Childhood Memories: Tonkotsu Ramen and Takoyaki

I was born in Tokyo but spent most of my childhood in Fukuoka, before moving to the states in the mid-80s. My old neighborhood where I spent the first seven years of my life in Japan is also the birthplace of Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen, a Japanese noodle bowl in a milky broth made out of cooking pork bones for days. That may be the reason why I love this type of ramen over any other kind, even the more popular shoyu (soy sauce) version. Although I don’t remember eating much ramen growing up, it’s embedded in my DNA to love tonkotsu. It takes me back to childhood.

On a random note, my mother loves ramen but can’t stand the tonkotsu broth even though she had lived in Fukuoka for many years. Back when my father was courting my mother, he took her to this ramen shop in Hakata known to serve the best tonkotsu ramen in the area to impress her. The chef prided himself in the soup so much that he told my mother that she could not leave the restaurant without drinking the last drop of the soup. She was already full but had to force herself to eat the entire bowl and got really sick afterward. The experience traumatized her so much that she hasn’t been able to be near tonkotsu since. Poor mom!

Now back in the present day, my boyfriend and I found ourselves in Mistuwa market in Costa Mesa last weekend, to check out the Gourmet “Umaimono” Food Fair which featured yummy umaimono (translates to “delicious things”) from Japan, from the northern part of Hokkaido all the way down to Kyushu in the south, including tonkotsu ramen from a highly acclaimed ramen shop, Hakata Ippudo (now also in New York). We tried the ramen, and unlike my mother with her delicate stomach, I slurped down to the last drop of the broth with no problem! The ramen was good, and I particularly enjoyed the combination of oily, rich broth with grated garlic, shredded meat (in addition to a piece of very generously cut chashu pork) and beni-shoga (red ginger), but the dish didn’t blow my mind like I was hoping it would. I think I’d much rather prefer a bowl from Daikokuya or Santouka … they were 10 time better.

Takoya Kukuru‘s Takoyaki, a savory Japanese version of a Danish doughnut Aebleskiver, was, however, amazing! The literal translation of this dish to English is “Octopus Balls” because each “ball” that’s made out of vegetable and batter has a piece of octopus in the center, but some people think it’s a dish with octopus you-know-what and run the other way. Please rest assure that there are no Rocky Mountain Oyster things happening in takoyaki and you can enjoy this famous Japanese fair / carnival food in peace. Each takoyaki ball was very soft and creamy and the sweet sauce, mayonnaise, and a sprinkle of aonori took this snack to another level.

While American friends enjoyed funnel cakes at a carnival, we Japanese chomped down on Takoyaki. I love Takoyaki so much, it’s one of my favorite food of all time. You can take the girl out of Japan but you can’t take Japan out of a girl, I guess. 🙂