Monday, August 10, 2020

幸陽閣 (Koyokaku in Saga Prefecture)

豚骨ラーメン 幸陽閣

That bright orange egg yolk is a signature at Kyokaku, another famous shop in Saga Prefecture, Kyushu. To some, it's just another, darker shade of tonkotsu. To others, it is a local legend that came, went, and came back again.

Beautiful orange egg to match my beautiful orange bike, helmet, and camera case.

The menu is very simple. Ramen, ramen with egg, ramen with extra pork, and ramen with extra pork and an egg. At only 650 yen for the recommended 卵入り, locals have nothing to complain about. On a side note, ramen in Kyushu tends to be the least expensive in Japan. Many locals I've spoken with say that if it is more than 500 yen, it isn't ramen!

Green onions are sourced from local farmers. Yet another bowl that really did it for me. A bit meatier, though that might have been a placebo effect from soup's color. Either way, a fantastic, inconvenient (what legend shops in Kyushu aren't?) bowl.

The shop's master trained at popular Ikkyuken (一休軒本店) since 1975 before it shut down in 2008. Business just wasn't good enough to stay open. The chef moved on to make yakiniku barbecue. Five months later and his former customers had had enough. They wanted their ramen back, and they got their way.

The current master is Yoshida-san, the son-in-law of the original Kawakami-san. In a textbook story of master and apprentice, people said that when Yoshida-san first took over, the flavor fell, but eventually rose to a level that makes this one of Saga's top shops.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

来久軒 (Raikyuken in Saga Prefecture)


Raikyuken cooks their soup for around ten days. Surely that's a typo. Ten hours, right?

Nope, it's ten days. A few pots are used, and soup is shuffled around like magic potions until the brew is ready to serve.

The shop is a short walk from Mifuneyama Park. My timing was impeccable. Not only could I see the fall colors lit up at night, but the crew behind Team Labs Borderless had set up a mini-exhibition.

The icing on the cake was that I snagged a last-minute room at the hotel. Rooms here normally go for a few hundred a night, and I was out here camping for free, but a quick check online and I was staying here, among the art, for well within my budget.

The exhibition was set to close around November 2019. Too bad. Checking their site, however, and I see that they will have a renewed, different light show, by the same people, in 2020. The new one looks even crazier!

It's always nice to have a little sightseeing to go with your ramen.

Yes, the soup here takes 10 days to make. They use three massive iron pots in the back. Soup travels from one to the other in a kind of conveyor belt of flavors. Though I wasn't able to check in detail, they say that the color changes in each one, with the final product being this milky white pork soup.

The shio tare is a secret blend of 10 ingredients. In the end, the final product looks quite simple. Creamy soup with a couple pieces of chashu and a few slices of negi onion.

Even in the brisk November temperatures, the back kitchen was hot and steamy. I say back kitchen, but this was more of a converted garage unit.

Raikyuken opened in 1975 and has been highly ranked ever since ranking ramen was a thing in Saga Prefecture.

More art photos?

The art installation was set inside an abandoned hot springs complex. Lights and technology.

Half the complex houses the art, and the other half houses the hotel. If you stay at the hotel, one bonus is that you have free access to the park.

And of course the beautiful natural hot springs.

Official site here.

Monday, August 3, 2020

徳島ラーメン 奥屋 (Okuya in Tokushima Prefecture)

徳島ラーメン 奥屋 本店

I was in the middle of a motorcycle trip around Kyushu when my friend Dr. K called. He and his friends would be in Fukuoka for the annual sumo tournament, and they had a seat for me. We'd spend the afternoon watching fat dudes beat on each other, then head off for a lavish kaiseki dinner with beautiful hostesses, a practice called dohan, before heading to the hostess bar itself for drinks.

I'm in.

I thought we were just going for a night of fun, but I was then invited to fly to Tokushima the next morning with the crew to check out the sites and go to the local geisha house.

I'm in!

Tokushima, in the east of Shikoku, is famous for a few things. The Awa Odori dance festival is held in the middle of August each year (though chances of that happening in 2020 are slim). You can get a taste for it year-round in their tourism hall.

The town is also known historically for indigo dye.

And of course, there is the ramen.

Okuya is one of many popular shops in the area. I'm not going to lie, I can't tell any major differences between the slew of shops I've been to here, apart from the excellent Inotani. It might just be the vibe though. Also, I have a pet peeve against raw egg whites in my soup. Raw egg is a standard topping in Tokushima ramen. Some shops let you crack your own, others just throw it in, slimy whites and all.

Wok-fried pork, on the sweet side, and a heavy tonkotsu soup with soy sauce.

One thing that sets Okuya apart is their rice bowl menu. You can get your ramen with a mini onsen tamago and shirasu (whitebait) bowl. Go for it!

They also have tantanmen, miso, and shio ramen on the menu. Nice variety for the locals.

Another fun trip to Tokushima, but I'm running out of spots to hit here.

Official site here.