nissin ippudo karakamen: red slurp rising
7-11 convenience stores in the United States are currently running a promotion for the Simpsons movie; select shops across the nation have been transformed into Simpsons-style Kwik-E-Marts complete with tie-in products and cutouts of the show’s popular cartoon characters. Now I like the Simpsons as much as the next geek, but standing in line for a couple of hours to buy a rebranded Slurpee and some Krusty-O’s cereal just ain’t gonna happen.
On the other hand, if parent company 7 & i holdings ever starts selling their exclusive series of Nissin-brand instant noodles here in the States, I’ll be first in line in front of my old after school hangout. Well they never close, so I’ll be loitering around the Corn Nuts rack until the clerk rips open that very first crate.
We’ve already considered Santouka’s offering in the series; now let’s take a look at the emissary from Northern Kyushu.
When it comes to tonkotsu ramen, Hakata Ippudo is a stalwart on the scene, a highly respected chain with branches across the nation. Famed for its akamaru motoaji “red sea ramen”, Ippudo’s flagship bowl of noodles is a classic spin on Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen gussied up with spicy miso paste and garlic oil. Its convenience store cousin is a slight variation on the variation - karakamen “spicy noodles” in the akamaru mode with an added wallop of spicy ground pork to kick the heat up another notch.
But while Santouka’s Toroniku Tonkotsu instant ramen is a near-perfect um… dehydration of the original, Ippudo’s instant karakamen strays far from its akamaru roots; this is not a bad thing, as Nissin serves up unerring quality with there 7&i line and the whole spicy schmozz is, predictably, quite delicious. It’s just not quite Ippudo, and those of you looking for Fukuoka in a bowl may be slightly disappointed.
For starters, the noodles cook up a bit heftier than Hakata’s emaciated al dente strands, and the spicy ground pork is a bit too close to the popular topping found in tan tan men or Sapporo-style ramen. This may well be a seasonal thing; straightforward akamaru ramen has previously been offered in the series. More than likely, however, Nissin is just tinkering with the formula a bit. Karakamen’s tonkotsu soup is still decently rich and a fair approximation of Ippudo’s signature liquid and toppings like kikurage wood ear mushroom and a chewy sliver of chashu add an authentic touch. Perhaps Sapporo-based Sumire instant ramen, the third and final Musketeer in the Nissin trifecta, simply got its chopsticks into its convenience store shelf-mate.