S1. Ep4. The Story of Ramen

Did you know that, Ramen is actually Chinese in its origin. The name was originally used for two other dishes, namely Chūka soba and Shina soba. Both translate to ‘Chinese noodle’?

And, did you know that an important aspect of ramen restaurants in Japan is that they mostly cater to solo diners and small groups?

Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup. It consists of Chinese wheat noodles served in a meat or (occasionally) fish-based broth or vegetable broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork, nori (dried seaweed), menma made from lacto-fermented bamboo shoots, and scallions or green onions. Nearly every region in Japan has its own variation of ramen, such as the tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen of Kyushu and the miso ramen of Hokkaido. Mazemen is a ramen dish that is not served in a soup, but rather with a sauce (such as tare).

Different Styles of Ramen

I want to tell you all about some of the most famous styles of Ramen.

Shoyu – Shoyu means soy sauce in Japanese, which is exactly what the broth of this Ramen is flavoured with. It is probably the most commonly found type of ramen.

Now soy sauce might sound like an everyday ingredient but chefs who serve shoyu ramen don’t use ordinary soy sauce. They make their base sauce or tare, using a secret blend of ingredients which include dired seafood, dired mushrooms and herbs. And this tare is often missed with a chicken broth base.

Shio – Shio means salt in Japanese, Shio ramen is usually made from chicken broth but can also be made from pork or seafood broth. This ramen is lower in far and oil and is often clear in appearance but is saltier than all the other broths.

Miso – Miso ramen is flavoured with, yes you guessed it, miso.

Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and kōji and sometimes rice, barley, seaweed, or other ingredients. It is high in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals.

Developed in Hokkaido in the 60’s, this broth is considered the youngest of Ramen broths. This nutty, sweet soup is entirely Japanese and uses thick, curly, and chewy noodles.

Tonkotsu – Born on the island of Kyushu, Tonkotsu is the richest of ramens.

It is a viscous, creamy ramen made from simmered pork bones. The bones break down and release collagen while cooking, meaning that tonkotsu can be so thick that it coats the back of a spoon. The broth is usually fortified with pork or chicken fat.

A famous sub-category of tonkotsu ramen is hakata ramen, which also originated from Kyushu. Hakata is very milky-white, served with thin, hard noodles and minimal toppings. Because the shop that invented hakata ramen was just a stand without chairs and for faster customer service, it made sense to serve quick cooking thin noodles.

There are a lot of other ramen that exist, one of the most common types is tsukemen, known before as morisoba. Tsukemen chefs serve separate bowls of a rich and creamy pork soup alongside chilled, thick and chewy noodles. You are supposed to dip the noodles into the soup then slurp.

Another variation is Chinese inspired hiyashi chuka. Usually chefs only serve this broth-less ramen during the summer although in Sendai region is available all year round. It’s composed of chilled ramen noodles with various toppings, dressed with a soy or sesame based sauce. There are also abura soba which is served warm and mazemen served warm or cold, which are similar types of soupless ramen, tossed in an oil-based sauce. Part from the broth the other key aspect of a ramen is noodles. Some serve thick and chewy, while others thinner, less glutenous noodles. Some even make their noodles in front of customers while others buy them externally. They are usually made from wheat flour, egg, salt and kansui.  Some places even allow you to customize the thickness of your noodles and whether you like them a bit firmer or regular.

More Interesting facts

Here are some other interesting facts about Ramen:

  1. According to the World Instant Noodles Association, China consumes the most instant ramen with 46 billion packets a year.
  2. In Japan, there are at least 22 different recognized styles of Ramen.
  3. It was the first type of noodles to be eaten in space. Invented by Ando Momofuku in 2005 for Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi’s trip in the Discovery space shuttle, the Space Ram, is a vacuum packed ramen made with smaller noodles and a thicker broth.
  4. The noodle length inside an instant ramen packet is 51 meters. Almost 56 feet.
  5. Ramen noodles are the best-selling item at Rikers Island jail in New York. Not only that you only need hot water for it, but inmates also use flavour packets to season their other prison food.

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