Operating since 1957, Kokutei (黒亭) is one of the most famous and popular ramen shops in Kumamoto, proudly serving the local Kumamoto style – a variation on the classic tonkotsu ramen that Kyushu is famous for.
Kumamoto style adds in chicken to the broth, goes for slightly thicker noodles than the ultra-thin Hakata variant and adds plenty of garlic – typically both garlic oil and fried garlic chips.
Kokutei serves up several types of dish: ramen (¥680), ramen with egg (¥900), char siu ramen (¥950), moyashi ramen (¥720), 'umakara' minced pork ramen (¥900) and the extravagant nikumori ramen (¥1,100) which combines the char siu, yet more grilled pork and a spicy minced umakara topping all-in-one.
Their ramen with egg perhaps comes across as their signature style and one most popular with regular customers. Of course it's the most visually distinctive, but it didn't appeal to me and neither likely to visiting tourists. We opted for the regular ramen and moyashi ramen on this visit, both bowls topped with kikurage mushrooms, chopped spring onions and nori seaweed.
Everything at Kokutei is homemade – the soup, the noodles, the char siu pork and, perhaps most notably, the fried/burnt garlic oil – a staple ingredient in Kumamoto ramen.
The bowl really comes together well and offers a burst of flavour with each mouthful – the garlic itself is in no way overpowering, but you can ask for less or none at all when placing an order. Thenagain, it's a defining ingredient of the regional style so worth trying – you can even add more fried garlic oil from the bottles on each table too!
Kokutei seats up to 32 guests across 8 tables and a L-shaped counter wrapping round the large kitchen, whose predominantly female staff help give the eatery a distinct, relaxed homey atmosphere notably different to your standard ramen shop.
Kokutei ramen is about a 10 minute walk from the east side of Kumamoto station. Note they are closed every third Thursday of the month. As one of the most popular local ramen shops, you can expect to queue at most times of the day.