Hakata Maru Ramen

Hatu Ramen.jpgI HAVEN’T eaten in Chinatown’s Market City food court for years as I am usually drawn to the grungy-ness and more authentic basement Asian-style hawker courts of Dixon House Food Court and Eating World which remind me of being in KL or Bangkok.

I remember fondly years ago of a stall there called “McLaksa” which reminded me of that Eddie Murphy movie Coming to America where he works at a hamburger joint in Queen’s called McDowell’s (golden arches and all). McLaksa is no longer there – perhaps due to trademark infringement issues or going on to better things. A pity because it had good laksa, but I digress . . .

Market City’s food court is on level 3 on the western side of the Haymarket complex. There are about 12 vendors cooking anything from Indian to Vietnamese. Quite recently I decided to venture up to this top floor to check out what was going on and noticed a line at Hakata Maru Ramen. I decided to join it.

Ramen aficionados would know that ramen was born in Hakata – a district of Fukuoka. A true-to-form Hakata ramen is a tonkotsu-based soup which is made by simmering pork bone for hours and hours so as to extract all that lip-smacking collagen. This style of ramen also uses thin wheat noodles (rather than the curly ones often added in most ramen), and also garlic, shoga (pickled ginger) sesame seeds and karashi takana (pickled mustard greens) are usually on hand to add individualism and to the pernsonalise the bowl to one’s liking.

Hakata condiments.jpgHakata Maru Ramen only has three “authentic” ramen: white, red and black. It seems that the white tonkotsu is used as a base for the other two ramen. There also is a tokatsu base for chashu ramen ($10.80) and a prawn and vegetable ramen ($11.80). You can add extra shallot, egg, spicy miso, garlic oil or wood ear mushroom for a $1 each as well as more ramen noodles on the side to add to your soup.

Also on offer are four side dishes that you can add to your order to make it a ramen set: gyoza or karaage chicken wings (an extra $2), pork donburi (an extra $3) or pork tempura (an extra $4). It seems a few diners were doing just this to make it more of a meal  (yet in this territory you may want to head down the road and get a bigger ramen for the same price if it’s only ramen you desire).

One appealing feature of Hakata Maru Ramen is that it has on the side white sesame, pickled ginger and spicy takana pickle that you can add to your bowl for free (most other ramen joints tend to charge for such additions). You can also add vinegar and chili oil as well.

Hakata Red Ramen.jpgOn my first occasion I ordered the red ramen ($8.80), which is the white tonkotsu broth with a sphere of spicy red miso paste – it is sort of a miso chilli “bomb” which you then stir into the broth. In hindsight I probably should have stuck with the base white tonkotsu and added takana pickle to make it spicier as I couldn’t really see any enhancement to the soup from this spicy bomb.

The bowl features a handful of thin al-dente ramen noodles, half an egg, wood ear fungus, shallots, some pieces of minced port and a slice of pork. It isn’t as substantial as other ramen in Haymarket (but you would start at about $10 for some of those) but for less than $9 (and if you add side dish for an extra $2 or $3), you can get a serving ideal for lunch.

On my last visit I decided to have the white tonkotsu – it had the same structure as the red but without that miso bomb. This time I added some good dollops of takana pickle and sesame seed, some chili oil and pickled ginger. I also had a serve of chicken wings. The total was $9.80.

Hakata White Ramen.jpgIn this set you get two fried karaage chicken wings that come with instructions on the paper place-mat you get. One of the bones has been removed but the main bone is still there so that when the flesh is cooked it doesn’t dry out. The introductions tell you how to remove the remaining bone with ease so you can devour the meaty wing without getting too messy. The fried chicken wingswere moist with a light, slightly spicy batter. Good but the ramen was the champion. Unlike the previous visit this ramen had some lip-puckering collagen smack to it. With the added condiment additions to the white ramen bowl I found it quiet satisfying. With the chicken wings it was money well spent compared to just ordering the red miso bomb ramen bowl. In future a bowl of white ramen will be the one I will choose (and probably without an additional “set”).

Hakata Maru Ramen does the Hakata ramen tradition justice especially having those wonderful free condiments and offers a well-priced ramen that would satisfy even the money-conscious and hungry salaryman.

The verdict: Yes, there are better ramen around and it isn’t an overly lip-smacking, all-you-can-eat collagen experience (which is in some cases is a good thing), but for the money it’s good value and would appease any ramen aficionado who wanted a lunchtime ramen fix without going overboard on size.

What: Hakata-Maru Ramen, Shop 3, Level 3 Market City, Haymarket NSW Australia.

Ate there: 29 August and 5 September 2013.

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