The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Japanese food is probably sushi. But Japanese food tradition is far richer than most people assume, and it includes an incredible variety of dishes prepared with a wide range of ingredients and cooking techniques. Today we are going to focus on another famous Japanese recipe, Ramen (ラーメン). Ramen consists of noodles in a broth prepared with vegetables, meat or fish, and often flavored with soy sauce or miso.
Origin of the name
Although it’s been absorbed by Japanese tradition, Ramen has Chinese origins. The etymology of the word is not certain, the main two theories are that it comes from the Chinese term la mian (拉麺), meaning “handmade noodles”, or from the term lao mian (老麺), literally “ancient noodles”. Other names for Ramen are shina soba (支那そば), and the more common chūka soba (中華そば). Restaurants specialized in Ramen are very common in Japan. Some of them have tables that face or surround the cooking space, so that you can see the chefs working while enjoying your ramen.
History of Ramen
At the beginning of the 19th century there were many Chinese restaurants that offered a simple dish of Ramen made with noodles in a broth flavored with salt and pork bones. By the ‘20s it was a very popular dish to ask in a restaurant. In 1958 Andō Momofuku invented instant ramen, that has been voted as the biggest Japanese invention of the 20th century in a survey. What makes it extremely convenient is the fact that it can be prepared by adding hot water and waiting a couple of minutes. Instant ramen is very common and it can be found in every supermarket. In the ‘80s ramen became a Japanese cultural icon.
There is an article in Hub Japan introducing The Museum of Instant Ramen in Osaka.
The main ingredients of ramen are wheat noodles and broth. The noodles are usually made of wheat flour, water, salt, and kansui (a type of mineral water). The soup is usually made with chicken or pork stock. Common ramen ingredients are shiitake mushrooms, katsuobushi (skipjack tuna flakes), kombu (kelp), niboshi (dried baby sardines), beef bones, and onions. Soy sauce and miso are used to flavor the soup. A lot of toppings can be added to the soup, like sliced pork meat, leek, boiled eggs, nori, corn, butter and so on.
Types of Ramen
Nowadays ramen is incredibly popular, and many regions have come up with their own unique variety. Here are some of them:
It’s a kind of ramen made with miso, especially good for Hokkaidō’s harsh winters. Sapporo ramen is usually topped with sweetcorn, butter, chopped pork and garlic. Its ingredients sometimes include local seafood, such as squid, crab and scallop.
This kind of ramen is famous for its thick noodles in a broth made with pork and niboshi (dried sardines)
This dish is made with chicken broth flavored with soy sauce. Dashi is a common ingredient for this ramen type. Scallion, egg, nori, spinach, and sliced pork are usually put as toppings.
This variety is called Ie kei (家系), it is prepared with thick, straight noodles in a pork broth flavored with soy sauce.
It originates from Hakata, and it’s characterized by a thick, white soup made from pork bones, also called Tonkotsu. It’s usually made with thinner noodles than other types of ramen.
How to eat ramen
Ramen is served in a bowl. The soup can be sipped with a spoon, the noodles and the other ingredients can be digged out with chopsticks. Remember to make loud slurping sounds while eating ramen: in Japan it’s considered to be a form of appreciation for the meal!
Looking for ramen restaurant recommendation?
We have written many articles about ramen. Check out our list of articles about ramen.