Ramen 101: Things you wanted to know about amazing Japanese ramen

Ramen 101: Things you wanted to know about amazing Japanese ramen



What’s “ramen”?

Ramen is popular worldwide like Sushi as Japanese food. Ramen is a noodle soup originally from China. Japanese improved and refined it with unique twists. You might think ramen to Japanese is just like a hot dog to Americans. Yes, it is in a sense. Ramen is a very casual, comfort food to Japanese. However, it won’t just end there – ramen isn’t just ramen for Japanese.


Ramen in the US

If you think ramen you get in the US is great, think again. The level of ramen in Japan is simply no comparison to the ones in the US. I even think some instant noodles from Japan taste better than many ramens at ramen shops in CA (it’s true! Try “chukazanmai” – so good!). In fact, there’s even a Michelin star rated “instant” cup ramen (by “Nakiryu”: 2nd ramen shop with a Michelin star in Japan). “Tsuta” ramen is the first ramen shop in the world to ever win a Michelin star.


Japanese & Ramen

While the Japanese have so many other dishes to enjoy other than ramen, ramen is so popular in Japan. Japan (similar size to California) alone has more than 32,000 ramen shops throughout the country. Ramen competitions in Japan are seriously fierce. Mediocre ramen shops definitely won’t survive. Many of them are small, popular ones are packed with lines out the door to the block ahead during lunch/dinner time.

In addition, the Japanese never settle with so-so food and always try to find tasty foods – super finicky eaters. Ramen chefs spend hours to overnight to broth alone for perfection. Other important elements like toppings and noodles are also paid huge attention as much as the broth.

Real good ramen in Japan is so deep, sophisticated, and incredibly tasty – a well-established dish that is Michelin-star worthy.


Ramen is very regional

Additionally, ramen is extremely regional in Japan, and countless styles exist. For example, “Miso” ramen is popular in northern Japan, and “Tonkotsu” ramen is popular in the southwestern side of Japan.

Every prefecture on the island and even specific cities within prefectures prepares its own take on the noodle soup and noodle. Not just the regional flare – every shop does their own things – varieties are just endless.


4 noodle types in Japan

Ramen is one of the 4 major noodles found in Japan.

  1. Ramen: Made with wheat flour and alkaline salt to help retain its chew in a hot broth.
  2. SobaThin dark noodles, made from ground buckwheat, served hot or cold
  3. UdonThick white noodles, served hot or cold.
  4. Somen: Thin wheat noodles, normally served cold for dipping

Ramen components

Ramen is extremely regional and hundreds of styles available. Let’s deconstruct ramen so that you can understand every element better.

  1. Noodles
  2. Broth (“Dashi”)
  3. Base flavor (“Tare”)
  4. Toppings & Condiments

Noodles (“men”)

Noodles (“men” in Japanese) totally vary depending on the regions and shops: some ramen shops serve thick and chewy noodles, while others offer thinner, less-glutenous specimens. Some make their own noodles, some buy from the noodle manufacturers. However, many shops let you choose the thickness/doneness up to your liking.

As raw ramen noodles are alkaline, have some flour dusted on them, they have to be boiled separately from the soup.



Basic 2 noodle types

  • The low alkaline: thin, straight, a stronger taste of wheat, a heavier texture. They also tend to get soggy faster. 
  • The high alkaline: a brighter yellow color, have a lighter feel, and are more springy. They also add a layer of flavor as they have a taste of their own. Wavy ramen and thick ramen noodles.



Various elements on noodles

  • Thickness: thin, regular, thick    *Some ramen shops allow customers to customize it
  • Shape: straight, wavy (“Chuka” Chinese style – more common)
  • Width: skinny, wide
  • Texture: chewy to soft
  • Doneness: regular to firm  *Many ramen shops allow customers to customize it
  • Color: yellow to white
  • Ingredients: wheat flour, egg, salt, normal water and “kansui” mineral water (alkaline mineral water which give ramen noodles their unique bounce and taste and it also makes them yellow even though they contain no egg).



