When it comes to foodie destinations in Japan, you’ll often hear many of the same suggestions; Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Hakodate, and Kyoto.
Really, you can go anywhere in Japan and find something to please your inner fat kid.
Fukuoka: A Haven for Ramen Lovers
One city that I often see overlooked though is Fukuoka. Located on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, Fukuoka is a culinary treat not to be missed. And this is especially true for the ramen lovers among you!
During our trip, we stopped at as many shops as our stomachs would allow. This all culminated in a final day consisting of three bowls of pork ramen for lunch… which I paid for dearly.
Fukuoka is known for its Hakata Ramen, which is a type of light pork broth ramen. While there are plenty of Tonkotsu (pork broth) shops to choose from in Japan nowadays; there’s something special about Fukuoka, and its minimalistic bowls of goodness.
Kae-Dama: A Taste of Something Extra
Before getting into the list, I feel a special mention for this wonderful word needs to be added. Kae-dama literally translates to English as “double” but, in the context of a ramen shop, means “noodle refill.”
This system replaces the oomori (large portion) system of most ramen shops and is used to prevent the noodles from becoming too soggy with broth. The extra serving usually only costs about ¥150.
So, if you’ve finished your noodles and find yourself wanting more, just say “Kaedama o onegaishimasu!”
1. Hakata Gensuke
This was by far our favorite ramen during our visit. Which was surprising, since it was one of the few places which didn’t have a 30-minute wait to get in. Instead, we randomly happened upon it while looking for a quick bite to eat after visiting Ohori Park.
As with all the shops on this list, they specialize in Hakata Ramen. That said, we actually settled on a lunch special of chicken broth ramen. In keeping with Fukuoka style, the toppings were minimal, but impactful, with sliced seasoned chicken replacing the normal chashu pork, green onions, and the most delicious boiled egg I’ve ever tasted.
The broth was light and clean; not leaving you with an oily feeling coating your mouth. The noodles were firm and complimented the soup well, so I definitely suggest requesting a kaedama here.
Surprisingly, the tables actually seemed to serve a purpose here as well, with each featuring an electric stovetop, seemingly designed to keep your soup warm, although we didn’t utilize them.
If chicken isn’t your thing, they also offer pork Tsukemen, and, of course, Hakata Ramen. Given its close proximity, Hakata Gensuke gives you something to look forward too after wandering around Ohori Park and building up an appetite!
2. Hakata Ramen Zen
I’ll just start by saying you need to arrive early to avoid the line which inevitably stretches around the building at this particular shop. And for good reason.
Hakata Ramen Zen does one thing and it does it well; Hakata Ramen. Perhaps most surprising about this place isn’t the soup itself, but the price! Starting at the staggeringly low cost of ¥320! No, that’s not a typo. I’ll say it again; the price actually starts at ¥320!!! (I used 3 exclamation points, so you know I’m serious!).
Now, I say “starts at ¥320” because that’s the base price for the soup, noodles, and no extra toppings other than some chashu pork and green onions. Any additional toppings and/or kaedama will cost extra. But even if you load up on additional toppings your bowl shouldn’t really exceed ¥700, which is still crazy cheap.
This was an interesting experience for both of us since the soup has a much milder flavor than it appears as it would.
In fact, we both agreed at first that the soup was perhaps too mild. But what ended up setting this ramen apart from the rest was, surprisingly, the aftertaste, which left us with a lingering umami taste which can’t really be explained, only experienced. So, as we ate, the soup seemed to taste better and better.
Hakata Zen opens at 11 am, but the customers start to arrive at around 10:45. So you should make this an early lunch break if you want to see for yourself what all the fuss is about.
3. Yatai (Food Stalls) in Nakasu Island
Food stalls are something of a staple of most Asian cultures, but Fukuoka is one of the last true bastions of food stalls in Japan. Sure, you might see the odd street in Tokyo with a few oden stalls, but they’re mostly relegated to special events. Thankfully, this tradition is still going strong in Fukuoka.
You’ll find this yatai lining the streets in many places within the city, but, perhaps the most well-known location is along the waterfront on Nakasu island, a short walk from Canal City.
I can’t recommend anyone particular ramen spot over another here, as they were all equally enjoyable. But each of the of ramen yatai we visited seemed to serve surprisingly hearty and strongly pork flavored broths. Perhaps this was due to it being a chilly November evening. So, if strong flavors aren’t your thing, then you may want to try something else on the menu.
Because of the close proximity of all the other food options, each yatai knows they need to bring their A-game, so take some time and bounce around the different stalls, have a few drinks, and be sure to socialize with the local regulars.
4. Shin Shin
While searching various places on the web for popular ramen shops in Fukuoka, there was one name which kept popping up, and that was Shin Shin. Shin Shin is another restaurant you’ll want to arrive early for, or else face a 15 to 30-minute wait. But don’t let the line dissuade you from trying out this bowl of goodness.
Full disclosure, Shin Shin was my last stop on a lunch consisting of ramen from three different restaurants, so my taste buds and stomach were already at their limits, so I’ll need to go back and try this place again. But that didn’t change the fact that it was still the best of the three, which is why I’m moving it to this spot on my list. Because any ramen able to make me enjoy eating it when I didn’t want to even think about food deserves a mention.
I ordered the most basic form of the ramen on their menu (I couldn’t have handled any more). The toppings consisted of chashu pork, green onion, and jew-ear/wood-ear mushroom, and there was plenty of additional seasonings to add if need be. This soup was noticeably thinner than other Hakata ramens I’d eaten up to this point, which is probably why I liked it so much.
After eating two extremely hearty, yet ultimately bland, ramens before this, I was grateful to be rewarded with a light and flavorful experience. And the toppings really seemed to compliment the whole very well. So, I really recommend this to those of you looking for Hakata Ramen, but who aren’t really fans of thick soups.
There are a few locations to find Shin Shin, but the one I visited was located at the Ramen Street within Hakata Station.
5. Osshoi Ramen
My last entry on this list demonstrates how the kindness of a staff can really shape your view of a place. Osshoi Ramen is located just outside of Hakata Station, and looks like a place the average workman might stop off for lunch. And while this may turn some travelers off from the idea of giving it a try, you’d be robbing yourself of a very satisfying meal.
Of all the locations we visited, Osshoi seemed to have the most variety when it came to toppings for their ramen. Starting with the staple chashu pork, green onion, and boiled egg, they also added sesame seeds and had options like a kimchi ramen, jew-ear/wood-ear mushroom, and a Fukuoka specialty known as, Mentaiko, which is a spicy pollock roe. They also had an additional seasoning on the tables which was a spicy pickled leek, which took the ramen to a new level for me.
But beyond the food, the thing that stuck with me the most about Osshoi was the kind staff who seemed genuinely happy that we were there, even with our extremely hyper child, despite the restaurant being packed. The way the staff assisted us, even going so far as to try and distract our kid so we could eat, really made this a memorable stop on our journey.
With a menu offering something for everyone, and an extremely helpful and friendly staff, I really recommend this as a stop for families.