Tonkotsu ramen is a deliciously creamy pork bone broth traditionally served up with long thin noodles and topped with a variety of ingredients. In Japanese, the word ton translates to pork and kotsu to bone. The pork bones are cooked for hours over high heat so the collagen from the bones has time to transform into gelatin. This broth is also rich in minerals as the marrow and fats from the bone release all the good stuff too. The soup has a silky texture and a cloudy coloring – Tonkotsu is truly heartwarming stuff. Here we take a look at the major ingredients that make up this beautiful ramen dish and we give you a simple recipe to kickstart your homemade Tonkotsu journey.
Tonkotsu Ramen Recipe
Creamy soul-warming broth full of lip-smacking umami flavor, chewy noodles, and toppings that can include everything from tender fatty pork belly to soft boiled eggs with their golden yolk, nutty-sweet sesame seeds, earthy scallions, and crunchy bean sprouts – Tonkotsu is a sensory delight. While we know that Tonkotsu can seem like an overwhelming dish with many moving parts, we have a simple easy recipe to get you started on a homemade version of this dish.
- 1 pound pig trotters
- Half a yellow onion roughly chopped
- 2 green onions
- 1 inch piece of peeled ginger
- Soy sauce
- 7oz fresh Nona Lim ramen noodles
- Sliced Chashu pork belly (3-4 slices will do)
- 2 pieces menma
- 2 pieces nori
- 1 soy sauce egg (or soft boiled egg)
- ¼ cup of green onions
- ¼ cup enoki mushrooms
- Black garlic oil and a teaspoon of sesame seeds to taste
- Put the pork bones in a heavy stock pot and add enough water to cover. Put the pot on a high heat to boil. Once boiled you can drain the bones and wash any dark coloring away. You want the bones clean to get that light milky coloring.
- Put the bones back into a clean stock pot
- Warm a skillet and toast the yellow onion, green onion, and ginger together until fragrant and even charred in places for that aromatic release of flavor.
- Add the onions and ginger to the stock pot with the bones.
- Boil and skim for 20 minutes, then cover and let cook (simmer if you wish) for 6 hours making sure you top up with water as and when needed. Uncover and let boil again until you reach a consistency you are happy with.
- Strain the broth through a mesh strainer and let sit in the fridge overnight.
- You want your bone broth to be thick and to have a gelatinous like texture with a layer of fat.
- Add the pork bone broth and fat to a stock pot and simmer on a medium high heat
- Add in the soy sauce to taste and a little salt.
- Cook the ramen noodles separately
- Put the cooked ramen noodles in a bowl and ladle over the pork bone broth
- Top with slices of Chashu
- Scatter the mushrooms and add the menma too.
- Add a nori sheet and the boiled egg.
- Sprinkle with the chopped green onions, the sesame seeds, and give a generous drizzle of the garlic oil.
A Timeless Classic of Japan
Originating from Fukuoka prefecture on the northern shores of the Kyushu region, Tonkotsu is considered to be one of the most important ramens out there. In Fukuoka you may also hear this kind of noodle soup dish being referred to as Hakata ramen too as Hakata is the old name of central Fukuoka.
In 1937, ramen came to Kurume from a chef who had been in Tokyo learning how to make the dish that everyone was talking about. Originally, the broth in Tokyo was mostly made from chicken bones with only a touch of pork bone in there.
The tale goes that the creation of the modern day Tonkotsu actually came about accidentally. It is said that the owner of a ramen shop in Kurume back in 1947 left his mother in charge of the shop one day and when he returned he found the pork broth had been bubbling and boiling for hours. Dismayed at the idea of wasting a batch of soup, he tried to salvage it with seasoning. Upon tasting, he realized that the flavor was so rich and laced with umami that it seemed even better than the original.
Tonkotsu ramen kicked off and was considered to be a great staple for workers at the fish market as it was easy and affordable.
The Five Most Important Ingredients
Tonkotsu is a work of art. It’s a finely tuned array of flavors and textures that all come together to create something soul warming and belly busting to boot. There are five mainstay ingredients that help to make up Tonkotsu ramen and each is as important as the other. These are the ingredients you don’t want to scrimp on or cut corners as you run the risk of short-changing your ramen experience. For example, use fresh noodles instead of instant, go for pork belly instead of loin, and give due diligence to your dashi stock. Let’s take a look at the five essential ingredients that make a Tonkotsu ramen a rare culinary experience.
Of course one of the most important ingredients when it comes to your steaming bowl of beautiful Tonkotsu. There are many different kinds of noodles out there; thin and straight, thick and wavy, but the ones that can work the best in this dish are your traditional ramen noodles. Ramen noodles are special because they are made with kansui. Adding the alkaline salts is how these noodles get their golden coloring but it's also how they get that firm chewy texture that doesn’t fall apart. Some noodles may get a little mushy but the joy of ramen is that they hold their shape and texture super well. It’s best to go for fresh noodles rather than instant noodles. Fresh ramen noodles from Nona Lim tick all the boxes. Thin, springy, and with that glorious golden coloring, these noodles lift your Tonkatsu to dizzying new heights.