Kaedama

If one noodle isn’t enough for you, you can order only additional noodle(s), which is called “kaedama”. Why do we do this? 1) It’s cheaper than ordering another bowl. 2) You just want a noodle, not a broth nor toppings.


Broths (“dashi”)

Basic ramen broth doesn’t have too many ingredients. However, the recipes really vary depending on the shops. There are some elements to distinguish each broth style. 



Base ingredients

The broth base is the main ingredients simmered to make the soup. Some ramen shops offer multiple base options (from chicken to vegan) with single/multiple “tare”. Variations that combine the different bases are common – it really varies depending on the ramen shops.

  • Chicken/chicken bones
  • Beef/beef bones
  • Pork/Pork bones
  • Seafood – fresh fish, bonito flakes (“Katsuobushi”), dried salted anchovy (“Niboshi”), Kelp (“Konbu”)
  • Vegetables – onions, garlic, giner, scallions/leeks, mushrooms etc.
  • Or the combinations of those



Prawn (“Ebi”) Ramen

  • Broth: meat stock is fortified with prawn heads
  • Color: reddish hue
  • Toppings: deep-fried shallots and sakura shrimp
  • Ramen shop: EbiKin, Tokyo


Torikotsu (“Chicken bone”) Ramen

  • Broth: chicken bones, heavy with gelatine and strong in meat flavor
  • Color: milky
  • Toppings: fried shallots, cabbage, scallion, lemon, chicken chashu
  • Ramen shop: Matsuichiya, Yokohama

Heaviness

  • Light (“Assari”): thin and clear (Chinese style “Chintan” broth). Made from bones, vegetables or fish at a lower simmer for a shorter amount of time. Ex. shio, shoyu, miso
  • Heavy (rich – “Kotteri”): thick, sticky, typically opaque, packed with emulsified fats, minerals, and proteins from long-boiled bones (Chinese style “Paitan” broth). Made from bones that have been slow-simmered for several days. Ex. Tonkotsu, tori paitan

Base flavor (“Tare”)

For Ramen, broth and flavor are separate things. This is one of the unique things about ramen.

Soup = Broth + Tare (flavor seasoning)



Ramen Soup

Typically, the ramen soup is salty because it’s not meant to drink it as a soup. It’s meant to be more like a “dipping sauce”! Once the noodle is in the soup, the saltiness will be mild out and create a perfect saltiness. If it weren’t salty, the noodle overpowers the soup and it gets bland. That’s why the ramen soup is a bit saltier than typical soups. Yes, many Japanese drink it all, but not all. I personally don’t drink it all, though I sip a bit. It’s a lot different concepts from noodle soups in other Asian countries. 

Ramen soup isn’t like a consomme soup – many people don’t know this. Don’t complain it’s too salty! It’s supposed to be! It’s NOT a soup, dipping sauce!


Tare

Ramen is usually defined by its flavor which affects its final taste.

“Tare”: the sauce to flavor the broth. Ingredients of tare vary from each ramen shop. Typically it’s added to each individual bowl instead of mixing with the broth directly.
In that way, the ramen shop could offer different ramen flavors, from soy to miso, with the same broth yet different flavors. Some ramen shops offer a single base option with multiple “tare”. Some ramen shops offer multiple base options (from chicken to vegan) with single/multiple “tare”s.


Types of Ramen: By “Tare”

There are 4 major types of Japanese ramen, depending on the base flavor (tare):

  1. Miso
  2. Shio
  3. Shoyu
  4. Tonkotsu


While it’s possible to find any of these ramen flavors pretty much anywhere you go in Japan, different areas have become known for their own unique regional variations.



1. Miso (Soybean paste-based)

“Miso” can be made from typically soybeans or rice and colored white or red.  This style is originated in Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture in the 60s, but it has spread all over the country. It is considered the youngest of the ramen broths.

