend, I could have eaten 10 plates.

Canal City Misono Gyoza

Another Hakata tradition, if anyone is still hungry after their bowl of ramen and there is sufficient soup, an extra "ball" of noodles may be purchased (bottom right on the vending machine screen above), or, as my father taught me, by asking your server, "kaidama, kudasai!"

Canal City Misono Toothpicks

At Misono, an extra ball of noodles costs only 100 yen. I was too full that I barely finished my bowl.

- Cassaendra

Ramen Stadium
Canal City

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