Tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen originated in Kurume, Japan. Did you know that the delicious soup was actually created by accident? Let's dive into the porky backstory.
Where Exactly is Kurume?
Japan's southern island of Kyushu is crazy for tonkotsu ramen. It's everywhere. On the island, Fukuoka City arguably serves the most well-known version of tonkotsu ramen.
But we wouldn't have tonkotsu today if not for for Kurume City. Kurume isn't the most exciting city. But if we're talking about ramen locales, Kurume is one of the historically significant in Japan.
The Birthplace of Tonkotsu Ramen
It apparently all started at a little ramen shop in Kurume called Nankin Senryo (南京千両). The head chef initially aimed to create a lighter, pork based soup.
Legend has is that the pot with boiling pork bones was left on for too long. This accident resulted in a much richer soup - the prototype for tonkotsu ramen today.
Putting aside whether this actually happened, ramen historians do believe that Nankin Senryo was the first ever tonkotsu ramen shop. Nankin Senryo is not shy about advertising this point either.
On another note, the interior at Nankin Senryo is quite interesting. There's antique furniture and random trinkets everywhere. But is the ramen any good?
The Original Tonkotsu Ramen Itself
First of all, the soup is pretty simple and straightforward. Furthermore, it's not as rich as modern tonkotsu ramen. It's also cleaner tasting, in the way that a chicken soup would taste less messy than a pork based one.
The soup ever so slightly resembles that of noodle dish Nagasaki champon. This makes sense, as the owner from Nankin Senryo is from Nagasaki. For toppings, there's chopped pork, spring onions, seaweed, and bamboo shoots. Equally straightforward.
The noodles are wavy and quite dense. In short, the original tonkotsu ramen doesn't have a big wow factor. But maybe that doesn't matter. If this indeed the OG, respect must be paid. It's about the experience and knowing where tonkotsu ramen came from.
Kurume Ramen Overall
Today, Kurume ramen shops serve some of the heaviest, funkiest tonkotsu ramen bowls in the country. They're quite different from what Nankin Senryo serves.
Ramen in Kurume is famous for "yobimodoshi", the practice of adding pork bones to the same pot over and over. As a result, Kurume ramen soup can sometimes have an aged taste to it.
This is the case at Taiho Ramen, which is possibly Kurume's most well-known ramen group. But there's a great variety of ramen in Kurume - not all bowls there are necessarily heavy or even aged.
In summary, Kurume City makes for a worthy ramen trip. Whether you're seeking the original tonkotsu ramen or wanting quality contemporary versions of it, Kurume has you covered.