Ramen shops specializing in miso use homemade miso to make their soup. These soups feature different kinds of miso, like charred miso, white miso, red miso, yellow miso, barley miso, and rice miso.

  • Flavor: mild, miso (fermented soybean paste), nutty and sweet
  • Broth: miso
  • Color: opaque, brown
  • Noodle: thick, curly, and chewy
  • Toppings: sweet corn, butter, and sauteed vegetables



2. Shio (Salt-based)

“Shio” means salt in Japanese and is a traditional flavor. All Western broths would be considered of the Shio type. However, typically you see “shio” ramen a lot in northern Japan like Hokkaido.

  • Flavor: light, salt
  • Broth: chicken and seafood products (standard) or pork, light body (lower in fat and oil)
  • Color: clear (typically)
  • Noodle: straight (typically)



3. Shoyu (Soy sauce-based)

“Shoyu” means soy sauce in Japanese and this is the next oldest flavor type. It’s a basic base for the Kanto area (around Tokyo).

It’s the single most commonly found type of ramen, and was invented in 1910 at “Rairaiken” in Tokyo. This soy sauce is not your typical soy sauce: typically a special sauce with additional ingredients.

  • Flavor: light, soy sauce, sweeter
  • Broth: chicken/chicken bones (“torigara”, typically) and seafood products, vegetables (the only type that tends not to contain pork), medium body
  • Color: clear brown or darker and cloudy than “shio”
  • Noodle: typically curly ones
  • Toppings: chashu, naruto (fish cake), menma, egg



4. Tonkotsu (Pork bone-based)

“Tonkotsu” means pork bone and it’s a basic base for the Kyushu area (Southwestern area). It was born in Fukuoka. It’s technically not “tare” since it is the broth and contains either salt or soy sauce as “tare”. The coloring and consistency come from the boiling of pork bones and fat on high heat for many hours (this could be 12 to 20 hours). It is often fortified with pork and/or chicken fat.

The use of pork bones doesn’t automatically mean the soup is of the Tonkotsu type. If the pork bones are boiled whole for a relatively shorter period, the result is just regular pork broth.

  • Flavor: light and smooth or thick and rich
  • Broth: pork bones and vegetables, heavier body
  • Color: thick and cloudy white (from pork bones and fat)
  • Noodle: very thin
  • Toppings: chashu, red ginger, grated garlic, green onions, bamboo shoots, kikurage mushrooms



Hakata ramen

A popular sub-category of tonkotsu ramen originated in Fukuoka. This super milky-white, extra-rich tonkotsu is often served with thin, hard noodles and minimal toppings. The reason being, the shop that invented Hakata ramen was just a stand without chairs, and serving quick-cooking thin noodles for fast customer service. Other Kyushu regions serve thicker noodles and different takes on the tonkotsu broth.


Toppings & Condiments

A large variety of ingredients are used as ramen toppings. While ramen usually come with specific toppings, shops often allow customers to add extra toppings. Though there are typical toppings for certain ramen, they totally vary depending on shops. 



Typical ingredients for certain ramen

  • Miso/Shio ramen: chasu, cone, butter
  • Tonkotsu ramen: chasu, green onions, pickled ginger, grated garlic
  • Shoyu: chashu, naruto (fish cake), menma, egg

