When we discuss ramen, the staples that come into mind are shoyu, miso, salt, and tonkotsu. However, there is a boom for a new flavour in town since 2013, and it is getting so huge these past couple of years that you will find that quite many of the newly opened shops, particularly ones owned by young masters are focusing on this new trendy soup type. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you, Toripaitan ramen.
Toripaitan (鶏白湯) translates to chicken white soup. As you can imagine, the soup is made mostly, if not solely, from chicken fat, chicken meat, and chicken bones. Commonly shops would use whole chickens to create the broth, and some shops add either dried sardines or pork bones into the process of preparing the soup. This trend is drastically different from the traditional soy sauce soup that uses a bit of chicken fat, as chicken is ALL you will taste from this broth, and it is awesome.
The broth is typically on the rich side, with some shops offering “extra rich” options. The soup may look simply white, but the flavour is solid and deep. Pairing with thin noodles, the chicken soup coats the noodles evenly as you bring them into your mouth. If the option is there, I normally order the noodles to be firm to contrast with the rich soup.
In regards to toppings, one unique option exclusive to toripaitan ramen is the chicken cha-siu. Traditionally, cha-siu is made with pork slices and is usually grilled, but the chicken cha-siu challenges the ordinary. For starters, they are, of course, made with chicken. Breasts to be precise. The chicken breasts are prepared and seasoned, but rather than grilling them or cooking them in a strong sauce, they are cooked in a light broth at a very low heat for hours. The heat cooks through the chicken without toughening up the texture, so each slice is as soft and tender as you can get. Compared to the conventional pork cha-siu, this variation offers a much healthier option for meat lovers. Also, rather than the fat-meat + thin soup balance we are used to, this flips the table with a lean-meat + thick soup combo, and it is quite stimulating.
Other common toppings are bamboo shoots, eggs (chicken and eggs, why not?), green onions, and some kind of raw greens, which is very refreshing. One topping that I would highly recommend every time you try is to add a slice of butter into the ramen. Order it on the side with a little plate if possible, so you can slowly mix it in as you enjoy the noodles. The slice of butter makes the whole bowl a lot creamier, and in my opinion, brings out the best flavours and texture of the rich chicken broth even more.
This boom of a new ramen broth took the nation by storm, setting a new standard for how rich ramen broth can be. The innovative chicken cha-siu also blew a lot of peoples minds when it was introduced. It is rare that you can involve yourself at the early stages of a new ramen variation, and we will continue to see (and taste) it as new generations of ramen masters evolve it to new heights.