I’ve been talking about so many rice-based Japanese food, that I nearly forgot that Japanese cuisine plays quite nicely with noodles as well. Ramen is an internationally notorious soup dish that contains Chinese-styled wheat noodles. Many Japanese innovations owe much of their fame to China, and Ramen is no exception. Ramen originated from China, and though the source of the name is debated, it is said to come from the Chinese word “la main” that means “hand pulled noodles.” Until the 1950s the dish was known in Japan as “Shina Soba,” meaning “Chinese buckwheat noodles.” (The term is apparently considered derogatory by Chinese.) The pivotal year in Ramen history was 1958, when instant noodles were invented by Momofuku Ando. Instant Ramen just from adding boiling water into a cup. I wish I could think of such things.
Although Ramen usually comes garnished with many toppings such as sliced pork, dried seaweed, green onions, “Kamaboko”, and corn, it’s categorized and judged on quality primarily on the basis of the two fundamental components: soup and noodles. Thus there are several variations of Ramen one can find in Japan. The noodles can come in various lengths and shapes: Thin, thick, curly or straight. Ramen is further divided into the following four categories based on the soup type:
Prepared using plenty of soy sauce. Soup is a thick brown colored broth. Shoyu Ramen is tangy, savory and salty.
This is one of the oldest versions of Ramen soup, based on salt. It’s considered the simplest and lightest of all the soups, though its variation, “Shio-Butter,” is probably a bit more hearty (and tastier…).
Tonkotsu translates literally to “pork bone.” Soup is a cloudy white colored broth. Definitely one of the more heavy soups.
Miso Ramen is the newest version of Ramen which was developed in Hokkaido. Its broth features a combination of abundance of Miso with oily chicken. Tonkotsu or lard is added to the soup to make it thicker and slightly sweeter.
Goma Ramen has a thick and strong-tasting soup based on white sesame seeds. This isn’t one of the more traditional types of Ramen, and cannot be found in any Japanese restaurant, but I strongly urge you to seek it out.
When you get the chance to visit Japan, you can indulge yourself in the world of Ramen by paying a visit to the Ramen Museum in Yokohama, established in 1994. Although, if you were to ask me, I would rather spend my time on a Ramen-tasting quest for Japan’s best Ramen joint.
Josh Shulman, Author of “All-You-Can Japan: Getting the Most Bang For Your Yen” [ http://www.allyoucanjapan.com ]