Common toppings

  • Chasu: Fatty slices of roasted or braised pork belly. Chashu is a very common topping. It’s originally from China and subsequently modified over decades. A pork belly tied into a cylinder, braised (it depends on recipes, but generally soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar, green onion, ginger/garlic) and then served in slices. It could be roasted, too. Some shops spend hours cooking it. Most shops serve “Chashumen” (chashu ramen) which is a ramen dish with additional pieces of chashu. 
  • Menma: Preserved bamboo shoots with a salty flavor
  • Negi: Chopped or shredded leeks or green onions. Karanegi is a spicy variation of shredded leeks mixed with chili oil. Negi is a ramen standard, while karanegi is often seen with miso ramen. Bowls of ramen in the western Kansai region tend to feature green spring onions, while their Kanto counterparts in and around Tokyo are usually topped with leeks.
  • Kikurage (black fungus): These black mushrooms grow on fallen trees and dead branches from spring to autumn. They are mostly eaten in Eastern Asia and as a topping to bowls of ramen in Japan.
  • Moyashi: Raw or cooked bean sprouts add sweetness and crunch. Served on all types of ramen.
  • Tamago: Hard boiled, soft boiled, raw and marinated eggs (“aji tama”)

    Ajitama: It could be seasoned with soy sauce based seasonings (sake, mirin etc.), but seasoned one by the Chashu braising liquid is the bomb. It gives deeper flavors to the egg thanks to the pork fat. Typically ramen shops that offer great chashu (not all offer great one) offer a better “ajitama”.
  • Seaweed: Various types of seaweed such as wakame and nori are commonly added to all types of ramen. It could be fresh or dry. 
  • Kamaboko: Slices of steamed fish cake. One type of kamaboko that is commonly served on ramen is naruto (sawtooth edged, white fish cake with a red or pink spiral design).
  • Corn: Canned corn is often paired with butter and served on miso or shio ramen.
  • Butter: A thick pat of butter adds creaminess and depth. Typically added to miso or shio ramen.
  • Moyashi (Bean Sprouts):  The bean sprouts from western Japan are thin and long, while those in eastern and northern Japan are thick and crunchy.
  • Beni-shoga (Pickled Ginger): indispensable to any bowl of tonkotsu ramen, providing a layer of contrasting flavor. Ginger is pickled in salt, or sun-dried then pickled in plum vinegar. This popular ingredient is also used in takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and yakisoba.

Common condiments

  • Chile oil
  • Rayu (chili sesame oil)
  • Vinegar
  • Soy sauce
  • Own spicy sauce/miso
  • Own pickles (plum/ginger)
  • Sesame seeds
  • Garlic (slice/grated/chopped/fried)

Side dishes

Ramen shops offer some side dishes though ramen is considered as a dish. The varieties depend on the shops, but these are the typical side dishes.

  • Gyoza: Potstickers. You can’t miss it for ramen! 
  • Chashu bowl: Most ramen shops offer “chashu” as a ramen topping. Many shops put the chashu on the rice bowl and call it “chashu bowl” and serve it. It’s a great treat especially if the shop offers great chashu.  
  • Fried rice: Ingredients depend on the shops.

Regional Styles

Ramen has evolved over the past century along geographical lines. Each region, even the city levels, adds its own local flair to the ramen by the local ingredients.

  • Kyushu Island in the South – Tonkotsu
  • Hokkaido Island in the North – Miso
  • The central island of Honshu – Shoyu

< Hokkaido >


Sapporo style

  • Location: Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, is known as the birthplace of miso-style ramen at Aji no Sanpei (the shop is still open today) in 1954. Sapporo ramen is one of Japan’s 3 great regional ramen recipes. Miso ramen is so popular among locals, so the city has 2 ramen “alleys” (where ramen shops are packed): “Ganso Ramen Yokocho” and “Shin Ramen Yokocho”. 
  • Base: Miso (special red miso sauteed with ginger and garlic), soy, salt
  • Broth: Chicken bones, pork bones (typically) or seafood
  • Color: clear, light orange-brown
  • Noodles: thick and curly
  • Toppings: butter, sweet corn, leek, roasted scallops, sauteed vegetables, miso-flavored minced meat, wakame, chashu, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts. Hokkaido is known for the farming of vegetables, dairy, and seafood.
  • Taste: Rich for the cold weather



