Thursday, August 13, 2020

丸星ラーメン (Maruboshi in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture)

丸星中華そばセンター 本店

A ramen truck-stop open 24 hours a day since 1958. This is the stuff of legends. This is Maruboshi.

Maruboshi lies along National Route 3 in the central city of Kurume. An hour south of Hakata and two hours north of Kumamoto make this a common stop along the transport corridor of Kyushu. Maruboshi's parking lot is about 20 times larger than the shop itself, which is already quite massive with a whopping 95 seats. There were six or seven big-rigs parked in the big-rig-only section.

Photos from the decades adorn the walls. So many smiling faces.

The ramen here isn't for everyone, but it is perfect for me. You won't find tare made from specialty soy sauce sourced from the mountains of Wakayama[citation needed]. There is probably a mountain of Ajinomoto MSG in the final product[citation needed]. There are no fancy toppings and the shop has definitely never seen a truffle[citation needed]. It's a different kind of kodawari.

Bowls are only 450 yen, up from 400 in the past. Historically, Kyushu has been the home of budget ramen, with yatai food stalls and brick-and-mortar shops alike rarely breaking 500 yen.

Maido arigatogozaimasu. Thank you every time. Maruboshi is possibly a though one to make it to, and there are other shops in Kurume to hit up, but I really think you should try. This is ramen roots, the kind of place that shaped the ramen landscape into what it is today.

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.