Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Taste of the Authentic Tonkotsu Ramen of Fukuoka (Kyushu, Japan)

"Do you have Ramen?" I kept asking that question in every diner at a corner of Hakata Station in the city of Fukuoka. Rows of food joints litter the space and I wanted a taste of the world famous Tonkotsu Ramen that Fukuoka is known for. But everyone I asked shrugged their heads. I was baffled. Ramen is supposedly everywhere, particularly by the roadside as makeshift stalls called "yatai" (street cart). There are about 150 yatais all over Fukuoka but most of them don't have menus owing to its mobile character. I decided to check out the restaurants at the station. So there I was.

After half a dozen shops, I just looked at the photo displays and thought, hmmmm, these are the ramens that I know about. Is it possible that the people of Fukuoka don't call them ramen?  Was my accent wrong? How else do you say ramen?

I went inside a noodles bar. The order took 10 minutes. The minute the waiter placed my bowl in front, I could smell the pungent odor. It was overpowering, like something rotten was steaming. This is the character of Tonkotsu Ramen aka Hakata Ramen, the rich pork broth that gives the dish its savory taste. Hakata Ramen's noodles are made from wheat dough; they are long thin noodles, topped with pork slices (chashu), green onions and dried sea weeds. A soft boiled egg is thrown into the cloudy white concoction. 

These days, Japanese Ramen is world renowned. Not too bad for a dish that originated from China and found its way to the Japanese shores in 1859. In fact, until the 1950s, ramen was called "shina soba" in the country, translating to "Chinese soba". The secret of Tonkotsu (pork bone) - not tonkatsu (fried breaded pork) - is in its preparation. Most broths are prepared overnight and served the next day. 

Tips on Eating Ramen

With my ramen sitting in front of me, I stared at it. I thought of how the pungent smell gets to my brain. I remember reading an Australian ramen aficionado giving a tip on how to find a good ramen meal. He said, "Usually the worse the smell, the better it is. There’s no real way to tell. If the shop smells really, really bad like old tennis shoes, the ramen is usually good." Goodness. 

He further suggested, "Ignore the smell, first up. Don't let the smell deter you from going into a shop. Ah, that's the hardest obstacle to overcome." If he asked other foreigners why they don't eat ramen, their answer was usually “because it smells so bad”. And I was reminded of Durian. Also, you have to eat it with a slurping noise, a practice scoffed at in many "civilized" societies.

As for my experience in Fukuoka, my ramen smelled like a rotten meal, but tasted like heaven. I needed to get used to eating good ramen.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Information and Access on Travels to Yame City and Kurogi (Fukuoka Prefecture)

The photo above is that of the Yame Chuo Tea Plantation, the iconic symbol of Yame City, Japan's source of its best tea. The same photo is the cover of the Yame City Tourist Guide brochure. We're dedicating this post to share information on travels to Yame City if you come from, say Hakata Station in the city of Fukuoka. We're posting this because there are very few English-language information available online.

With my JR Pass, I took the local train from Hakata Station to Hainuzuka Station in Chikugo City which took 40 minutes. You need to be attentive though and take note of the signs at every stop because many of these signs are in Japanese characters, you might miss your stop. Even the LED information inside the train isn't in English.

Yame City, located south east of Fukuoka city, is out of the way from places tourists commonly visit. But this small and slumbering city has several interesting places worth checking out.

Yame City Map in Japanese

#yamecity   #information   #access   #fukuokaprefecture   #japan   #kurogi

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Reiganji Temple and the Monk who Brought Tea to Kyushu (Kurogi, Fukuoka Prefecture)

Long time ago, a wandering Chinese monk traveled to Japan, bringing with him tea seeds. Before then, there were no tea plantations in the country. He loved the remoteness of the mountain that he eventually stayed to start a tea farm in Kurogi's fertile soil. Soon thereafter, tea plantations spread across the land. So goes the story behind Japan's favorite tea. It was indeed adjudged as the country's best tea for 9 consecutive years by the Department of Agriculture.

Reiganji Temple was built by the Chinese monk. It rises on a hillock teeming with lush vegetation. There are stone lanterns at the front. If you wander to the back, a flight of stairs lead to a trail  to the top of the mountain where odd-rock formations take different shapes. 

The drive to Reiganji Temple was a bit tense due to heavy rains. It didn't help that the roads, though beautifully paved, were sinuous. It took about 30 minutes to get from the border of Kurogi to the mountain site where the temple is. On a good day, you can enjoy the green scenery all over, with tea plantations in most parcel of land - this is the iconic symbol of Yame!

Buddhist pilgrimages include the Reiganji Temple as a final terminus in a pilgrim's itinerary. Wherever it rains, locals call the roads authority to check whether there are road blocks and land slides, so it is advisable to do the same if foreign visitors are planning a visit.  

Reiganji is one of the most beautiful temples I have seen in all of Japan, owing to its location amidst lush vegetation, making it seem like a set of a fairy tale. Every element of natural beauty came together here.

The Chinese monk who started to plant tea in Fukuoka.

You can hike up the mountain to see the rock formations.

#reiganjitemple   #tea   #kyushu   #fukuokaprefecture   #yamecity   #japan