Asahikawa style

  • Location: Asahikawa, Hokkaido
  • Ramen shop: Asahikawa restaurant (Santoka). Asahikawa Ramen Village: 8 of the most famous ramen shops in the city are located together.
  • Base: soy sauce
  • Broth: seafood, pork bones, and chicken bones
  • Color: light brown
  • Noodles: thin, hard, wavy
  • Toppings: green onions, chashu, menma, egg (Roughly the same toppings as shoyu ramen from Tokyo)
  • Taste: rich, thick, oily with lard for cold weather



Hakodate style

  • Location: Hakodate, a port city in Hokkaido, is the home of shio ramen. Hakodate’s shio ramen is also known in the area as “shinasoba”. 
  • Base: salt
  • Broth: chicken bones (typically), pork bones, seafood, and kelp
  • Color: clear
  • Noodles: straight and of medium thickness
  • Toppings: chicken meatballs, chashu, menma, leeks, spinach, corn, fu (wheat gluten cakes) and naruto fish cake slices.
  • Taste: cleaner, lighter, less saltier than soy sauce

< Tohoku >


Yonezawa style

In Yonezawa, the dish is called “Chinese soba”, not ramen.

  • Location: Yamagata
  • Base: soy sauce
  • Broth: vegetables, chicken bones, and dried sardines
  • Color: light brown
  • Noodles:  thin, curly
  • Toppings: chashu, memma, naruto, green onions, nori
  • Taste: light



Kitakata style

  • Location: Fukushima, Japan. The city of Kitakata in Northern Honshu which purportedly has the highest concentration of Ramen shops in the world. 
  • Base: soy sauce
  • Broth: pork broth and dried anchovies
  • Color: light brown
  • Noodles: fat, wavy egg noodles. 
  • Toppings: chashu, bamboo shoots, leek, naruto (fish cake with a spiral of pink and white color)
  • Taste: lightly salty



Shirakawa style

  • Location: Shirakawa city, Fukushima. It’s innovated by Tora Shokudo in the city.
  • Base: Soy sauce
  • Broth: chicken and pork bones
  • Color: clear
  • Noodles:  wide, curly
  • Toppings: onions, chashu, spinach, boiled egg, nori
  • Taste: lightly salty

< Kanto >


Tokyo style

Tokyo style ramen is soy sauce based. Tokyo style broth typically has a touch of dashi, as old ramen establishments in Tokyo often originate from soba eateries. 

  • Location: Kanto: Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaragi, Saitama
  • Base: soy sauce
  • Broth: chicken with seafood. In Yokohama, the port of Tokyo, pork is used instead.
  • Color: light/dark brown
  • Noodles:  slightly thin, curly
  • Toppings: chashu, naruto, egg, leek, menma (preserved bamboo shoots)
  • Taste: a little salty

< Chubu >

Nagoya “Taiwan” Ramen

“Taiwan ramen,” Nagoya’s local style of ramen isn’t from Taiwan. Taiwanese chef who invented it based on Taiwanese “danzai” noodles.

  • Location: Nagoya
  • Base: soy sauce
  • Broth: chicken
  • Color: dark brown
  • Noodles: “chuka”
  • Toppings: spicy ground pork, garlic, chives (“nira”)
  • Taste: spicy

< Kansai >

Kyoto style

A typical Kyoto ramen is made with a soy sauce-based broth and features straight noodles in a thick and heavy soup. Another popular Kyoto-style ramen has pork oil poured onto the soup for extra flavor and richness.

  • Location: Kyoto
  • Base: soy sauce
  • Broth: pork and chicken, thick and heavy soup
  • Color: light brown
  • Noodles: straight 
  • Toppings: chashu, bamboo, scallions, nori, butter/pork oil
  • Taste: a little salty

< Chugoku >

Onomichi ramen

Onomichi is a seaside town in Hiroshima prefecture located on the Seto Inland Sea, so their regional style of ramen is made with fresh local seafood.

