Ramen (ラーメン rāmen, IPA: [ɽäꜜmeɴ]) is a Japanese noodle soup dish. It consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a meat- or (occasionally) fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork (チャーシュー chāshū), dried seaweed (海苔 nori), kamaboko, green onions. Nearly every region in Japan has its own variation of ramen, from the tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen of Kyushu to the miso ramen of Hokkaido. (Definition taken from Wikipedia)
The origin of ramen is still hotly debated among fans the world over. Many claim that its origins lie in China, while others argue it began in the early 20th century in Japan. Regardless of origin, by the 1980s ramen had cemented itself as a cultural icon in Japan. Typically a street food sold in stalls for workers, the dish had spread across the country and regions began perfecting their own specialty versions. With its new found popularity, an official ramen museum was built in 1994 in Yokohama, Japan. Now restaurants catering specifically to ramen are commonplace all over Japan and are gaining popularity all over the world.
To westerners, however, the initial thought or response to the word ramen is that of late nights in college with no money and nothing to eat. It was that 10 cent meal that carried thousands of people into their professional lives with no regard for heritage or the foundation set years before.
There are 4 common base types of ramen broth, or soup, that make up the entire spectrum of varieties you will find on menus all over the world.
Shio: Salt ramen as it’s commonly known is typically made with any combination of chicken, fish, vegetables, seaweed, and a healthy dose of salt. Appearance is typically a clear pale yellow.
Shōyu: Also sometimes called “soy sauce” ramen, this broth is usually made from chicken or fish stock (although pork and beef can be used) and has a clear darkish brown color. Seasoned with a generous portion of soy sauce (which give the broth it’s color) this broth is salty with a slight tangy sweetness. Shōyu broth is one of the more common of the 4 here in the States.
Tonkotsu: The heaviest of the four, this thick, cloudy, and very rich broth is made from simmering pork bones (typically neck and shoulder) for hours and hours until all of the fat and marrow break down. Often seasoned with tare or a bit of soy sauce, this broth is heavy and robust with a salty finish.
Miso: The “newest” of the 4 mentioned here, miso broth is a specialty of the Hokkaido region. Often made with oily chicken or fish stock, it is combined with generous amounts of miso paste to create a robust nutty, tangy, and slightly sweet soup that goes well with corn, green onions, butter, and Chāshū.
Ramen noodles are painfully simple in ingredients, but very hard to make properly from scratch. They are commonly made from 4 ingredients: wheat flour, water, salt, and kansui or alkali water. Sometimes you will see ramen noodles referred to as alkali noodles. The akali water gives the ramen it’s yellow color and firm texture. Depending on how the noodles are prepared, they will either be mostly straight or wrinkled and can be thick or thin.
Ingredients, or toppings vary widely by region and the type of ramen you are choosing. Below are some of the more popular examples.
- Chāshū (thin sliced bbq or roasted pork)
- Kakuni (stewed pork belly)
- Seaweed (Nori)
- Green Onions
- Fish Cake
- Menma (bamboo shoots)
- Bean Sprouts
- Seasoned Boiled Egg
- Chili Oil
- Niku Miso (Miso marinated ground pork)
- Chicken Karaage (Deep fried chicken pieces)
- Chopped Garlic