I had no intentions of going to Canal City or to the Ramen Stadium, but I had some time while my traveling companion was nursing a cold, and as I was staying in a hotel within steps of Canal City, I figured it wouldn’t be a waste of my time. I would have preferred checking out the other famous ramen joints in town, but this was a good compromise. There are 8 ramen-ya’s represented here, from different parts of Japan (here are the shops: http://www.canalcity.co.jp/ra-sta2/sh...). They all looked pretty decent, but I wanted something different than anything I’ve previously had, so when I came upon Hao Rai, and saw their write-up of their famous black ramen, it seemed like a good enough choice.
Hao Rai hails from Kumamoto, just a little further south of Fukuoka. They do make a typical Kumamoto ramen, but they enhance their broth with the addition of a black mixture which is made from garlic, sesame oil, and lard (according to their website). I’m not sure how it gets that black color, but what it provides is an interesting texture (a little graininess). It’s difficult to assess what the mixture adds flavor-wise, since I have no way to know what the broth tastes like without it, but there was a hint of nuttiness and sweetness present. The noodles were silky and thin, and served “katamen” (hard). Besides the typical condiments of pepper, hot oil, and vinegar on the counter, there were also cloves of garlic soaking in water with a garlic press to crush the garlic into the bowl. I went for the garlic, but in hindsight, I don’t think it was necessary. Like the typical Hakata ramen, Kumamoto ramen uses pork bone as the base, but this broth was surprisingly “assari” (refreshing) as opposed to the thicker “kotteri” style that’s associated with Hakata ramen. There was also good balance with the range of flavors from the meat broth, the grainy mixture, and the classic condiments of roast pork, bamboo shoots, and seaweed. This was a really good bowl of ramen.
One thing I don’t like about these one-off tastings is that I don’t know what to compare this ramen to. I’d like to try more Kumamoto style ramen, especially to assess what the black mixture really adds. But this just goes to remind me of the vast variety of ramen that I still need to check out. I’m up for the challenge.
Here’s their website: http://www17.plala.or.jp/haorai/