A Noodle Capital built on Local Food Culture
Ramen: A “national food” of Japan.
Demonstrated by the diverse varieties available throughout the region, Aizu people’s love of ramen is so great that no discussion is complete without mentioning the “Ramen Burger.”
Aizu natives love ramen!
The basic style of Kitakata Ramen, one of the “three great ramen styles of Japan,” consists of flat and wavy noodles served in a light soy sauce-based soup.
Aizu Yamashio Ramen is known for its mellow soup, a product of the mineral-rich natural yamashio salt of Kitashiobara Village from which it is made.
If there is one food that the Japanese love so much they cannot get enough, it’s ramen. Japan’s noodle culture arrived from China in the early Meiji period (1868 to 1912), when the samurai were cutting off their topknots and putting down their swords. Ramen subsequently evolved in a uniquely Japanese way to become the elastic noodles made with brine that are enjoyed today. “Kitakata Ramen,” known as one of the “three great ramen styles of Japan,” was born around 1925. It later led the way in the “local ramen” boom, a time when the various local qualities of ramen began attracting attention.
There are many shoyu (soy sauce-flavored) ramen shops in Kitakata City, Aizuwakamatsu City, and Aizubange Town, which have long been centers of soy sauce, miso, and sake brewing. However, the deliciously mellow saltiness of “Aizu Yamashio Ramen”—made with a specialty product of Kitashiobara Village called yamashio (mountain salt)—has also become a favorite. Nishiaizu Town’s “Miso Ramen” is also popular in an assortment of variations, each lovingly developed by the shop that serves it.
This love for ramen has evolved into even more unique territory with the invention of the “Kitakata Ramen Burger.” Ramen noodles are cooked and solidified into a “bun” into which a thick slice of chashu (sliced pork) is inserted. The “sandwich” is completed by adding green onions, and naruto fish cake, and other standard ramen toppings. A gelée of shoyu-flavored soup is used instead of sauce to fully “recreate” the region’s beloved ramen. This original food item was created by a restaurant in the Michi-no-Eki Kitakata roadside station and can only be enjoyed there.
When it comes to traditional noodles, soba is the natural choice.
The soba flour is kneaded and rolled flat. It is then folded upon itself several times and then cut thinly. Soba-making has been handed down for generations in families from regions with a rich soba tradition.
The famous negisoba of Ouchijuku is eaten with a single leek (negi) instead of chopsticks.
Another popular noodle is soba (buckwheat). Soba dishes are part of the food cultures of China’s Yunnan Province, where they are said to have originated, as well as Korea, Europe, and other regions. Although soba is a common food ingredient, it is eaten in the form of noodles in a surprisingly small number of countries. It is also grown in Aizu, primarily in the region’s higher elevations, and has become a commonly used ingredient in a variety of local dishes.
Soba noodles are made by pulverizing 100% buckwheat into flour with a millstone and then kneading it into dough by adding water only. The dough is then rolled out thinly with a rolling pin and cut into thin noodles, which are then boiled. The “three -tates” (= “just done”)—hikitate (just milled), uchitate (just made), and yudetate (just boiled)—are considered to be the foundation of deliciousness and form the “credo” of many soba restaurants.
The noodles are quickly dipped into a soy-sauce dipping sauce (tsukedare) made with kombu (kelp), katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings), and other highly delicious dried foods and then eaten with condiments and green onions. If you feel this Japanese dish will not be filling enough for you, try ordering it as a set with tempura.
When comes to both ramen and soba, Aizu natives have their own favorite local flavor and restaurant—saying “this ramen/soba is the best!”—and will not budge an inch if told others are better. Such is the pride of people who truly love their noodles.