What is Hakata ramen?
Thin noodles originating from yatai (food stall) culture
Concentrated tonkotsu soup combined with a soy-based sauce
Ramen can be divided into five main types—tonkotsu, miso, soy sauce, salt, and original recipe—and can be further subdivided based on regional characteristics. This means Japan is home to countless styles of ramen. Kyushu is the mecca of tonkotsu ramen, and the most famous of them all is Fukuoka's Hakata ramen.
Another factor unique to Hakata ramen is the kaedama, or noodle refill system.
Both of these practices are said to have originated in the food stalls of Nagahama, which are located next to the fresh fish market.
The stalls would serve up harder noodles, which took less time to cook, and offer noodle refills because the market workers had little time to eat, let alone get full.
You also can't talk about Hakata ramen without talking about noodle hardness preference.
In Fukuoka, you can indicate your preference using the terms yawa (soft), futsu (regular), kata (hard) and bari-kata (extra hard), but some local ramen fanatics use other terms for even harder noodles, like harigane (wire) and kona otoshi (lit., “just remove the flour;” the noodles are barely passed through hot water). Since you cannot get a soup refill, it is important to leave enough soup in case you want to order a kaedama.
For Hakata ramen, the milky white tonkotsu soup is the mainstream. Each restaurant has its own recipe for creating this soup based on which pig bones they use, what other ingredients they add, how they prepare the bones, cooking time, how much oil they add, and so on. The flavor unique to pork bones can be enhanced or reduced as needed depending on the restaurant’s recipe. Some owners may be particular about their utensils as well, like the shape of the ladle they use to scoop up the noodles or the type of pots they use for soup.
Most Hakata ramen shops will have toppings like pickled red ginger and takana (Japanese giant red mustard).
You are supposed to use these to change the flavor of the soup after you have already tried it, and you shouldn’t overdo with the toppings.
The old image of Hakata ramen was that only men ate it, but with more shops offering milder versions of tonkotsu without the strong, distinctive odor of pork bones, the number of female fans is on the rise. Ramen is truly a kind of Japanese soul food that everyone can enjoy.