By far the most popular style of ramen amongst overseas visitors to Japan, and the style that is credited with starting a worldwide ramen boom, is tonkotsu. Tonkotsu literally means pork bone, and often the soup is made with nothing but. The bones are cooked at high heat for a very long time in order to not only extract collagen but emulsify it into a creamy liquid full of mellow flavor. Tonkotsu broth can range in color from a light brown to an ivory white. This style hails from Kyushu, Japan’s southern island. The story is that someone simply forgot about their pot of boiling soup. Returning hours later they thought it was ruined. On the contrary, they had just created what would become one of Japan’s most famous foods. The style was a huge hit in the yatai scene – mobile food carts assembled along the canals and near the stations, serving up quick bowls of hot tonkotsu ramen.
Traditional Kyushu-style tonkotsu ramen is usually made with a small amount of wiry noodles. Customers are encouraged to order as many kaedama, or extra servings of noodles, as they want. Because the noodles are so thin, the cooking time is often less than 30 seconds. You might see a group of High School students showing off to each other with order after order of kaedama noodles. Toppings are also uniquely Kyushu. Bright red benishoga pickled ginger, spicy takana mustard greens, sesame, and raw garlic are all common countertop condiments. Help yourself. Of course, heavy pork ramen isn’t only a Kyushu thing. You will find many shops in Tokyo that serve creamy tonkotsu mixed with dried seafood, garlic, and spices. What you will have trouble finding is a light tonkotsu. Although they do exist, clear tonkotsu broth just never caught on like their creamy cousins.
For a truly Tokyo version of Tonkotsu ramen, head over to Menya Shono near Ichigaya Station. This is the first shop opened by the MENSHO group, which now has a few shops in Tokyo as well as overseas in San Francisco and Bangkok. Each shop serves a different style of ramen, with their flagship store doing a tonkotsu spiked with a seafood stock. The soup takes two days to make and the result is creamy with a subtle hit of ocean umami. The shop also does an artistic monthly limited bowl to give regular customers something new and unique to try.