If you’re at all familiar with the various types of ramen popular in Japan, you might have heard of tonkotsu ramen. For those who have yet to be introduced to tonkotsu ramen, this delicious dish is best known for the simple fact that it takes so long to properly prepare! How long, you ask? To put it into perspective, traditional tonkotsu ramen broth cooks more hours than you probably sleep every night!
The most surprising tidbit of information about tonkotsu ramen is that it was originally created in Fukuoka, Japan, as a fast food dish for day laborers! Much like how lobster used to be served in American prisons before it became a delicacy, most people will have a hard time believing that such an incredibly tasty meal was overlooked as a culinary delight for so many years.
What Is Tonkotsu Ramen?
The name ‘Tonkotsu’ literally translates to ‘pork bones’, and is called such because the broth is prepared by boiling pork bones in water for a minimum of eight hours. Referred to as ‘Hakata Ramen’ in Fukuoka, the broth of this dish is the most important part. While some might argue that the ramen noodles themselves have an equally important role to play, the tonkotsu ramen dish has always been centered around the painstakingly long process of creating the rich, creamy broth.
Although the broth itself is the main attraction of this ramen, the noodles can be customized to suit the consumer’s taste in some situations. If you find yourself in a restaurant that serves authentic tonkotsu ramen, there’s a chance that your chef will ask you how firm you want your ramen noodles. Traditionally, ramen served in tonkotsu is hard in the center. If the restaurant offers a choice to their patrons, you can have regular (futsu), very hard (harigane), al dente (barikata) or soft (yawamen) ramen noodles in your tonkotsu.
Some restaurants will even provide you with a second serving of noddles (kaedama) in case you have leftover broth! If you’re ever in Japan, make sure one of the top must-eat items on your list is a bowl of savory tonkotsu ramen! For those reading this at home, don’t stress about missing out on the fun – you can make your own tonkotsu broth to enjoy in your own kitchen!
How To Make Tonkotsu Broth
As said above, this entire dish revolved around the broth. Without a broth that has been carefully prepared for the correct amount of time, you won’t get the full experience of what tonkotsu ramen has to offer taste-wise. There are plenty of recipes to be found online, and they all stress the importance of giving yourself plenty of time to do things right.
For those who are reading this expecting to find a sure-fire, foolproof way to make an exact replica of the tonkotsu ramen found locally in Japan, be warned. Making your own tonkotsu broth from scratch takes time, effort, trial and error, and possibly a sizable chunk of cash depending on available resources in your local grocer. We’ll give you a quick rundown of the basics to making tonkotsu broth, but if you want to give it your best shot, we suggest looking up recipes from trained, professional chefs online.
The basics of making a tonkotsu broth are simple but can be adjusted for taste and preference. Unlike French or Western-style stock, tonkotsu stock is prepared by boiling pork bones for long periods of time until they are completely dissolved without any removal of impurities. The opaque look of the broth is due in part to the floating pieces of fat and broken down marrow and calcium. There are many additional ingredients that can be added to a broth, such as onions, garlic, ginger, and scallions, but it’s completely up to the chef to decide what they want to include.
Does It Have To Be Just Pork Stock?
The short answer to this is no! You’re free to add chicken, beef, or whatever else you prefer! Although traditional tonkotsu ramen relies heavily on pork bones alone, many people find that adding chicken or beef helps to ‘mellow out the flavor’, and make it more suitable to their tastes. You can always try out different combinations of stock to see which one you like best!
Do I Really Have To Boil The Bones For 12-60 Hours?
Once again, no! Many chefs find that using a pressure cooker for two hours or fewer yields the same results. Others feel that it only takes 6-8 hours of boiling to get the desired consistency of broth. Much like experimenting with the types of meat bones you include in your stock, you can always change up how long you cook your stock to see what works best for you.
What Else Do I Need To Know?
Another piece of advice that most people won’t realize until they actually attempt to make their own stock is both interesting and unexpected: the cleaner the bone, the whiter the broth. Those who have haphazardly thrown in bones that were lightly cleaned will end up with a dark brown broth, mainly due to the hemoglobin and myoglobin pigments still present after a light cleaning.
The only difference here is the appearance of the broth. Deeper colored broths taste exactly the same as their lighter counterparts but don’t have the authentic look of traditional tonkotsu ramen. It’s a long, hard process to clean out all of the bones used in your broth, but if you’re really into making replica tonkotsu ramen that looks just like the ones they prepare in Japan, clean bones will serve you well.
The Last Thing
Once you have your bones sorted, another important ingredient to add to the broth is fat; specifically, pork fat. The pork fat is what gives the broth its rich, full taste, and you can always tell when a broth has a sufficient fat content by simply being able to see it floating in every delicious spoonful of the dish. Add as much or as little as you would like since it’s generally hard to get this part of the broth horribly wrong. Some people prefer less fat and salt content in their ramen and can choose to put in only a small amount of each.
Now that your broth is cooked to perfection, all that’s left is to add the finishing touches: ramen noodles and toppings!
The Best Toppings For Tonkotsu Ramen
There is no right or wrong way to garnish your ramen, but there are some general suggestions and guidelines for getting the best flavorful experience from proper tonkotsu ramen. For tonkotsu ramen, in particular, suggested toppings to enhance the flavor and umami of the dish are:
- Roast pork fillet slices
- Hard-boiled eggs (halved)
- Chopped scallions
- Nori seaweed sheets
- Roasted white sesame seeds
- Kikurage mushrooms
- Pickled ginger
- Narutomaki fishcake slices
Though the toppings above are what tonkotsu ramen dishes are generally served with, you’re free to add any other ingredients to match your own likes and dislikes while still enjoying the taste of tonkotsu ramen.
For the ramen noodles used in the dish itself, we suggest cooking your ramen to the traditional level of hardness first to experience the taste of tonkotsu ramen as it was originally intended. If hard ramen isn’t your style, you can always change things up and cook your noodles longer to make them softer, or buy pre-made softer varieties of ramen to enjoy! There’s no wrong way to enjoy tonkotsu ramen.
Overall Impression of Tonkotsu Ramen
Japan is well known for having a rich history full of creations and innovations. The world wouldn’t be the same today if ramen had been kept a closely guarded secret, and the fact that it can be bought or made in almost every country around the globe is something everyone can be thankful for. Tonkotsu ramen is just one of many different varieties of ramen available for people to enjoy, and each and every ramen dish has something special to offer.
Whether you’re traveling through Fukuoka or enjoying the comfort of your own home, there’s nothing stopping you from enjoying a rich, creamy bowl of tonkotsu ramen.