  • Location: Hiroshima
  • Base: soy sauce
  • Broth: chicken, pork, seafood
  • Color: dark soy sauce colored
  • Noodles: flat, wheat, medium thickness
  • Toppings: “seabura” (pork back fat), spring onions, roast pork, menma
  • Taste: rich

< Shikoku >

Tokushima style

Tokushima style ramen is the most popular style of ramen on Shikoku Island (the smallest of the 4 main islands). The people in Tokuyama consider ramen as something to eat with rice. All ramen restaurants offer white rice on the side, some of them will even give it to you on the house.


Types of soup

  1. The brown soup (sometimes called a black soup) uses Tonkotsu (port bone broth) with dark soy sauce or Tamari soy sauce. It became synonymous for Tokushima Ramen.
  2. The yellow soup uses chicken or vegetable broth with light-colored soy sauce
  3. The white soup uses the pork bone broth with a light-colored or white soy sauce.
  • Location: Shikoku: Kagawa, Ehime, Kochi, Tokushima
  • Base: soy sauce
  • Broth: tonkotsu or chicken/vegetable
  • Color: brown, yellow or white
  • Noodles:  thin and soft
  • Toppings: Chashu, green onions, bean sprouts, a raw egg
  • Taste: salty, sweet



Wakayama style

A sub-variation of the Tokushima style is Wakayama style ramen. Wakayama is on the main island of Honshu, just across the inland sea from Tokushima which is probably why Wakayama Ramen can be described as a Tokyo style. You’ll get a bowl of tonkotsu-shoyu ramen that blends together the pork bone broth popular in western Japan and the soy sauce-based ramen broth popular in eastern Japan.

In Wakayama, it is usually referred to as “chuka-soba” (Chinese noodles). It is often served with “haya-zushi” ( a traditional Kansai-style pressed sushi made with pickled mackerel) on the side.

  • Location: Wakayama
  • Base: soy sauce
  • Broth: chicken or tonkotsu
  • Color: clear light brown
  • Noodles: thin, straight
  • Toppings: Chashu, green onions, naruto, a runny yolk egg
  • Taste: salty, sweet

< Kyushu >

Champon

It was invented by a Chinese cook as affordable fast food for the Chinese students who were studying there. Different versions exist in Japan, Korea and China. “Champon” is practically the only ramen from Kyushu which doesn’t use a Tonkotsu soup. Unlike other ramen dishes, only 1 pan is needed as the noodles are boiled in the soup.

  • Location: Nagasaki
  • Base: varies
  • Broth: chicken and pig bones
  • Color: light white
  • Noodles: special ramen noodles for this
  • Toppings: pork, vegetables, seafood, lard
  • Taste: mild, salty



Hakata style

Tonkotsu type ramen originated on the Southern island of Kyushu where most of Japan’s pig farming is done. It’s recognized as the standard version of tonkotsu ramen. 

  • Location: Fukuoka
  • Base: x
  • Broth: tonkotsu
  • Color: opaque
  • Noodles: extra-thin straight
  • Toppings: Chashu, egg, scallion, sesame seeds, pickled ginger.
  • Taste: oily, rich



Kurume style

A close cousin of Hakata Ramen. This is thought of as the origin of Tonkotsu ramen. Kurume style tonkotsu is boiled longer than the other two styles and the resulting broth is so rich that it doesn’t require the addition of fat at the end. Historically, the previous day’s excess stock is added to the next day – the pot is never emptied.

  • Location: Kurume, Fukuoka
  • Base: x
  • Broth: Tonkotsu with pig’s head, trotters etc.
  • Color: opaque
  • Noodles: thin straight
  • Toppings: nori, chashu, marinated eggs, naruto (fish cake), bamboo shoots, green onions, sesame seeds, mayu (black garlic oil), kikurage
  • Taste: rich, oily



Kumamoto style

Although it was originally invented as a variation of Kurume ramen, over the years, Kumamoto ramen has developed into its unique style. 

