Ramen noodle cuisine has deep roots in Japanese dietary life. It originated from Chinese noodles and has a very old history. It’s said that the first Japanese who ate Chinese noodles was Mitsukuni Tokugawa, the second clan lord of the Mito Domain. As time passed, Japanese ramen developed locally in unique ways.
Shigemi Kawahara — who operates Hakata Ippudo shops that serve ramen in pork-based broth — is fascinated by the appeal of ramen. In 1985, he founded Ippudo in Fukuoka. He was 31 years old — a late start for a ramen master.
Mr. Kawahara says, “Back then, people believed that only grungy shops could serve delicious ramen. But I opened a cool new-style shop — a chic ramen place even for solo women customers.” In a few years, this tiny 36.4m2 ramen shop with seating for only 18 customers grew into a popular spot with a long waiting line.
Typical ramen ingredients include noodles, soup, and chashu roast pork with toppings like sliced green onion. Mr. Kawahara says, “You can be a ramen craftsman only when you’re capable of making noodles, soup, and chashu.”
He adds, “Ultra-thin noodles go well with thick pork-based soup. Ippudo uses low-water-content noodles that allow enjoyment of wheat flour flavor and chewy texture.”
Three types of pork are made into Ippudo broth. One soup using pork head and another soup using loin ribs and pettitoes are prepared in separate pans, taking 20 hours to cook, and then blended.
Mr. Kawahara says, “I aim for a very thick soup like potage. Pork-head-based soup has a sweet, deep flavor. But I wanted an edgier taste, so I started blending another type of soup in a separate pan with loin ribs and pettitoes in it.”
According to Mr. Kawahara, Ippudo noodles tend to be chewy. He recommends adding ground and unground sesame seeds (from a lidded container at the table), topped with freshly ground black pepper and crushed raw garlic. If you order a kae-dama (extra serving of noodles), it’s better to do so before you completely finish your noodles in the soup.
Bowls of Ippudo ramen are now enjoyed in nine countries. But when Ippudo made its New York debut, the soup was criticized as too salty, too oily, with noodles too long to eat easily.
Mr. Kawahara explains, “We changed noodle length from 28cm to 22cm, provided a larger renge spoon, and took several years to introduce standard ramen flavor. Now people in NY can enjoy the same ramen as in Japan.”
To popularize the delicious world of ramen, Mr. Kawahara promotes slurping enjoyment with his keyword “Zuzutto” (sound of slurping noodles/soup). He believes slurping is indispensable to maximum Japanese enjoyment of ramen.
He says, “I think flavor that goes up to the nasal area can be savored only through slurping. I’m aware people don’t slurp noodles in Europe and America, but I’d like them to try it — and learn about Japan through this fun dietary culture.”
Mr. Kawahara used this Zuzutto slurping sound as the concept and title of his 2014 Paris Ramen Week, a special event that he produced. His ambition is to spread the Zuzutto slurping habit worldwide through ramen.
Ramen may be seen as an international cuisine, but Mr. Kawahara believes it still has a long way to go.
He continues, “Just like sushi introduced in America led to the California roll, ramen can evolve if local people start making ramen themselves. Over time, these local dishes will gain popularity and ramen can become a truly global cuisine. Ippudo seeks to play a leading role in this growing trend.”
Ippudo’s original bowl is produced in Arita, Saga pref. This one is used for Akamaru Shin-aji ramen. After testing dozens of designs, this bowl was shaped to allow customers to easily enjoy ramen at counter height. Bowl design varies by city location — New York, London, and Paris.
Ippudo uses knives called santoku-hocho (to cut meat, fish, and vegetables), petit knives, and nakiri-hocho (vegetable knives). Santoku-hocho and petit knives are used to slice chashu roast pork and remove stringy parts. Nakiri-hocho are handy for chopping green onions.
This sieve is used to allow boiling water circulation in a big pan, scoop the noodles from hot water, and drain water from the noodles. Gathering them in one flat scoop requires professional skill. The sieve’s wooden handle is cut and length is shortened to suit the cook’s preferences.
Used by customers to eat ramen soup. Since many overseas people cannot slurp noodles, Ippudo provides a large-size renge spoon. Ginza branch uses the same type of renge, too.
Also known as kaeshi, this is the essential recipe for delicious ramen. When Ippudo was founded, only a few workers shared this stock. It was kept in a large jar, and newly boiled soup stocks were added from time to time.