Kitakata: A Legendary Ramen Town
Maximizing the quality local produce such as shoyu, natural water, and niboshi, the ramen in Kitakata highlights great umami flavor in the broth and unique “al dente” noodle texture.
If you ask which are the top three regions for ramen in Japan, the answer will be Sapporo, Hakata and Kitakata. The first two are big cities that have over a million people respectively. On the other hand, Kitakata is tiny, with a population of only 50,000, but despite the small size, there are 120 ramen shops in this town.
Located in the Aizu Basin (see below) in the western part of Fukushima Prefecture, Kitakata City is rich in natural spring water, which is the secret to producing high quality brewing products like jizake (local craft sake) and shoyu (soy sauce) as well as ramen. Kitakata also developed as the hub of land transportation during the Edo Period (1603-1868), allowing it to import lots of food supplies including niboshi or dried sardines, which is an important ingredient for making the delicious broth for Kitakata ramen.
Kitakata ramen features thick, flat and curly noodles with distinguished texture served in pork and niboshi based, shoyu flavored soup. Originally the style was created by a man from China, who opened the first ramen house, Genraiken, in Kitakata in 1925, which is still open today. Afterwards, the ramen culture spread throughout the city due to its convenience, reasonable price and delicious taste. Locals loved it so much, they ate ramen even for breakfast, what they call “Asa-Rah (morning ramen).” Currently, 6 ramen houses in Kitakata serve “Asa-Rah”; Bannai Shokudo, Makoto Shokudo, Ippei, Abe Shokudo, Kiichi, and Asian Shokudo.
Long standing, Makoto Shokudo, serves classic ramen that embodies the Kitakata style. Giving rich, yet refreshing flavor, its slightly cloudy shoyu soup is exquisite.
Though ramen had been a staple for Kitakata people, it was not until the 1970s when Kitakata gained its recognition as a ramen city. As mentioned, since Kitakata traditionally prospered as an important center of transportation with a thriving brewing industry, naturally a lot of warehouses were built. In the 70s, tourists started swarming to the city to see historically beautiful warehouse buildings, and they happened to discover the delicious local ramen, which led to Kitakata ramen’s national fame.
Kanechu is one of the esteemed shoyu and miso producers with over 180 years of history. They have beautiful warehouses that are still in use.
There is no specific season for enjoying Kitakata ramen and beautiful, landmark warehouses, but February might be particularly exciting. The Kitakata Ramen Festa has been held every winter since 2001, attracting more than 10,000 visitors every year. In the two day event, 8 renowned ramen artisans from across the nation are invited to present their craft ramen, allowing people to try special regional types of ramen from all over Japan, in just 1 city. In the year 2012, the Kitakata Ramen Festa will be held February 18 and 19.
Aizu basin and Aizu-Wakamatsu
The Aizu basin is located in Fukushima prefecture at the border of Niigata, Yamagata and Tochigi prefectures. The high quality, natural water in the region helped develop the brewing industry for craft sake as well as shoyu, resulting in a rich food culture. Also, many small rustic onsen (hot spring) spas are scattered throughout the region, making it a perfect place to unwind while enjoying local delicacies. Aizu-Wakamatsu is the most populated city in the region and rich in history. The city embraces the Tsurugajo Castle, well known for the tragedy of Byakkotai, when a group of teenage trainees from the Aizu clan committed suicide in the battle that led into the Meiji restoration (1868). Aizu-Wakamatsu is a twenty minute train ride away from Kitakata.
How to get Kitakata from Tokyo
By train: Tokyo (by Tohoku Shinkansen: 85 min.)
→Koriyama (by JR Ban’etsu West Line: 85 min.)
By car: Tokyo (By Tohoku Expressway: 175 min.)
→Koriyama Junction (Ban’etsu Expressway: 40 min.)
→Aizuwakamatsu Interchange (Route 121: 20 min.)
By plane: Fukushima Airport (30 min. by taxi)
→Koriyama (JR Ban’etsu West Line: 85 min.)
Featured ramen houses in this article
Bannai Shokudo: +81-241-22-0351
Makoto Shokudo: +81-241-22-0232
Abe Shokudo: +81-241-22-2004
Asian Shokudo: +81-241-23-6161
To get more information about ramen houses in Kitakata and the Kitakata Ramen Festa, contact Kitakata Tourist Association.
7244-2 Oshimizu, Higashi, Kitakata city
Fukushima, JAPAN 966-8601