One of the most well known dishes of Japan is Ramen. It’s more well known in it’s unhealthy instant form but in Japan there’s an entire lifestyle and history behind the warm noodle dish, we’ve talked about the documentary about it and we have given you a recipe to try yourself but this time we dove into books and internet to find it for you.
The true origin of Ramen in Japan is unclear; but what we do know (thanks to the Yokohama Ramen Museum) is that the dish was imported from China and during the famine after the first cold war in Japan many laborers got this from vendors. It was a warm protein filled dish giving them the nutrients to work hard. It probably came from China around 1859, it’s said that the Chinese flavors then hadn’t been suitable for the Japanese palate and it has been altered to the tastes they currently serve.
In 1958 the first instant ramen was invented; Just add water and some condiments and you were good to go; this absolutely boomed in Japan and soon enough flavours of every part of Japan was sold and in the 1980’s it started selling internationally as well.
But what is Ramen?
It’s a ‘dry’ or ‘soup’ based dish, the noodles are made with basic ingredients. Wheat. salt, water and Kansui ( a type of alkaline mineral water, containing sodium carbonate and usually potassium carbonate, as well as sometimes a small amount of phosphoric acid.). Most ramen shops create their own noodles as to how they think it should be made. Sometimes thick, some thin, some like them straight and the others like them with a slight wrinkle. It depends on your taste and that of the ramen shop owner.
Ramen soup is generally made from stock based on chicken or pork, combined with a variety of ingredients such as kombu (kelp), katsuobushi (skipjack tuna flakes), niboshi (dried baby sardines), beef bones, pig bones, shiitake, and onions. Some modern Ramen broths can also be vegetable based.
- Tonkotsu (豚骨, “pork bone”; not to be confused with tonkatsu) soup usually has a cloudy white colored broth. It is similar to the Chinese baitang (白湯) and has a thick broth made from boiling pork bones, fat, and collagen over high heat for many hours, which suffuses the broth with a hearty pork flavor and a creamy consistency that rivals milk, melted butter or gravy (depending on the shop).
The resulting combination is generally divided into four categories. (although new and original variations often make this categorisation less clear-cut) Described from old ones.
- Shōyu (醤油, “soy sauce”) ramen is the oldest of the four, it has a clear brown broth, based on a chicken and vegetable (or sometimes fish or beef) stock with plenty of soy sauce added resulting in a soup that is tangy, salty, and savory yet still fairly light on the palate. Shōyu ramen usually has curly noodles rather than straight ones, but this is not always the case. It is often adorned with marinated bamboo shoots or menma, green onions, kamaboko (fish cakes), nori (seaweed), boiled eggs, bean sprouts or black pepper; occasionally the soup will also contain chili oil or Chinese spices, and some shops serve sliced beef instead of the usual chāshū.
- Shio (“salt”) ramen is a pale, clear, yellowish broth made with plenty of salt and any combination of chicken, vegetables, fish, and seaweed. Occasionally pork bones are also used, but they are not boiled as long as they are for tonkotsu ramen, so the soup remains light and clear. Chāshū is sometimes swapped for lean chicken meatballs, and pickled plums and kamaboko (a slice of processed fish roll sometimes served as a frilly white circle with a pink or red spiral called narutomaki) are popular toppings as well. Noodle texture and thickness varies among shio ramen, but they are usually straight rather than curly.
- Miso ramen is a relative newcomer, having reached national prominence around 1965. This uniquely Japanese ramen, which was developed in Hokkaido, features a broth that combines copious miso and is blended with oily chicken or fish broth – and sometimes with tonkotsu or lard – to create a thick, nutty, slightly sweet and very hearty soup. Miso ramen broth tends to have a robust, tangy flavor, so it stands up to a variety of flavorful toppings: spicy bean paste or tōbanjan (豆瓣醤), butter and corn, leeks, onions, bean sprouts, ground pork, cabbage, sesame seeds, white pepper, and chopped garlic are common. The noodles are typically thick, curly, and slightly chewy.
- Curry ramen was first created in 1965 in Hokkaido. The soup is mainly made with pork bones and vegetables and is seasoned with curry. The noodles are thick and curly. Toppings include chāshū, wakame, and bean sprouts. It is a specialty of Hokkaido, particularly Muroran-city (hence sometimes being called “Muroran curry ramen”).
After basic preparation, ramen can be seasoned and flavored with any number of toppings, including but not limited to:
- Chāshū (sliced barbecued or braised pork)
- Scallions (spring onions)
- Seasoned (usually salted) boiled egg
- Bean or other sprouts
- Menma (lactate-fermented bamboo shoots)
- Kakuni (braised pork cubes or squares)
- Nori (dried seaweed)
- Narutomaki/kamaboko (formed fish paste)
- Crispy duck
Every region in Japan has their own flavours and ways of cooking the dish still to this day it is eaten as a quick on the go thing but there are also ramen fairs where all ramen shop owners come together on one long day to provide the visitors with their best dishes. From this usually a winner is picked. This fair is held in Tokyo every year.
Tokyo Ramen show (japanese only)
Ramen can be eaten almost anywhere, usually you can spot the restaurants by seeing the a curtain flap kind of thing in front of the entrance. A lot of the restaurants have vending machines where you can create your own/add the toppings you’d like and pay without hassle of possibly dropping your money in usually packed shops or trying to get staff’s attention, the meal ticket/receipt is all you need to give off before receiving your steaming noodles often seated at a straight bar right in front of the chef.
Don’t forget there is some etiquette in eating this dish from a restaurant… the etiquette is:
Do not eat slowly and be sure to slurp your noodles, the ramen will expand and when cooling down some of the broth will vaporize, so eat as much as you can right away.
Drinking the broth from your spoon or straight from the bowl is fine too, be sure to eat your ingredients separately.
But most importantly, enjoy it.
If you’d like to know more about ramen and a bit more of it’s history I’d advice you to go watch Ramen Heads. We watched this documentary and wrote a review on it. Go there by clicking here
If you’d like to spice up your instant ramen but aren’t sure how; I wrote a short recipe on how I like my noodles. Go to the recipe by clicking here.
Besides all of that; What is your favorite ramen flavor or even place!
Credit: Google, Wikipedia, Ramen heads