Ramen is a relatively simple noodle dish made by combining Chinese noodles and soup with a variety of ingredients, such as chashu (Japanese braised pork), pickled bamboo shoots, seasoned eggs, chopped spring onions, and nori (dried seaweed).
There are various ways of writing ramen in Japanese, including 拉麺, 老麺, and 柳麺 in kanji (Chinese characters), and it is also called Chinese soba, Shina soba, and Nanjing soba. Of course, the most popular way it's written and referred to is simply "ラーメン," pronounced ramen, written in katakana.
According to the "History of Japanese Ramen" section of the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, ramen has its roots in Chinese noodle cuisine, which was introduced to Japan by the influx of foreigners to the ports of Yokohama, Kobe, Nagasaki, and Hakodate at the end of the Edo period.
The History of Ramen
In 1910, Kanichi Ozaki, the first Japanese proprietor of Asakusa, opened the Chinese restaurant "Rai Rai Ken" (Lai Lai Ken) in Asakusa, Tokyo, by hiring twelve Chinese cooks from Yokohama's Chinatown.
Ramen was the main menu item at Rai Rai Ken, and the year 1910 is considered to be the "first year of ramen" in Japan.
The success of Rai Rai Ken led to an explosion in the popularity of Chinese restaurants, which led to the opening of many Chinese restaurants and the appearance of ramen stalls.
The more restaurants that opened, the more unique the ramen recipes became.
These days there is a wide variety of ramen dishes, such as anachronistic ramen that emphasizes the taste of the ingredients, iekei ramen that emphasizes impact, and jiro style ramen with massive portion sizes, have emerged one after another, and ramen is now popular as a national dish.
Ramen is now served not only in Chinese restaurants, but also at specialty ramen shops, restaurants, and food stalls.
"Instant ramen" and "cup noodles" are instant foods that can be enjoyed anytime and anywhere just by pouring hot water over dried noodles.
These instant noodles and cup noodles, invented by Momofuku Ando, are so popular that they are exported to many parts of the world as Japanese cuisine.
Japan's Diverse Varieties of Ramen - Classification by Soup
For ramen, the soup is just as important as the noodles if not more, and by changing the soup, you can enjoy a completely different experience.
1. Shoyu Ramen
Ramen made with a soy sauce-flavored soup. This is the standard type of ramen in Japan.
It is characterized by a refreshing taste, but there are also thicker flavors, making it a standard ramen dish that has been popular for many years.
2. Shio Ramen (Salt Ramen)
This ramen consists of a salt-based soup.
It is characterized by a lighter taste than that of shoyu ramen.
3. Miso Ramen
This ramen consists of a miso-based soup.
This ramen is characterized by its deep, rich miso flavor, and is very different from shoyu and shio ramen.
This ramen is characterized by the flavor of its soup, which is flavored with chili oil and Chinese sesame paste.
It has a spicier flavor than other ramen.
Japan's Diverse Varieties of Ramen - Classification by Stock
One of the reasons for the depth of ramen is that it is classified according to the type of dashi (soup stock) as well as the soup.
The following is an introduction to the different types of ramen based on the type of stock.
1. Paitan Ramen
Paitan ramen is characterized by a cloudy white color and is made by adding vegetables or the bones of animals or fish to the broth and simmering it over high heat for a relatively short amount of time.
There are two types of dashi: "pork paitan," in which the fat and collagen in the bone marrow are dissolved by simmering pork over high heat, and "chicken Paitan," in which chicken bones and breasts are simmered over high heat, giving it a milder taste than pork paitan.
2. Chintan Ramen
Unlike paitan ramen, this soup is characterized by its clear, non-turbid consistency.
It is made at a temperature just before boiling so that it does not become cloudy but has a clean flavor and taste.
3. Tonkotsu Ramen
Tonkatsu ramen has a rich flavor, made by combining vegetables and other ingredients with a base of pork bones.
Torigara is made by boiling chicken stock, dried bonito, and vegetables.
It is a versatile dashi that is delicious in combination with soy sauce, salt, and miso.
There is also a "chicken and pork bone mixed soup stock" made by combining chicken stock and pork bones with vegetables, seafood, and sometimes fruit.
Additionally, there's "beef dashi" and "seafood dashi," which are used in various regions, and "curry dashi," an unusual type of soup stock.
Japan's Diverse Varieties of Ramen - Classification by Ingredients
The following are types ramen classified by ingredients.
