Learning how ramen saved Japan at Fukuoka’s Ippudo Child Kitchen

Photo by Yashira M. Rodríguez Sierra.
Photo by Yashira M. Rodríguez Sierra.

Learning how ramen saved Japan at Fukuoka’s Ippudo Child Kitchen

by Yashira M. Rodríguez Sierra
Stripes Japan

For many of us, one of the first things that come to mind when we think of Japan is ramen.  However, you may be surprised to know that this famous bowl of broth and noodles is not originally from Japan but from China.

During World War II, famine struck Japan and ramen was key in feeding the country. With the idea of ramen being a soup known for its easy preparation and inexpensive ingredients, Momofuku Ando (1910-2007), an inventor of Taiwanese and Japanese descent, invented the “instant noodles” as a response to the food shortages. It took him several months of scientific research and hard work to make the best production. One of his quotes is “peace will come to the world when all its people have enough to eat.” How true is that! And, those quick-made noodles fed the nation.

There are many stories surrounding the origin of ramen. One of them mentions that by 1660, feudal lord Tokugama Mitsukuni was the first to establish ramen, which was then called chuuka soba. A different story recorded in Japanese historical archives published in 1987, says a Chinese refugee who arrived in Japan suggested adding condiments like onion, garlic and ginger to ramen. Another version notes that a group of Japanese who were in China after the war returned with a ramen recipe. Yet another story suggests that Chinese nationals started opening restaurants in 1870 and served noodles called nankin soba. Also, the Chinese popularized mobile noodle stalls called Yatai.

We may never know the true origin of ramen, but we can certainly agree that the noodles are delicious and there are great opportunities to learn how to make them while in Japan. For this, I visited Ippudo Child Kitchen in Fukuoka Prefecture. 

I donned a white apron and headed into the kitchen to make the noodles from scratch! The most surprising thing that I learned from this experience was that after making the dough, they cover it with several layers of plastic, throw it on the ground and start stepping on it. Yes, they step on the dough. Just like the French people traditionally prepared wine – crushing the grapes with their feet. We were tasked to flatten the ramen dough using our feet (no shoes, only with our socks on). To be honest, I didn't really like that step of the process, but that's the way they do it. 


Photo courtesy of Yashira M. Rodríguez Sierra.

For me, broth is the secret for a delicious bowl of ramen. Unfortunately, we were not taught how to make the broth in this lesson. After making the noodles using a noodle-maker machine, we cooked and enjoyed our handiwork! 

Ippudo’s broth is a rich, pork-based delight. According to Shigemi Kawahara, the founder of Ippudo restaurants, he named his ramen style ippudo, which means “one wind hall,” as a means of changing the negative, old perceptions of the old ramen restaurants of the past.
 
The experience of making noodles at Ippudo was so fun that I recommend it to everyone! And this Ippudo ramen was one of the best ramen I’ve ever had.

Yashira M. Rodríguez Sierra is originally from Caguas, Puerto Rico. She is assigned to Sasebo Naval Base. Rodríguez enjoys nature and moving to Japan was a dream come true. She volunteered at a local orphanage and before joining the Navy she was an artist-artisan and journalist.
 

How to get there:
Ippudo Child Kitchen Ramen and Gyoza Making Class
address: San-no 2-2-7, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
 

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