a review by Xan Wetherall
Food, glorious food! Japan doesn’t joke around when it comes to its edibles. Every region, prefecture, and city has its own unique set of meibutsu – specialties of the area. As an example, Tohoku is known for its fruits, Fukushima, for its peaches, and Kitakata? Why, ramen, of course! Kitakata ramen is known as one of the three “big names” of ramen in Japan, alongside Sapporo and Hakata-style ramen. Renowned for its pork bone and chicken broth-based soup, and its thicker, wide noodles, Kitakata ramen is an unmissable part of visiting Fukushima’s Aizu region.
I recently stopped by a well-known ramen restaurant in Kitakata city known as Genraiken. Although its outside appearance was nothing particularly special (it looked a bit run down, albeit with plenty of character), an official city sign next to its entrance designated the restaurant as a purveyor of Kitakata-style ramen, complete with historical information! On entering, I first encountered a small smoking corner, saving smokers from having to vacate outside during the colder months, and a display of plastic models of their cuisine. So far, so run-of-the-mill! However, also present was a warning that the restaurant only served 220 bowls of ramen each day, as that was how much they could make before the hand-made noodles ran out! Seeing as I came a bit later in the day, I must have just snuck in. I chose one of the empty seats, and ordered a chashuu (roast pork) ramen (800yen), which was speedily delivered, with plenty of tasty roast pork slices to earn its chashuu title. The thick, spongy noodles took the broth well, and the soup’s saltiness was offset with almost a slight hint of sweetness from the green onions. I took no time in polishing up my bowl, and ordered a plate of gyoza (550yen), which took ten minutes or so. On their delivery, the reason for this quickly became obvious: they had just hand-made them for me! The gyoza were juicy and fat, with so much filling that they burst open as soon as you took a bite.
Overall, my Kitakata ramen experience at Genraiken was memorable and delicious. It was a reasonable price, with fresh ingredients, providing an authentic experience of a popular favorite. Over Golden Week, I had the pleasure of eating a bowl of particularly good Sapporo ramen, so I was pleased to note that so far, my “big three” ramen have all been living up to their name. All that’s left now is a fast train to Hakata. Happy eating!
//this article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of the Lucky Island newsletter//