Japanese Ramen

Ramen has become ubiquitous, from instant packets to formal dining. Japanese ramen chains have popped up around the world.Ramen restaurants, or Ramen-ya, can be found in virtually every corner of the country (Japan) and produce countless regional variations of this common noodle dish.

Ramen is a noodle soup made with Chinese-style wheat noodles that sit in a broth and are served with various toppings.Keep reading and learn how to choose and eat your Ramen properly.

Highlights

  • Ramen originated in China and made its way over to Japan in 1859.
  • Though Ramen can be considered a one dish meal, many Ramen-ya also serve a selection of side dishes in addition to their noodles.
  • Ramen soup is generally made from stock based on chicken or pork, combined with a variety of vegetables.
  • A wide variety of Ramen exists in Japan, with geographical and vendor-specific differences even in varieties that share the same name.
  • Ramen can be broadly categorized by its two main ingredients: noodles and broth.

Ramen is Popular in Japan

Many foreign tourists like Japanese Ramen for its soup. Some people even drink the soup before eating the noodles. You can find Ramen in any village, town, or city across Japan(look for Ramen-ya, or Ramen shops), but these three are particularly renowned for their regional variations.

Sapporo (the largest city on the northern island of Hokkaido) is a standout for its miso Ramen, a thick, hearty variation that was developed there. Kitakata, a small city in Fukushima Prefecture, specializes in Ramen with thick, curly noodles and a soy sauce-based broth.And Fukuoka in Fukuoka Prefecture produces Hakata Ramen, which has thin noodles and a white broth made by boiling pork bones.

Popular Ramen Dishes

Ramen are typically categorized according to their soup base, although variations that combine the different bases are not uncommon. The main types of soup are:

Shio (salt) Ramen

This Ramen has a light flavor. The standard broth is made by boiling down chicken bones and seafood products (such as dashi stock, dried sardines and bonito flakes), and it has a characteristic transparency.

Shoyu (soy sauce) Ramen

The most common kind of Ramen, the broth has both the fragrance of soy sauce and a deep, rich flavor. Like Shio Ramen, the broth is made from chicken bones (“torigara”) and seafood products; some restaurants may also add other ingredients like pork bones.

Miso Ramen

Restaurants that specialize in Miso Ramen use homemade miso to make their soup. These soup recipes feature different kinds of miso, like charred miso, white miso, red miso, soybean miso, barley miso and rice miso. The toppings are similarly abundant, including sweet corn, butter and sautéed vegetables.

Tonkotsu (pork broth) Ramen

Tonkotsu broth is made by boiling down pork bones.Tonkotsu Ramen has a sharp odor compared to other Ramen varieties, and people either love it or hate it. Tonkotsu broth takes many forms; it can be light and smooth, or thick and rich enough to stick to the spoon.

There are also Shoyu-Tonkotsu and Shio-Tonkotsu soups.The noodles are usually very thin, and the bowls are topped with onions, char siu pork, bamboo shoots, finely-chopped kikurage mushrooms and pickled ginger.

Ramen Noodles

The modern Ramen noodlescene has a wealth of serving variations, even if the dishes are all called Ramen: cold or hot noodles eaten together with soup, noodles served without soup, and thin noodles eaten with a hot dipping sauce are also often called Ramen.

History

Ramen noodles were originally introduced to Japan from China. During the Edo Period, Mito Komon, also known as Tokugawa Mitsukuni, ate Ramen served to him by a Confucian scholar who had come from China. This is said to be the first Ramen eaten in Japan.This Ramen spread out to the general public after the Meiji Period and in the post-war era.

Noodles

Most noodles are made from four basic ingredients: wheat flour, salt, water, and kansui(a type of alkaline mineral water). While the vivid color may trick you into thinking eggs are involved, the color is due to the mineral composition of kansui. It comes in various shapes and lengths: thick, thin, wavy, and straight.

Soups

Ramen soup is made of the soup base as well as the added flavor. A particular point is in the soup base, where there is the so-called dashi. The original ingredients of this dashi differ, but can be made from the aforementioned pork bones, chicken bones, anchovies, dried bonito, or vegetables. For the added flavor, just simply add soy sauce, miso or salt to the soup base.

Flavors

Traditional Ramen always consists of soup and noodlesbut it is the soup base itself that really gives each type its unique kick. Shio Ramen, or salt base, is the simplest type you can eat.Otherwise, the most well-known types are Shoyu Ramen, which has a soy sauce base, Miso Ramen, which originally came from Hokkaido, as well as Tonkotsu (Pork Bone) Ramen from Kyushu.

Toppings

While the essence of authentic Japanese Ramen may lay in the broth, toppings are crucial in making Ramen the king of all Japanese noodles. Here are the most popular Ramen toppings in Japan.

  • Nori: also known as seaweed, is often cut into crunchy strips and placed alongside the Ramen bowl.
  • Chashu: These are sliced pieces of pork meat seasoned with soy sauce.
  • Seasoned Boiled Eggs: The type of boiled egg used varies depending on the kind of Ramen.
  • Scallions: Scallions give an invigorating natural aroma that compliments the deep richness of the soup base.
  • Kamaboko: sometimes also called Narutomaki, is a small slice of formed fish paste with a pink whirlwind symbol on it.

Side Dishes

Many Japanese side dishes could easily be served with Ramen, pretty much any that are served in small portions;some of them are seasonal. Here are some of the side dishes: wakame, takoyaki and pickled radish.

Noodle Shops

There are two types of noodle restaurants in Japan, here is some insight into the places:

Soba-ya and Udon-ya

Soba-ya specialize in soba noodle dishes and Udon-ya in udon, but in fact, both soba and udon can often be found in either type of restaurant. Most noodle dishes are served in a hot broth or come cooled with a dipping sauce on the side. The noodles may be ordered with different toppings and the menu often changes with the seasons.

Ramen-ya

Ramen-ya specialize in Ramen dishes, Chinese style noodles served in a soup with various toppings.Every Ramen-ya has developed its own soup, the most crucial ingredient for a restaurant's success.

How to Order a Ramen

One thing you may notice when making a visit to a Ramen shop is that many Ramen shops are set up with vending machines for ordering. This can be efficient, but also quite stressful if you don’t know what to look for. Here are some tips:

Firstly, choose your desired flavor.Then choose your broth weight;the options for Ramen broth are either thick or thin, and this depends on which type of broth base you want.The final step is to choose your toppings, which are the most fun part.

How to Eat Ramen

In general, Japanese people slurp the Ramen as they devour it. From an outsider's perspective, it can be perceived as a crude act conducted by an ill-mannered individual but in fact, this is the key to the secret behind its tastiness.

As you slurp the noodles, the ingredients in the umami taste vaporizes and thus stimulates the nodes located at the back of the throat all the way to the back of the nose. This enables the brain to react to its flavor and allows it to enjoy the various flavors hidden in the soup. Slurping also helps cool down the piping hot noodles as they enter your mouth.

Etiquettes of Eating Ramen

Ramen noodles get soggy quickly and should be eaten immediately after they are served. As with other noodle dishes in Japan, a slurping sound is made when eating Ramen. Don’t worry about making all kinds of sounds while you eat.

At the end of the meal, it is alright to leave some unfinished soup in the bowl. You do not need to drink the whole bowl to be polite, although it is considered a compliment to the chef to do so.

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