Will Koakuren’s Valentine’s Day ramen leave us lovestruck or lukewarm?

What do you have planned for Valentine’s Day? Will you be treating a lucky to someone to some sinfully inappropriate chocolates? Or perhaps wooing your fictional beau? Or marching in the streets to say “down with this general sort of thing”?

Whatever your stance on Valentine’s Day, most of us can agree on one thing: it’s a great excuse to eat chocolate.

Most chocolate brands push out the boat when February rolls around, but last year we saw an unusual contender throw their hat into the Valentine’s ring: Korakuen, a chain of ramen restaurants. Last year they won hearts across Japan with their unique offering of chocolate ramen, and this year they have a white chocolate option, too! Our very own Japanese reporter Tasuku Egawa had to go see what the fuss was about.

▼ Here’s Korakuen’s sign, proclaiming they’ve been in business since 1954.

Once Tasuku was seated, he looked over the table menu promoting the chocolate ramen duo. The dishes are available to order until March 11, 2020, and the first hundred customers to order a chocolate ramen meal on Valentine’s Day proper are treated to a small bottle of sake on the house!

▼ All this could be yours for 640 yen (US$5.90).

Tasuku noted that the menu described the chocolate ramen as a “forbidden romance”, but the staff’s definition of “forbidden” must be rather loose. Serving it two years in a row and adding extra products to the line-up seems quite the opposite of forbidden, in his opinion. After sniffing at the figurative decline of Japanese linguistics, he ordered both types of the limited ramen.

▼ Tasuku said the Chocolate Ramen on the right looked most chocolatey, and thus “most unnerving”.

Curiously, the White Chocolate Ramen didn’t look especially chocolatey at all. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was just a boring old tonkotsu ramen with a pad of butter melting into the pork bone broth.

Each bowl was garnished with a chunk of white or milk chocolate, and the dishes came with a bonus Tirol chocolate-coffee nougat on the side.

Naturally, Tasuku wanted to try the original flavor first. Chocolate Ramen, crafted with a soy sauce base!

▼ The rich, chocolate-brown soup was pretty intimidating.

First Tasuku allowed the chunk of milk chocolate to melt a little into the broth, so he could mix it in properly. Watching it gloop over the chopped green onions and slice of fishcake didn’t do much to assuage his anxiety. But still, it had to be edible. Right? Right?

▼ Here it goes…

So what was Tasuku’s verdict?

“It’s normal ramen!”

Well, okay, the chunk of mostly-melted milk chocolate had a disconcerting sweetness to it, but aside from that the ramen wasn’t especially sweet at all!

In fact, though the broth looks a lot like chocolate fondue and even has a fatty, oily consistency that resembles chocolate, the actual broth isn’t very chocolatey. Tasuku surmised it was closer to bitter, unprocessed cacao than commercial chocolate.

▼ A perfectly normal bowl of ramen.

The cacao taste is subtle, with the soy sauce flavor of the broth winning out in spades. Tasuku wasn’t especially wowed by the flavor, but admits there’s a certain novelty to the tinge of cacao and the fact a molten milk chocolate square is floating around in your broth. He had to say though that the milk chocolate bar put him off the meal enough to recommend people scoop it out before eating, or let it melt into the broth in full.

Now for 2020’s special: the White Chocolate Ramen.

▼ This one is made with a salt broth as its base.

Having learned from his previous dish, Tasuku let the chunk of white chocolate thoroughly melt into the broth this time.

▼ Time to take a sip…

This one might be a winner!

The cacao flavor was in fact even more muted in the White Chocolate Ramen, perhaps due to fully melting the chocolate piece beforehand. This lent the broth a gentle mellow flavor that Tasuku really enjoyed. The chocolate made the salt broth creamier and thicker, and even made it feel more texturally close to the tonkotsu broth it so closely resembled!

Again, this ramen didn’t taste sweet. The cacao flavor was present, but it curiously tasted much more like pork bone broth than something made of pure chocolate. This was definitely Tasuku’s pick over the basic chocolate ramen, even if it had less of a distinctive chocolate look.

As he finished his review, Tasuku lamented that he didn’t have a more severe reaction to either dish. If he’d ended up dying a horrendous chocolate death at Korakuen’s hands, it probably would have made for a more exciting article. But honestly, the fact that Korakuen managed to mix chocolate and ramen and make a serviceable dish out of it is credit enough. If trepidation about the taste is what’s been holding you back from trying it, get out there and order some choco-ramen!

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