Saying you’ve had ramen in Sapporo is like saying you’ve had pizza in New York City. Allegiances are drawn, sides are taken and loyalties are established. The task of choosing a ramen shop for the very first time in Sapporo can be a daunting one, but also an exciting culinary adventure.
Of course, I had heard of the famous Susukino Ramen Alley but was also aware that it was something a tourist attraction and less about an authentic local experience. Ironically, Susukino Alley was where the evening started and like so many tourist attractions, the perception did not live up to the reality. It was much smaller than I anticipated and many of the shops were rather quiet, with only a few showing signs of life.
Prior to arriving in the alley I had already decided I would eat at a nearby restaurant away from the tourist area: Ramen Meijinbou. When I investigate and research restaurants I may encounter a couple of phrases that instantaneously engender warm, fuzzy feelings - if not a downright Pavlovian drool response. In the case of Ramen Meijinbou, they had me at slow-roasted pork belly.
The starting point of any bowl of delicious goodness is the broth. In Sapporo, miso ramen is king and the rich, almost creamy broth is so good that you won’t want to leave a single drop. It is ramen, so that slightly chewy texture of the noodles mixes perfectly with the aforementioned broth. Then there is the pork. My Kakuni Ramen cost ¥1000 and was served in a very large bowl. Sitting atop the mountain of steamy ramen were five, count them, five slices of fatty, rich, melt-in-your-mouth slices of slow roasted pork belly.
The spring evening in Sapporo was still a little chilly, so the warmth and sustenance my Kakuni provided was a fantastic introduction to ramen in a city well known throughout Hokkaido and Japan as something of an epicurean destination.
In a city the size of Sapporo, one could eat in a different ramen shop every day and not have a repeat visit until years down the road. One could also find a single ramen shop and not visit another purveyor for an equal length of time. I’m inclined to say that I will continue to explore other ramen shops throughout the city, but then again, that slow-roasted pork belly and miso broth still seems to be calling my name.