  • Location: Kumamoto
  • Base: x
  • Broth: Tonkotsu (not as oily as the one found in Hakata ramen)
  • Color: milky
  • Noodles: thick, strong
  • Toppings: chashu, fried garlic, garlic oi, pickled ginger, green onions
  • Taste: rich, oily



Kagoshima style

Kagoshima is home to Kurobuta pork, which makes their chashu all the more delicious. 

  • Location: Kagoshima, a port at the Southern tip of Kyushu
  • Base: x
  • Broth: tonkotsu, chicken and sardines/kelp
  • Color: peanut butter brown
  • Noodles:  Okinawa, Taiwan or regular, thicker
  • Toppings: chashu, kikurage, green onions, boiled egg
  • Taste: lighter

< Okinawa >


Okinawa Soba

Okinawa was once an independent archipelago separate from the rest of Japan as “Ryuku Kingdom”. Ryuku had its own distinctive language, culture, and food. Okinawans is known to have longevity due to their diet. The noodles themselves, while called “soba”, are actually more similar to udon flour noodles but are served in a ramen-style broth.

  • Location: Okinawa
  • Base: konbu, bonito flakes and pork
  • Broth:
  • Color: light brown
  • Noodles: buckwheat, thick, circular yet slightly flat
  • Toppings: pork belly (“sanmai-niku) or soki (boneless pork ribs), kamaboko (fish cake), scallion, beni-shoga (red ginger), koregusu (chili peppers soaked in awamori rice liquor)
  • Taste:



Varieties:

  • Sōki soba – topped with boneless pork ribs (sōki) in Okinawa
  • Tebichi soba – topped with stewed pig’s trotters.

Special Ramens


< WET RAMEN STYLE >

  • “Tantanmen” (坦々麺): Japanese version of dan dan noodles, a Sichuan specialty. Ramen in a reddish, spicy chili and sesame soup, with minced pork, scallion, and chili.
  • “Wonton men”: Chinese wonton dumplings in the noodle soup

< DRY RAMEN STYLE >


Tsukemen (Dipping Ramen)

  • Ramen dish where the noodles come dry in a plate: Noodles aren’t in the soup like “zaru soba” (buckwheat noodles). By chilling noodles, any excess slickness of the noodles is washed off to improve the texture and add a strong firmness.
  • The dipping sauce is served separately: Take a mouthful-sized portion of the noodles with chopsticks, dip them into the soup, and eat.
  • The flavor is intense: The stock is concentrated into a thick dipping sauce. But not saltier, compared to normal ramen.
  • The dipping sauce can be hot or cold: When it’s hot weather, cold ramen is a nice option for ramen lovers.
  • Unlike ramen, you control how much of the noodles you want to dip into the soup: You don’t have to soak all the noodles. If you want to enjoy the flavor of the noodles more, simply dip the noodles into the broth about halfway. However, the one thing you shouldn’t do is leave the noodles dipped in the soup. It makes the soup get cold quickly and not tasty. Pick up just enough noodles to eat in one bite, dip them quickly, and eat.
  • There is no traditional flavor to the sauce: It all depends on the ramen shops.
  • Tsukemen noodles: thick and tend to be served in larger portions than regular ramen.
  • “Dashi wari”: You can also request it, which is hot water (or noodle-cooking hot water) for diluting the leftover soup. You can then drink it straight.



Hiyashi Chuka (Cold Ramen)

  • Hiyashi Chuka translates as cold ‘Chinese’ noodles: They are not from China but were first invented by a Chinese restaurant in Japan.
  • Served chilled in a sweet sauce: sauce based on vinegar, sugar, and soy sauce. Or “Goma”, a creamy sesame sauce.
  • Traditionally served in summer: as a refreshing chilled alternative to hot Ramen. It reminds Japanese of the season, “summer” since we only eat it in the summer. In fact, some restaurants still only serve it only in Summer.
  • Condiments: cucumber, ham, omelet, tomato.



