Last time around, I wrote up Nagi, a Tokyo shop that serves a reimagined bowl of the classic Hakata ramen pork bone soup. A number of shops have tried similar tricks, not the least of which is the by now world famous Ippûdô, who transformed the lowly and smelly snack of thin noodles suspended in liquid pork marrow into a family friendly high dining concept.
If you read the blog with any regularity, you've probably picked up on the fact that I'm something of a Hakata ramen junkie. Ever since finding my first favorite bowl back at the eminently tasty and stinky Miyoshi in Kyoto, I've been on the quest to find the perfect bowl of this Fukuoka-style staple. This time up was Kenta, located north of Kôenji along the Waseda-dôri thoroughfare.
Now, I've never been to Fukuoka (a state of affairs I'm hoping to remedy in the near future...), but I get the sense that Kenta does a good job of recreating the vibe of that southern rock city. A big tub of stewing oden fish cakes, a couple of rock posters, plenty of booze, a TV set blaring comedy, and a shopkeeper that looks like he's on the lam from a past life as a bike punk make for that great Western Japan vibe not found often enough in Tokyo. I'm guessing that there's a crew of regulars who probably use the place as a watering hole, drinking until late and snacking on the surprisingly extensive menu.
Even for Hakata ramen, Kenta's bowl is stripped down in true street stall style. The shop claims roots (with photos to prove it) from training at the famous street stalls of Nakasu in Fukuoka city, and something about the feel of this bowl tells me that it's quite close to the "real deal." Which, interestingly enough, means a soup a bit thinner and lighter than many Tokyo-area ramen reimaginings; allegedly Nakasu-style soup isn't as heavy or creamy as it's next door neighbor, the more famous Nagahama ramen that I grew up on.
I decked out my bowl with beni shôga (red pickled ginger) and shook on some sesame seeds, but saw no sign of the ubiquitous garlic that you usually find at Hakata-style joints. When I asked the cook I got a gruff "don't have none" back. Maybe that's how they roll with the bowls in Nakasu? Kenta seems to be all about dedication to Hakata authenticity, so maybe I'm the one who doesn't know better.
I do know that I liked what I was eating, so hurriedly sucked it down and called for a kaedama, the noodle refill that's a Hakata trademark. Since the noodles are so thin and low in water content, they get soggy fast, so it's best to eat multiple small servings rather than get a big bowl. Hakata noodles should be cooked to order hard as the dickens, which means just a second of two in the water, and you best believe that Kenta does it just right, serving the noodles up nice and wiry.
I personally like my soup a bit stronger, but there was something unplaceable about this bowl, some kind of Kyushu soul that most other joints around town don't have. I think my top bowls still go to Hitotsubo in Shinjuku and Goten in Sendagaya, but if you're looking for a really real bowl of Nakasu ramen, look no further than Kenta. It gets the stamp of approval from the Hakatatians in exile that i know here in Tokyo as well.
**Several readers recently asked - why don't you give the addresses for the shops you write up so I can actually find them? The answer to this extremely good question is...I don't have a good answer. I literally have no excuse for not having done exactly that from the beginning, and am baffled at how I overlooked such a seemingly simple fact. It'll take a while before I get the chance to go back and populate the addresses on the old posts, but from here on out, expect addresses at the bottom of each post. And use those addresses to find the shops and let me know how you like them!
健太 Kenta: 東京都杉並区高円寺北3-43-10 Suginami-ku Kôenji-kita 3-43-10. (To find the place, plug the address into Google maps, or just click it for a link to the Supleks Ramen Database page that includes a map).