This is where Tonkotsu gets super exciting and you truly get to make it your own. There are so many toppings to choose from that you can go wild on weaving in color and texture to this delectable noodle soup. It’s traditional to have Chashu (pork belly), green onions, soft-boiled eggs that have been marinated, crunchy bean sprouts, nori, naruto, and a drizzle of Mayu (the black garlic oil). Of course, you can also add in menma (fermented bamboo shoots), chili oil, sesame oil, bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, and whatever else just sounds like a deliciously good idea for slurping up alongside your noodles.
The base of the soup comes from the dashi – an umami packed broth that bursts with flavor. Umami is that salty almost meaty rich flavor that brings depth and earthly aromas to the senses. It’s an essential part of the Tonkotsu broth. Dashi stock is one of the differences that sets Japanese noodle soups apart from Chinese soups. Dashi is often made from katsuobushi which are dried bonito fish flakes. It is also made from kombu which is a kind of kelp. You can also add shitake mushrooms or dried anchovies or sardines to your dash to bring out a different element of flavor.
The dashi and the pork bone broth is what gifts Tonkotsu that incredible depth of flavor. The pork bones should be some of the fattiest bones you can find – think trotters, neck, hocks, fatback, etc. You are looking for bones with plenty of marrow, skin, tendons, cartilage, and all that good stuff that can bring plenty of gelatin to the broth. These bones should be boiled rather than simmered and this should happen for a long time – at least 12 hours although some prefer to hit 18 hours. While this is the ideal length of time, you can of course make a simpler version as mentioned in the recipe above.
The tare is the seasoning that sits at the base of the ramen. It can be primarily Shoyu (soy sauce), Shio (salt) or Miso (fermented soybeans). You can also add mirin and sake to your tare. The type of tare you choose will bring its own structure to your ramen, for example, Shio helps elevate the other flavors of Tonkotsu as the creaminess and salt truly complement each other whereas Shoyu brings a hint of tang.
The Chashu is another major component of the Tonkotsu ramen and is braised pork marinated for a rich flavor and then sliced thin and added to the top of your ramen. Chashu was adapted from the Chinese Char Siu which is barbecued pork roasted over a high heat after being marinated in honey, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, five-spice, rice wine, and even red food coloring. The Japanese Chashu is more tender and delicate and is marinated in ginger, sake, soy sauce, water, sugar, and long green onion. It can be made either as a rolled log or in a block. The log is a popular choice as it helps to keep the meat tender and juicy and is easily sliced. Pork belly is the most common choice cut for making Chashu although you may also see pork shoulder and loin too. Pork belly is the best as it’s the kind of cut that melts in the mouth thanks to all the excess fat.
The Major Types of Ramen
There are several major styles of ramen that are the stars of the show when it comes to the noodle soup scene. While Japan boasts a huge array of rich and mouthwatering regional varieties, it’s these few main staples that form the backbone of beautiful ramen bowls. The type of ramen can be linked to the kind of tare (tare is the seasoning that makes up the soup base – for example, miso paste or soy sauce). This also affects the coloring of the broth. You can have clear broth which is called Chintan or opaque cloudier broths which are called Paitan. Each kind of broth comes with its own unique flavor – it can be salty, tangy, light, or heavy but all are absolutely delicious in their own unique way. Let’s take a closer look at some of the different kinds of ramen out there.
Tonkotsu ramen & Tonkatsu
Tonkotsu is the pork bone broth which we are centering all our love around today. Creamy and cloudy, we get to this point by boiling the bones for hours on end. As mentioned, this kind of ramen comes from modern day Fukuoka. Tonkotsu is not to be confused with Tonkatsu (despite the name being so close). While the former is a noodle soup made from pork bone broth, the latter is a dish that presents a pork cutlet, fried and served up with shredded cabbage, mustard, and a delightful dipping sauce.
Miso ramen is seasoned with miso paste. This brings a rich and hearty flavor to the ramen and an opaque appearance. Strong and savory this kind of ramen packs a punch. There’s also ample opportunity to explore with miso ramen too as there are many different kinds of miso paste including white miso, red miso, barley miso, and more.
Shoyu means soy sauce in Japan and this kind of ramen is made with salty and tangy soy sauce. This kind of ramen also has a rich umami flavor that can be totally satisfying for those who want their ramen with a little more punch.
Shio means salt in Japanese and is one of the milder kinds of ramen out there. Light and transparent in both color and taste, the softer taste of Shio makes plenty of space for the broth to shine. Shio can be made by boiling down chicken bones and is also flavored with things like dashi stock, bonito flakes, and dried sardines.
Tsukemen is a different kind of noodle dish. These thick ramen noodles are cooked before being plunged into cold water and served alongside a tare ramen broth. You can dip the noodles as you go coating them in a delicious clinging flavor. The broth can be anything from seafood to salty pork depending on your preference.
Tonkotsu ramen is one of the tastiest dishes out there. Hearty and simmering, this easy example shows that you don’t always need a chefs expertise and 18 hours to spare to enjoy a home cooked version of this Japanese classic. This dish is also rich in goodness as the marrows and bones are filled to the brim with minerals.
What are your thoughts on Tonkotsu? Have you ever tried to make it before or will you be trying this recipe? We would love to know how you get on so please feel free to share your success (and failures) with us in the comments