Abura Ramen (Oil Ramen)

  • Also called “Mazesoba”, when it is made with soba noodles instead. It is a fusion of Tsukemen and Hiyashi Chuka into a style of noodles that resembles Italian Pasta.
  • A dish that can be found often in Tokyo.
  • Dipping sauce: it is fortified with oil and vinegar, no dashi broth.
  • Sometimes a raw egg is added as a sauce thickener, just like Carbonara.
  • The toppings: vary. Typically – diced chashu and chopped scallion. The result is ramen with the taste of soup, but no actual soup.
  • Served at goldilocks temperature, not chilled/hot.
  • Mix well: When you eat, mix the dish with the oil very well (the sauce tends to sink to the bottom of the bowl).
  • Try the different seasonings: to change the flavor: rayu (spicy chili oil), vinegar, garlic, and other selections, depending on the shops.

< INSTANT RAMEN >

There are 2 kinds of instant noodles:


1) Cup noodles

Super convenient – all you do is to pour hot water into the cup and wait for 3 minutes. You don’t need to cook nor worry about going bad for months. When you feel like it, you can eat it right away with minimal efforts. It’s also tasty, too! What not to like?


2) Packaged instant noodles

The packaged noodles contain noodles and packages of soup seasonings. The noodle can be dry, fresh or frozen. Unlike a cup noodle, you must cook in the saucepan and need a bowl to put the ramen when it’s ready to eat. There are various types – from the simple one with a seasoning package to higher taste quality ones (though how to cook it is exactly the same). It’s surprising that you can get decent ramen with very fractional costs and ease.


HOW TO COOK: Just follow the instructions on the package!

  1. Boil hot water in the small saucepan.
  2. Open the package and take out the noodle and sauce packages.
  3. Once you boiled water, put the noodle into the hot water.
  4. Cook the noodle for a few minutes (check the suggested time on the package). Stir it sometimes.
  5. Once the noodle was cooked, turn off the heat and put the seasonings into the pan.
  6. Add your own toppings and condiments if you like.

Where to find ramen

The best way is at a specialized ramen shop, though you can find other options easily.

  • “Ramen-ya”: Specialized ramen shops (restaurants) at train stations, entertainment/restaurant districts, “ramen yokocho” (where lots of ramen shops got together at an area), and along busy roads. Either sit-down restaurants with a counter and some tables or standing counter space.
  • Other restaurants: izakaya, family restaurants, entertainment facilities, food stalls etc.
  • Convenience stores
  • Vending machines

How to eat ramen

Eat ramen with chopsticks and a Chinese style soup spoon. There is no particularly strict etiquette for eating ramen, but I give you some tips:

  • Slurping is ok!: As with other noodle dishes in Japan, a slurping sound is made when eating ramen. It’s totally normal in Japan!
  • Eat as soon as possible: Ramen noodles get soggy quickly and should be eaten immediately after they are served. Noodles, even high-alkaline ones, are at proper consistency only 5 minutes after being served. 
  • Lift up the bowl for the soup: It is ok to lift up the bowl to drink the soup directly from the bowl instead of drinking with a spoon.
  • You don’t need to drink up the soup: At the end of the meal, it is alright to leave some unfinished soup in the bowl. It’s meant to be “dipping sauce”, not a “soup”.
  • Add condiments according to your preferences: Most ramen shops have condiments: pickles, black pepper, chili oil, crushed garlic, chili pepper, vinegar, and pickled ginger.
  • Some restaurants don’t have noodle refills: Not all the shops offer “kaedama” (noodle only refill). It’s best to ask for this when you’re half done with the noodles and to leave some soup for the second serving.

Conclusion: Ramen isn't just a ramen. So many varieties and depth into it. Try out various types of ramen and figure out what you like. Each ramen has its own goodness!


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