Also called Chuka-soba (中華そば). Ramen is a form of the Japanese-Chinese (Chuka) cuisine, as this dish does not originally exist in China. A type of ramen was first sold in Japan from around the 1900s, both in restaurants and food stalls. After WWII, the popularity of ramen soared as cheap wheat became available from the U.S. In 1958, instant ramen was invented by Ando Momofuku. It became a popular food among students, salarymen living away from their families on tanshin funin basis, as well as harried housewives. In the 1980s a veritable ramen boom started, making this noodle the king of the B-Gourmet scene. There are countless magazines and books devoted to ramen and ramen restaurants, as well as manga and films.
Ramen noodles contain four ingredients: wheat flour, salt, water, and kansui (an alkaline mixture) or eggs, lending the noodles a yellowish hue and a firm texture. Ramen noodles are kneaded, left to sit, then stretched with both hands - this is also the probable origin of the name, as "ramen" literally means "stretched" or "pulled" noodles.
Ramen noodles are served in a hot soup based on stock from chicken or pork, plus a choice of other ingredients as kelp (konbu), bonito flakes (katsuobushi), dried baby sardines (niboshi), shiitake mushrooms, salt, miso and soy sauce.
Based on the soup, four basic types of ramen are distinguished:
- Shio-ramen. Light and clear soup. Made with salt and any combination of chicken, vegetables and seaweed. From Hokkaido.
- Shoyu-ramen. Clear brown soup. Based on a chicken and vegetable stock with plenty of soy sauce added. Savory, yet light. Originally from Tokyo.
- Tonkotsu-ramen. Cloudy, white colored soup. Made with pork bones (tonkotsu). Hearty flavor and creamy consistency. A specialty of Kyushu, particularly Hakata in Fukuoka.
- Miso-ramen. Thick soup based on miso with chicken or fish broth. Robust and hearty soup. developed in Sapporo (Hokkaido) and nationally popular from around the mid-1960s.
Popular toppings include sliced pork (chashu), bean sprouts, spring onion, nori, kamaboko (often in the form of Naruto-maki, thinly sliced fish-cake with a pink inset resembling a whirlpool - named after the whirlpools of Naruto in Tokushima) and brownish shinachiku (lactic fermented pickles of bamboo shoots). Other possibilities, especially for tonkotsu-ramen, are boiled egg, cloud-ear fungus (kikurage) and red pickled ginger (benishoga). A popular seasoning is black pepper.
There are many regional styles (Sapporo, Kitakata, Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto, Wakayama, Hakata/Kyushu, etc.) as is already clear from the above.
Related types of noodles are: Nagasaki champon, tsukemen, tantan-men, wantan-men and reimen.
Ramen noodles are central to Itami Juzo's great film Tampopo, which has been called a "ramen Western."
And talking about national dishes... in Japan ramen is more popular than sushi...
[Miso-ramen. Photo Ad Blankestijn]