Beyond Tonkotsu: 8 Unique Regional Ramen Dishes You Need to Try in Japan
The world can't seem to get enough of ramen after a number of Japan's famous noodle joints have branched out around the globe. While abroad you might be limited to just a few types of this iconic Japanese dish, within the country it's another story. Apart from the ubiquitous flavors of pork bone (tonkotsu), soy, salt and miso, you'll find a number of unique bowls of ramen hailing from different prefectures in Japan and here are some of our favorites.
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Toyama Black Ramen
While most bowls of ramen around the country vary from different ingredients and toppings used, Toyama's spin on this classic noodle dish changes its look entirely. Revered among noodle enthusiastic locals is Toyama black ramen, hardly known outside of the country and even among many Japanese, this is the dish for anyone who likes a strong kick of umami. While the exact recipe is usually a closely guarded secret, the broth's unique color comes from a unique pitch-black soy sauce that quickly darkens the broth.
Although not as widespread as the black version, there's also Nyuzen brown ramen that uses shrimp extract and miso for its unique flavor, along with Oyabe white ramen using a milky pork bone broth.
The name is a bit of a misinformer, Okinawan soba doesn't use any buckwheat like with traditional Japanese soba noodles, and are more akin to ramen noodles hence why we decided to feature this dish. You'll often find they're a little thicker than other ramen noodles however, giving them a decent chewy texture. The broth is usually quite light, made with dried katsuo (skipjack tuna), although the true star of this dish is the delicious stewed pork belly that always comes as a topping.
You've most likely heard of tonkotsu ramen, which uses pork bones to make the soup broth, but most people don't realize there's also a gyukotsu ramen, using beef bones instead. A specialty of Tottori Prefecture, gyukotsu ramen has a whole different taste, much lighter, slightly sweeter and with a hearty beef flavor to it compared with the tonkotsu base.
Aomori Curry Milk Miso Ramen
It might seem like a bit of a mouthful, in both speech and flavor, yet somehow the delicious combination of curry powder, milk and miso comes together like a charm. The base of the broth uses a typical miso-flavored soup with the addition of milk. North Japan, in particular Hokkaido and Aomori, is known for producing delicious dairy products. This dish was started by a family who moved from Hokkaido to Aomori, wanting to introduce the unique style of Sapporo miso ramen to the region. Somewhere along the way Aji No Sapporo Onishi started adding milk and curry powder to the broth to get the highly unique flavor it's well known for now.
Nagoya Taiwan Ramen
Although its called Taiwan ramen, head to anywhere on the island of its namesake and you won't find this dish. This culinary creation was invented over 40 years ago by a Taiwanese chef in Nagoya who wanted to give the local Chinese-inspired dish of tantanmen his own twist. Nowadays you'll find a number of noodle shops in the city offering 'Taiwan ramen' a spicy soy-based soup usually topped with stir-fried pork, green onion and bean sprouts.
Takaoka Green Ramen
Toyama sure loves its colored ramen, apart from the rather standard colors of white, black and brown ramen, the prefecture is also home to a slightly more eccentric creation, Takaoka green ramen. The vibrant green color of the soup doesn't come from stewing hulk bones, but from a healthy dose of spinach blended into the broth. Again it's not so common as the black version, head to Takaoka city where you'll find the dish at a few restaurants such as Ryokusaiken.
Not quite ramen but reimen, Morioka's take on Korean cold noodles is well worth a try if you're visiting the area. While cold soups and noodles tend to be a little off-putting for most foreigners, get past your misconceptions for this delicious dish. With a similar flavor to its neighbor across the sea, reimen is made from a beef stock and topped with the usual additions like kimchi, egg, cucumber and slices of meat. Instead of buckwheat noodles like in Korea however, Morioka uses flour along with potato starch to give it a chewy consistency. You'll also probably notice the strange inclusion of watermelon slices, strangely enough however it seems to fit and gives this cool summer dish an extra refreshing taste.
While it might sound like some kind of horrible concoction a drunk university student might come up with. Tokyo's recent food fad works much better than you might expect. Taiyo no Tomatomen were the pioneers of this culinary creation, making a thick tomato broth that tastes like more of an Italian influence than anything Japanese. A far-cry from pasta however, the noodles are clearly ramen style, even if the flavor that accompanies them is not so conventional.
Toppings such as cheese or eggplant work nicely with the tomato flavor to create a surprisingly flavorful dish. Just remember you're not eating pasta or ramen, it's something entirely different. They also have mini cheese gyoza on the menu that are well worth a try, we'd recommend ordering a bunch as they really are bite-sized.
We'd highly recommend trying some of the unique bowls of ramen you can find around Japan, as it's often impossible to try them overseas. This list only touches the incredible offerings you'll find around the country. There's so much more to try from Hokkaido's curry ramen and ebisoba shrimp ramen to the vegetable-packed champon found in Nagasaki, there's a huge range of highly unique noodles you can try while touring the Land of the Rising Sun.