A Beginner's Guide to Ramen

It's a fact, everyone loves ramen. If you don't, you don't know what you're missing!
But how much do you know about the different varieties of ramen? You may be surprised to learn there's a staggering variety. So give me a few minutes and I'll introduce you to the basics of Japan's greatest dish.
Shôyu ramen from Sakata.

Origins of ramen :

The origins of ramen itself are unclear, in Japan there are 3 famous tales about it.

The first one is about the legendary lord Tokugawa Mitsukuni who was the first to eat ramen in the 17th century.  We say that a Chinese refugee would have given him some advice on what to add to his udon soup to make it tastier (garlic, green onions, and ginger).
About the second tale, it is said that in Yokohama and Kobe ports , Chinese people brought with them a noodle soup called laa-mian 拉面 ("Drawn noodles") which was handmade noodles served in a light chicken broth. The soup was simple without any topping in it and was eaten at the end of the meal instead of being a main dish. So it’s quite different from the ramen we know today.
The third tale happens in 1910, when , Ozaki Kenichi, The owner of the shop called Rai-Rai Ken in Asakusa ,served a soup base that wasn't the ordinary 19th century version.  Rai-Rai Ken incorporated a soy sauce based seasoning sauce and served its noodle soup with Shina soba (which means Chinese noodles), chāshū (roasted pork), naruto (fish-meal cake), boiled spinach, and nori (seaweed). And this last version sounds like our authentic modern Tokyo style ramen!
Nowadays, Chūka soba replaced the term Shina soba because of political connotations, “Shina “became controversial as the word was used to quote China when Japan was still an imperialist power in Asia. This is why Chūka soba became the most-used term after the Second World War.
100% Tokyo style ramen.

What’s ramen nowadays?

Japanese food contains 6 food groups, and ramen belongs to the “Menrui" one . It is a category of dish, served hot or cold that has noodles as its main ingredient and is composed of 4 different types of noodle:

Soba : Japan’s most elegant noodle, made from ground buckwheat
Soba in Akita prefecture.

Udon: Thick white noodles, served hot or cold.
Kenchin Udon in Kôriyama.

Somen: Thin wheat noodles, normally served cold for dipping.
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Ramen:  Made with wheat flour and alkaline salt to help retain its chew in hot broth.
Limited edition of " Devil ramen " in Sendai.

Also, Ramen is itself divided in 4 primary types of soup flavors:
1. Shôyu 醤油 ("Soy sauce")
Often, you can tell the type of ramen by the color and consistency of the broth. Shoyu broth has a soy sauce base with a clear brown color. Usually, the Shoyu ramen has curly noodles, and the meat or vegetable adds a tastier flavor to the dish. It is also known as the most popular types of ramen you’ll find in Tokyo.
2. Tonkotsu 豚骨("Pork bone")
I know it’s technically not a true flavor since it contains either salt or soy sauce. It is made from boiling ground up pork bones for 12 to 20 hours for some places until all the collagen has dissolved into the soup.  That’s why the Tonkotsu broth has a pretty white milky look.
3. Shio 塩 ("Salt")
This salty broth is considered as the oldest of the ramen broths.
Typically, a shio broth is made with chicken or pork base. You can identify this broth both by its extremely salty flavor, as well as it’s clear yellow coloring.
4. Miso 味噌
Developed in Hokkaido, Japan in the 60's, this broth is considered as the youngest of the family. And this sweet opaque soup with a delicate nutty color is the only 100% Japanese unlike the others. The miso ramen is usually served with thick, curly and chewy noodles.
Vegetarian shôyu ramen in Sendai.

Reimen from Aomori: cold noodles served with apples.

Aomori milky curry ramen with a slice of butter. Inspired by Hokkaido's ramen.

According to the recipe, the broth is often accompanied with vegetables (seaweed, oignon, leek, spinach, carrot etc...), meat (beef, chicken or pork) and an egg.
Depending on where you are, the ingredients will be comprised of different local ingredients, evolved specifically to that region. For example, in Hokkaido you'll find a buttery ramen containing corn, in Nagoya the ramen is spicy and often contains garlic, and in Fukuoka the ramen a more milky variety.
During your journey , why not try them all ?

Lily Sergent