1. Chashu Ramen (Braised pork ramen)
As the name suggests, this ramen is topped with a generous helping of chashu pork, and the secret to its popularity is the volume.
2. Wonton Noodles
As the name suggests, this ramen uses wontons as a garnish.
The combination of wontons with these noodles gives them a different taste.
3. Cantonese Noodles
Ramen noodles with Chinese sauce as an ingredient.
4. Gomoku Soba
This ramen is made with multiple ingredients, including meat, vegetables, seafood, and eggs, and is widely sold in the Kanto region.
5. Tenshin Noodles
This is a unique ramen that uses crab balls as an ingredient, and the rich bean paste goes well with the salty flavor of the broth.。
Ramen noodles with deep-fried ribs or battered and deep-fried meat.
Some restaurants also serve it with simmered spare ribs.
7. Champon Noodles
Stir-fried meat and vegetables simmered with egg.
Fried meat and vegetables are placed on top of the noodles.
Japan's Diverse Varieties of Ramen - Classification by Location
Here are some of the unique varieties of regional ramen
1. Sendai Ramen
Many of the ramen noodles in Sendai are miso based, a specialty of Sendai, and are eaten in and around Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture.
2. Kitakata Ramen
This is a local ramen that originated in Kitakata City, Fukushima, and is one of the three major ramens of Japan, along with Sapporo Ramen and Hakata Ramen.
It is characterized by a clear, soy-sauce-flavored tonkotsu soup, with a light taste and simple ingredients, so you can enjoy a taste of good old-fashioned ramen.
3. Koriyama Black
Koriyama Black is a soy sauce based ramen that originated in Koriyama City, Fukushima, and is characterized by its dark color. The ramen has a mellow taste that you wouldn't expect based on its appearance, and is very popular.
4. Stamina Ramen
This is a local ramen from Ibaraki and Saitama prefectures, with Ibaraki featuring a sweet and spicy liver and cabbage based bean paste, and Saitama featuring soy sauce ramen topped with ground pork, chives, garlic, ginger, seasoned with soy sauce and doubanjiang.
5. Sano Ramen
This is a local ramen from Sano City, Tochigi Prefecture, and is characterized by flat noodles beaten with bamboo.
Varieties include shoyu, torigara, and tonkotsu, and flavors vary from restaurant to restaurant.
6. Katsuura Tantanmen
This is a local ramen served in Katsuura City, Chiba Prefecture. It is considered to be a chili-oil-based ramen with plenty of chili oil in a soy sauce-based soup.。
7. Hachioji ramen
This is a local ramen from Hachioji City, Tokyo, and is characterized by the addition of chopped onions to its soy sauce ramen in addition to standard toppings.
8. Iekei ramen
Iekei ramen is characterized by thick, straight noodles in a pork and soy sauce-based soup that originated in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture around 1974.
It's a variety of ramen that can be found in many chain restaurants across the country.
9. Toyama Black
This is a local ramen that originated in Toyama City, Toyama Prefecture, and has a strong soy sauce-based flavor to help replenish one's salt levels after physical labor or exercise.
10. Takayama Ramen
Takayama ramen is a local ramen eaten in Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture. It's a light soy sauce ramen with a torigara broth that has recently become popular because the main character in the popular anime movie "Your Name" (Kimi no Na Wa) was eating it.
11. Kyoto Ramen
This is a local ramen that originated in Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture, and is characterized by its rich, thick soup.
It's a ramen that is best eaten with rice.
12. Onomichi Ramen
This is a local ramen from the Bingo region of Hiroshima Prefecture, featuring soy sauce-based soup, flat noodles, and minced pork back fat as a topping.
13. Hakata Ramen
Hakata ramen is considered one of the top three ramens of Japan. It's a tonkotsu based ramen with straight, thin noodles.
14. Okinawa Soba
Okinawa soba is a local dish of Okinawa Prefecture that's made using methods derived from Chinese noodle making techniques.
Although it is called "soba" (buckwheat noodles), buckwheat flour is not used.
Popular Ramen in Japan
Nowadays, not just ramen, but also tsukemen (dipping noodles), abura-soba (soupless oil noodles), and champon, derived from ramen, have become very popular in Japan.
It's no exaggeration to say that ramen is one of Japan's most popular gourmet foods, and it can now even be ordered through online shops, take-out, and in the cup ramen variety, without having to go to a ramen shop.