Can the 7-Eleven version match the majesty of the Hakata original?

In the beginning, Japanese ramen was nothing more than quick, simple grub, and as time went by, instant noodle makers figured out how to replicate the straightforward flavors of standard ramen in a super-convenient package. While that was happening, though, passionate ramen restaurants were stepping up their game, staying several steps ahead of cheap cup noodles in the taste department and earning loyal customer bases.

But rather than stay rivals, today many popular ramen restaurants team up with instant noodle makers to give fans a way to enjoy the ramen they crave at home. Seeing this trend in the market, and also a way to get paid for eating ramen not just once, but twice per workday, our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun has launched the “Eating Famous Restaurant Cup Ramen Immediately After Eating the Restaurant Version Project” (or “Instant vs. Restaurant Ramen Project,” to pare things down) and today’s installment brings his taste buds to Ippudo.

Originating in HakataFukuoka, Ippudo has become one of Japan’s favorite providers of tonkotsu (pork stock) ramen, with branches nationwide. They’ve also teamed up with 7-Eleven for an instant ramen called the Seven Gold Ippudo Akamaru Shinaji Hakata Tonkotsu, produced by Cup Noodle maker Nissin according to Ippudo’s recipe.

First things first, though, so P.K. was off to his nearest Ippudo branch for a bowl of restaurant-made Akamaru Shinaji ramen!

The aka part of Akamaru means “red,” and it’s not just referring to the color of the bowl it’s served in. For the Akamaru, Ippudo starts with its signature tonkotsu broth, then adds in spiced red miso paste for an extra kick of flavor.

It’s not punishingly spicy, but it gives the ramen a stimulating complexity, and since Ippudo’s broth is renowned for how it maintains outstanding pork flavors without the oily finish or unpleasant odor associated with some other chain’s takes on tonkotsu, each sip of the soup is a symphony for the taste buds.

▼ It’s so good that P.K. seemed to visibly age while eating it, as though his soul had concluded that he’d just experienced life’s greatest pleasure, so he may as well call it quits.

For the second part of his taste test, P.K. could have gone home and made a bowl of instant Ippudo. However, the best comparison is an immediate back-to-back one, so we rushed a bowl of piping hot Seven Gold Ippudo Akamaru Shinaji Hakata Tonkotsu straight to him at our rendezvous point right outside the restaurant.

▼ Yes, our jobs are weird.

Holding the bowl in one hand and his chopsticks in the other, P.K. dug in…

…and declared instant Ippudo to be…

…pretty close to the restaurant original!

“With instant ramen versions of restaurant ramen, what you’re really looking for is how good a job they do with the broth,” P.K. explains. “There’s always going to be a slight difference with the noodles since the instant ones have to be dried instead of fresh, but you can’t avoid that, and really, the noodles here are fine, and do a good job recreating the firmness that Fukuoka-style ramen noodles are supposed to have.”

So how does the instant Ippudo broth compare to the original? “I’d say it’s 80-percent there,” P.K. reports. “They really nailed the pork stock broth, getting that same mellow yet flavorful tonkotsu taste that Ippudo is known for, with all of pork stock’s good qualities and none of its bad ones. The instant version, though, doesn’t have the same level of spice as the restaurant broth, though, and you taste more of the sesame oil as a result. Still, this is really tasty, and very close to restaurant Ippudo.”

▼ P.K.’s video report

The instant Ippudo also has a few advantages over its restaurant relative, starting with the price, 278 yen (US$2.70) versus 850 yen. Plus, there’s the fact that you can keep your pantry stocked with the instant version to enjoy whenever you want, which is much easier, and more legal, than kidnapping an Ippudo chef and keeping him prisoner in your home (something we’re officially telling you not to do, P.K.).

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