A new way to enjoy your gyoza and ramen.

One thing we’ve learned since eating at Japanese ramen chain Kourakuen is that it’s always worth checking the menu when you visit. That’s where you’ll find limited-edition specials like chocolate ramen, and that’s where we found out, more recently, that they’ve now got a range of unusual hot dogs available for a limited time.

Unlike regular hot dogs, these ones don’t contain any sausage. Instead, they take the hot dog bun and fill it with gyoza and ramen ingredients, for a fusion meal that’s a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Initially, the range was only available at four branches of Kourakuen, but it’s proven to be so popular it’s now been expanded to even more locations, which meant we were able to stop by our nearest branch and purchase all three for a taste test.

▼ First up to the tasting plate is the Ramen Dog.

Given its name, we were expecting this to be a bun filled with noodles, but surprisingly, there wasn’t a nood to be found. Instead, the bread was packed with other familiar ramen ingredients, like naruto (pink-and-white fishcake), menma (fermented bamboo shoots), and char siu pork.

▼ Beneath it all was a mound of fried vegetables on a fresh lettuce leaf…

▼ …and everything was smothered in a few big squirts of mayonnaise.

We’ve tried bread and noodles before, but this was our first time to eat bread with the other supporting players in the noodle bowl. As soon as we got a taste of them, we didn’t miss the noodles at all, though, as the soft, chewy texture of the bread stepped in to mop up all the flavours, allowing us to enjoy the unusual combination of mayonnaise and char-siu, which had delightfully teriyaki-like sweet and salty notes.

The menma was chewy and the vegetables had a strong soy flavour, which was balanced out nicely by the fishcake pieces. The flavour of soy sauce reminded us of ramen broth, and it fooled us into thinking we were eating a bowl of ramen, only with bread as the star carbohydrate instead of noodles.

▼ It was wonderfully, mind-bendingly delicious!

▼ Next up were the two Gyoza Dogs, in two varieties: Salsa Sauce (top) and Okonomiyaki Sauce (bottom).

We couldn’t resist trying the okonomiyaki sauce variety first, which contained a trio of dumplings slathered in mayonnaise and garnished with pieces of pickled ginger.

▼ We could spy the okonomiyaki sauce underneath it all, soaking into the bun.

We tried a dumpling on its own first, and it was everything we’d hoped for — juicy, meaty, and flavourful.

When we tried it all together though, this Gyoza Dog really rose to the occasion, with the sweet okonomiyaki sauce singing out above the other ingredients as hits of pickled ginger provided bursts of salty, vinegary interludes. It was absolutely delicious, and so easy to eat we could’ve had another one, if we didn’t have the Salsa Sauce Gyoza Dog waiting in the wings.

The spicy salsa sauce on our final dog was the star of the show here, with a much simpler array of ingredients.

The salsa sauce also contained cheese, which helped to reign the heat back a bit, but we couldn’t help but feel it wasn’t the right fit for a dumpling. Call us old-fashioned, but the cheesy salsa seemed to fight against the other ingredients, detracting from the meaty juiciness of the dumplings rather than enhancing their flavour.

▼ Although we preferred the okonomiyaki variety, we didn’t regret taking a walk on the wild side with the salsa.

▼ Both Gyoza Dogs retail for 290 yen (US$2.62) each, while the Ramen Dog is priced at 340 yen.

All the dogs can be enjoyed in-store or as takeaway meals, and will be on the menu at a large number of Kourakuen branches in the Tohoku, Koshinetsu, and Kanto regions for a limited time.

With no big advertising campaign to promote these new menu items, diners are savouring them as hidden treasures, and like the chain’s mochi ice cream ramen, they’re definitely worth discovering.

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