Oh ramen, you delicious, slurpy, salty noodle-filled bowl of happiness, we love you.
For those unfamiliar with the Brissie suburb of Sunnybank, let us first be clear: this is the real-deal Chinatown, a place where all Asian cuisines are represented and celebrated. You’ll find yum cha restaurants, Korean hot pot palaces, sushi joints, Asian-Marts and hole-in-the-wall eateries serving noodle soup. Eateries like Hakataya Ramen – actually, there are two in Sunnybank less than 500 metres. It’s the franchise phenomenon that’s attracted a cult following for its tonkotsu broth. The secret, we hear, comes from simmering the bones for 48 hours. Hakataya’s menu is simple with just five soups to choose from – Original, Extra pork, Spicy, Spicy miso and Spicy seafood shio – and all are of the meaty persuasion, topped with unctuous, soy and mirin-marinated char sui. Gyoza and rice balls are also for sale, and kadaema (extra noodles) cost a reasonable $2.50. The shop closes at 9pm (10pm on Saturdays), but don’t dawdle, Hakataya shuts when the ramen runs out.
Shop 13 Market Square, Cnr. Mains Rd and McCullough St, Sunnybank, QLD (07) 3345 9911
Be prepared to queue. Despite the recent ramen boom out west, the city’s longest-standing Japanese noodle restaurant continues to command a loyal following. One taste of owner Nao(ki) Kobayashi’s handiwork and it’s not hard to understand why. For many, it’s Nao’s broth that ensures the restaurant has a permanent place in their noodle-slurping rotation. A double-soup made of chicken and pork, this comforting broth manages to deliver deep savour without crossing over into the richness of tonkotsu. It also marries wonderfully with Nao’s house-made noodles: wavy of shape, bitey of texture and loaded with no small amount of eggy goodness. It’s for this reason that Nao-san chooses not to serve egg in his bowls, claiming the noodles are already rich enough as they are. A vast menu of toppings allows eaters to customise their bowl to their heart’s desire with many wisely choosing to double-up on slices of the restaurant’s silky chashu.
117 Murray Street, Perth, (WA. 08) 9325 2090, naojapaneserestaurant.com.au
Waterford Plaza, a shiny shopping centre in the student hamlet of Karawara, isn’t an obvious destination for great noodles, which makes the presence of Nomstar all the more welcome. Schooled in Osaka on the finer points of ramen making, young Scott Wang is a chef that likes to sweat the little things. His tonkotsu broth, for example, is made by soaking and slowly boiling up to 100kg of pork and chicken bones for three days and yields an unctuous, mouth-coating, milky broth. It’s one of the genre’s better examples in Perth. Similar attention is paid to the noodles: straight and slender, they’re designed to latch on to said tonkotsu and deliver maximum richness. Sweeten the pot – or should we say bowl – with excellent braised pork and house-made bamboo pickles and you’re looking at a compelling reason to hit the suburbs.
Waterford Plaza, 34/230 Manning Rd, Karawara, WA. nomstar.com.au (no phone number)
Scanning through the menu at this Chatswood restaurant, you may be met with an overwhelming sense of choice. Tonkotsu or shoyu? Asian bau to start? What about a rice dish, or side dish… or beef hamburger steak? But indecisive diners, don’t be deterred: amongst the surplus dishes are real ramen gems. Black Tonkotsu is our top tip. Thick thick, creamy and spiked with black garlic oil, it’s the kind of ramen that doubles as lunch and dinner. Be sure to ask for kimchi on top as you’ll need the cut-through. Like to feel the burn? We direct chilli-lovers to the Spicy DanDan. Also tonkotsu-based, this one’s laced with a sichuan chilli paste and al dente noodles. If you’re craving the best of both worlds, order the Hakata Maru Tonkotsu, a mash-up of the Black and Spicy DanDan varieties. Fiery, garlicky and slightly lighter than your average tonkotsu, the broth is packed with tongue-tingling goodness.
Shop 1, 475 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood NSW (02) 9884 8861. Find them on Facebook
This ultra-gourmet ramenya incongruously plonked in the corner of Dixon St’s daggy Eating World food court is a shrine to the pig. Their signature dish ($14) features a double helping of soft, juicy roast pork, served in an unforgettable tonkotsu broth that tastes like liquified pork – and it's MSG-free, too. Gumshara goes through more than 100kg of pork bones each day, cooking up a fresh batch for lunch and dinner, and the result is the richest, thickest, fattiest ramen you’ll find outside of Kyoto. Dare to try their $25 “Super Mega Ramen”, with a truckload of sliced pork plus a spare rib, a skewer and a soft-boiled egg. The heart attack will be worth it.
Eating World, Lower Ground Floor, 25-29 Dixon St Sydney.
Ramen royalty. There’s no other way to consider the two Melbourne outposts (in the city and Hawthorn) for the best tonkastu ramen your spare change can buy. Okay, so maybe averaging $20 a bowl once all the extras have been thrown in doesn’t count as spare change but it’s worth spending it for the creamy pork-bone deliciousness of the tonkotsu from Fukuoka chef Kousuke Yoshimura. Order your broth: signature tonkotsu or with added black sesame, shia salt or the chilli-tastic God of Fire (one word: beware), then order the noodles in various stages of hardness and add toppings such as soft-boiled egg, seaweed sheets, various vegetables, or roasted rolled pork belly (chashu). Then get happy with the condiments on the table: pickled ginger, soy, chilli, roasted sesame seeds. Gosh it’s good. Happiness in a bowl.
168 Russell Street, Melbourne, Vic. 03 9663 6342; 4/860 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn; 03 9819 2558; gensuke.com.au
Newtown locals have embraced pop-up turned permanent drawcard Rising Sun, which combines two unlikely but highly successful ventures: a communal motorbike workshop and a ramen bar. Ramen's no longer the only thing on offer - Rising Sun now does breakfast and lunch seven days, plus dinners Thursday through Saturday - but the ramen remains one worth travelling for, if you aren't lucky enough to be one of those locals. And while you need to be a member to use the bike repair workship, there's no paperwork necessary to enjoy the ramen.
1c Whateley Street, Newtown, NSW, (02) 9550 3891; risingsunworkshop.com
This is an express ramen recipe that uses 44 cloves of garlic. Most of the garlic is browned and braised with an obnoxious slab of pork belly until meltingly tender, then blended with chicken stock and soy milk (my favourite ramen cheat) to fabricate the most speedy, but intensely rich broth ramen-history has ever seen. Call it the ramen with 44 cloves of garlic. Me, I’m calling it The Vampire Slayer.
Popular in the northern island of Hokkaido, traditional miso ramen often features a thick and tangy soup base made with copious amounts of white miso paste. Freshly minced garlic is served on side so diners can give their ramen an extra bit of kick.
Sapporo, the capital of Japan’s most northerly island, is renowned for its miso-based ramen.
The stock for this famous Japanese noodle soup is made from pork bones, which are boiled for hours, breaking down the collagen, marrow and fat, unleashing a creamy, white liquid. Traditionally, the eggs are boiled in the stock; add in step 3 of the recipe with the flavourings if cooking this way. You can make the stock up to the end of step 1 a day ahead.