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A Valentine’s Day special: Chocolate Ramen?!

A Valentine’s Day special: Chocolate Ramen?!

14 February is a day widely commemorated by people all around Japan, despite not being an actual holiday. Thanks to successful marketing campaigns in the 1950’s, the tradition of gifting and eating chocolate on St Valentine’s continues strong in the country till today.

 

As the concept evolved over the years, many companies in Japan have joined in the festivities despite having no overt relation to chocolate. One such example is Kourakuen (幸楽苑), a popular chain brand known for their chuka soba (中華そば), Chinese egg noodles in a pork bone and dried sardine-based broth.

 

Chocola-men

(Image credit: Ananda Kang) 

 

Just about a week ago, I dropped by at a Kourakuen joint nearby to sate my craving for some savoury noodles. I took my seat and activated the menu tablet.

 

I was just about to scroll over to my usual pick when I did a double-take at the menu.

 

“Chocolate ramen?” (Image credit: Ananda Kang) 

 

I couldn’t believe what I was reading at first, but remembering that Valentine’s Day was just around the corner, it suddenly made sense.

 

I was intrigued. I figured that if such an invention could survive through all that planning and taste-testing to get from the drawing board to the menu interface, it couldn’t be that bad, right? Wackiness is a serious business over here in Japan, after all.

 

I made up my mind and decided to give it a try, additionally ordering a side of Kourakuen’s delectable gyoza.

 

First impressions

(Image credit: Ananda Kang) 



My order arrived after a longer-than-average wait, and immediately my attention was drawn to two details: first, the broth was a very chocolatey shade of brown, and second, there was an entire slab of chocolate sitting on my noodles.

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

I gingerly spooned out a bit of broth for inspection. There was a definite savouriness from the shoyu broth, but lurking just beneath was a hint of unmistakable cocoa. I was stranded in a bizarre limbo between two simultaneous realities, one in which I’m having a regular bowl of ramen, the other where I’m enjoying a delectable piece of chocolate.

 

Surprisingly, the conflicting elements were able to meld quite cohesively into a strangely comforting and rich flavour. It wasn’t off-putting by any means.

 

That’s choc-a-lotta damage

There was a whole slab of chocolate in my ramen bowl, so I decided to get creative. (Image credit: Ananda Kang) 

 

I dredged a bunch of noodles through a bit of chocolate. The noodles certainly helped to spread the depth of flavour from the broth across the palate, offering some transparency between the sweetness and umami. A bit of grated ginger helped resolve the conflicting flavours to some degree.

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang) 

 

I tried adding some chocolate to the other ingredients–even to the gyoza. The contrasting flavour was expectedly confusing yet somehow enjoyable. It was turning out to be quite a beguiling taste.

 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

 

I merrily tucked into the rest of my bowl, and before I realised it, I was done.

 

The verdict

All things considered, I quite enjoyed the chocolate ramen. While not necessarily something I’d eat regularly, I would strongly recommend it to any intrepid diner who is willing to try unusual cuisine every once in a while without getting too crazy. It seems that this chocolate ramen is a regular offering at Kourakuen every Valentine’s Day, so there will always be chances for you to have a crack at it if you ever find yourself in Japan around mid February.

 

Kourakuen Aita Branch (幸楽苑 日立相田店)
Address: 3-11-17 Aitacho, Hitachi-shi, Ibaraki, 317-1415
Nearest station: Ogitsu Station (小木津駅)
Opening hours: 8am–8pm (daily)
Tel: +81 29-444-8755

Kourakuen Shop Listing (Japanese)

 

Bonus: 

(Image credit: Ananda Kang)

By the way, there’s a white chocolate ramen version too. Just saying.

 

Header image credit: Ananda Kang

 

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