What is Sapporo Ramen?

From street stalls to global franchises: A Brief Look at the Northern Version of Japanese Ramen Noodles

In preparation for our forthcoming series of articles 'Five Great Places To Eat Ramen When Visiting the Sapporo Snow Festival' we ask the simple question 'What is Sapporo Ramen?'

At first glance, it seems like a pretty innocuous question, but the answer isn't quite as straightforward as one might expect. This much we know for sure - there are two Japanes cities synonymous with ramen, Fukuoka on the Southern island of Kyushu, and Sapporo, the 'Northern capital' of Hokkaido; the former is famed for its tonkotsu pork broth ramen, and Sapporo for its miso based soups. 

The first ramen to become popular in the city was served at a Chinese restaurant, called Takeka Shokudo in 1922, and was called ro-sumien. It was a Chinese dish adapted to Japanese tastes. Inspired by its success coffee shops and shokudo canteens across the city also began serving ramen. A coffee cost 10 sen, a bowl of ramen noodles 15. By the time the Sino-Japanese war ended in 1937 a ramen culture had already developed, based on a torigara chicken broth with seafood. Takeka florished, but the food shortages of World War Two saw it go bankrupt, never to reopen. No Ramen no Life_9367 (1).jpg

The Ramen Dojo Complex at Sapporo's New Chitose Airport

The modern incarnation of Sapporo ramen began in the aftermath of World war Two as repatriates from Manchuria began setting up yatai street stalls in the Susukino area of the city, where even today the majority of the city's hostelires and ramen shops may be found. The flavor of choice back in those days was tonkotsu pork bone broth. Then, in 1946, Hakodate-born Kanshichi Matsuda opened Japanese ramen specialist  Ryuhou, and, in the following year, Senji Nishiyama started a street-stall Darumaken, both serving shoyu-based ramen. Darumaken still thrives today at the Nijo Fish market. 

No mention yet of miso, eh? That arrived in 1955, when Sapporo ramen legend Morito Omiya founder of Aji no Sanpei revolutionised the Japanese noodle world by creating 'miso ramen'. It made the headlines when it was picked up in the influential Kurashi no Techo magazine, and by the mid-1960s, miso ramen had become synonymous with Sapporo, a situation that remains true today. Shingen_9124.jpg

Delivering the Business at Shingen in Sapporo: Shoyu Left, Miso Right

In the wake of Aji No Sanpei's success a slew of individual stores became successful, the most prominent opening branches in the USA, Europe, Asia and Australasia. Sumire, with its hefty servings of pork, and the characteristic layer of lard floated across the soup to keep it hot in the depths of a Hokkaido winter, was the first to break the 'Aji No Sanpei' monopoly. Dosanko, Santoka, Shingen, Saimi, and Sora all followed with massive success, the latter opening branches in Las Vegas and the Philippines

The Wikipedia entry for Sapporo ramen is fairly representative of much current thinking on the topic, though it misses out any mention of two extremely common ingredients, seabura back fat and lard: "Most people in Japan associate Sapporo with its rich miso ramen, which was invented there and which is ideal for Hokkaido's harsh, snowy winters. Sapporo miso ramen is typically topped with sweetcorn, butter, bean sprouts, finely chopped pork, and garlic, and sometimes local seafood such as scallop, squid, and crab". Sumire in Susukino_8910 (1).jpg

Sumire's Miso Ramen Has Acieved Nationwide Acclaim

The good peole of theIs Japan Cool? website, brought to you by All Nippon Airways, are also pretty nail-on-the-head with "Cooking vegetables together with the soup in a wok and pouring it over the noodles in a bowl is what defines Sapporo-style ramen. The noodles are of medium thickness and are firm enough to compete with the bean sprouts and other vegetables. Lard is used to thicken the broth for an added punch. This is one hearty bowl of ramen that will leave you feeling full".

Very recently on a trip to Sapporo to reasearch our 'Five Great Places To Eat Ramen When Visiting The Sapporo Snow Festival', I picked up a Japanese-language ramen guide, listing up (regardless of critical faculty, alas, one suspects) 1000 ramen shops from the city's estimated three thousand.  Understandably, miso features large, but large sections are given over to shoyu, shio, tsukemen (dipping ramen), maze-soba (ramen without te soup) and wonton and tantanmen Chinese-styled versions. Ramen Mix 1.jpg

The FGL Research Team In Action In Sapporo: 5 Bowls In Two And A Half Days

pondered all this while chowing down on my own personal favorite Sapporo ramen noodles, and decided that Sapporo ramen these days is just... ramen in Sapporo. That kind of simplifies matters. Now you just need to find which of the three thousand are best. We can at least recommend our Top Five. 

Stay tuned for further posts when we extend our Hokkaido ramen coverage to Asahikawa, Hakodate and the wild Northern coastline from Wakannai to Abashiri. If you are passing through Sapporo any time soon, the Ramen Dojo at New Chitose Airport is always worth a look.New Call-to-action




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