"Kato Ramen" - What do the numbers "10. 5,3,2" have to do with ramen!?
In the residential area of Asahikawa, in the basement of a building that looks just like any other regular house, you can find the originator of Asahikawa style ramen, "Kato Ramen." As soon as you take your first step down the stairs you'll be overwhelmed by the delicious smell of flour from the noodles being prepared here. The company has used the same noodle making process since it began in 1947.
▲"Kato Ramen" is listed in the school books for 3rd and 4th graders in Asahikawa.
I spoke with the company president, Mr. Osamu Kato, about his noodle making and the thought process behind it.
"Originally the noodles were made of simply wheat, no preservatives were added. However, noodles and the process behind them have continued to evolved through the years. Many other makers have begun to include additives in their recipes, but our noodles our different. Here we've always kept stubbornly to our motto: Don't add anything the noodles don't need!"
With that being said, the Kato company has always been in pursuit of a more delicious noodle. Improvements made in the creation process have been made, such as using a water and flour combination rather than just plain water, or using an aqueous solution made from the shells of Hokkaido scallops.
For this solution they make use of many shells which would otherwise have been considered garbage.
This aqueous solution extends the shelf life of the noodles by acting as a sanitizing and antibacterial agent. It also appears to increase the firmness of the noodle.
One of the main features of Kato ramen is the "hydrolysis rate."
When making noodles, you must add water in order to stretch out the dough. But with Kato noodles, the amount of water needed is surprisingly low. In fact, if you were able to touch the dough during the process, as I was, you'd be surprised to find it nearly completely dry!
I asked how it was possible to make noodles with dough of this quality, and Mr. Kato responded, "This is a trick of the trade we've been using since we began. It's the true craftsmanship behind the noodles."
I was shown around the noodle factory in the basement and was nearly overwhelmed y the smell of flour. I asked why the factory was located in the basement.
"The temperature in the basement remains constant! When mixing flour and water you have to do it at various times during the day. Large changes in temperature mean large changes in the taste, down here we have very subtle changes, meaning a more delicate noodle making process!" explained Mr. Kato.
▲Wooden boxes containing noodles. Mr. Kato explained that "plastic boxes would smother the noodles, but the wood helps allow heat to escape."
"All noodles start with flour and water, and then you may add various additives. These help to stretch the dough into noodles, sure, but as you proceed the natural taste of the noodle begins to disappear. Here, try smelling these noodles here, made without any of those additives."
He passed me some noodles which smelled strongly of flour.
▲"See it smells like flour!"
There are no unnecessary ingredients added, so the noodles absorb the ramen broth quite well.
Because of this, the noodles end up with a bit of the soup flavoring, making each restaurant's noodles unique.
▲"Our noodles are a bit more expensive than others. Some say we have the most expensive noodles in Japan. But we can't make any changes, nor can we substitute ingredients, so the noodles must be the way they are. We don't want to change them in any way." explained Mr. Kato.
▲The noodles are all made by hand.
During my interview a local came in to buy some noodles. The costumer spouted out a random series of numbers, "10. 5,3,2." The buying process was a complete mystery to me, and reminded me a bit of a tofu shop.
Mr. Kato later explained that "We sell bags of ten noodles only, and have three basic types for the different kind of ramen available. We list them in the order: soy sauce, miso, and salt. So, for example, some customers come in with orders like '10. 2,2,6.' or '20. 10, 5, 5.' which we interpret and provide. I'm sure you understand."
So it seems that the customer had meant, "10 packs of ramen noodles. 5 soy sauce soup based, 3 miso soup based, and 2 salt soup based."
▲For those outside Hokkaido, the noodles are available by mail order! Alternatively you can purchase them over the phone. If you use the above mentioned code to order, I'm sure the staff will be surprised!
Recently in Hokkaido, ramen shops with the name "Noren" have begun to increase. Right beside the name is the name of the noodle maker used by the shop. So when you go looking for good ramen in Hokkaido keep an eye out for the name "Kato Ramen" (加藤ラーメン in Japanese) and try out this delicious noodle! The taste is fantastic, and is sure to bring a smile to your face!
■株式会社加藤ラーメン (Kato Ramen Co.)
(Migi 6-Go, 4-Jyo 21-Chome, Asahikawa)
■Kato Ramen Online Shop
(Hokkaido Likers Writer - Takako Chiba)
Photographs provided by 諏訪写真事務所.