The Japanese Delicacy (I): Ramen
Ramen is an iconic Japanese noodle, consisting of rich flavored broth, handmade noodles, and various toppings. With its nice taste, ramen began to gain foodies’ affection worldwide. Recently, more and more people realize ramen is not merely an instant food and begin to appreciate the fresh handmade ramen in restaurants. However, if you want to find the best ramen in the world, Japan is the place you can’t miss. Bowls of fresh ramen are enjoyed in countless restaurants and shops. With thousands of competitors, every Japanese ramen restaurant tries its best to create the best ramen recipe by experimenting with different broth flavors, noodle textures, and toppings.
History of Ramen
Though there are many theories about when and how ramen was introduced to Japan, it is generally accepted that ramen originally came from China. The most popular and reasonable theory is that ramen was imported to Japan in the 1860s when Japan reopened its ports. The Chinese immigrants that settled in Yokohama established Chinatown, where the restaurant and food stalls were opened to sell Chinese food, one of which was ramen. It was not until 1910 that the first Japanese ramen restaurant was founded by Hiroshi Osaki, the first Japanese ramen expert.
From 1945 to 1950, ramen suffered a lot because of crop failure and restrictions on food vending. It didn’t resurge until 1950 when the Japanese economy was during a boom. Furthermore, in 1958, Momofuku Ando invented one of the greatest creations - the instant noodles. Since then, Japanese ramen was more accessible and began to pop up worldwide.
Types of Ramen
For many years, Japanese ramen restaurants experiment constantly to find the best recipe for broth because it is the key ingredient of ramen. To enhance the flavor, cooks will add ingredients, such as kombu, bonito flakes, dried fish, and dried shrimp, to the stock. There is also creative ramen, such as curry ramen, creamy ramen, and cheese ramen. Despite all the variations, the most common and traditional ramen can be divided into four types according to its broth:
- Shoyu (soy sauce): It is the most common style of broth. It is the default option if the menu doesn’t specify the type of broth. It is a salty and sweet broth made of chicken, vegetables (can be replaced by beef or seafood), and soy sauce. This brown broth is suitable for matching chicken and seafood.
- Shio (salt): It’s the oldest broth style. It is mildly salty made from chicken broth and flavored with pork or seafood. The noodles in this are usually straight rather than curly.
- Miso (bean paste): It’s a unique broth that originated in Sapporo Hokkaido, where the cold temperature stimulates the desire for a strong flavor. Seasoned with soybean paste, this opaque broth is tangy, savory, and thick. Its complex flavor makes it suitable to eat with bean sprouts, cabbage, corn, leeks, onions, sesame seeds, and so on.
- Tonkotsu (pork bone): It’s a broth developed in Fukuoka. This creamy broth is made of pork bones that have been boiled for more than ten hours. The noodles in the thick and robust soup are hard in the center. In some ramen restaurants, the level of firmness is optional, including bariyawa (very soft), yawa(soft), futsu (standard), kata (hard), barikata (very hard), and harigane (extremely hard).
Toppings of Ramen
Except for broth and noodles, the toppings are also an important ingredient. By mixing different toppings, the various combinations make the ramen colorful. The most common toppings include:
- Chashu: It’s roasted pork slices. It’s the most common topping, two or three slices of which will be served in a bowl of ramen.
- Kakuni: It’s thick-sliced braised pork belly. With complex seasonings, its flavor is richer than chashu.
- Tamago: It’s a top popular topping. It’s a marinated and soft-boiled egg with succulent egg yolk.
- Menma: It’s Lacto-fermented bamboo shoots. It's chewy, crispy, and salty.
- Kamaboko: It’s slices of steamed fish cake. A special type of kamaboko is Narutomaki, which is the favorite of Uzumaki Naruto.
- Nori: It’s dried edible seaweed. You can eat it directly which will be crisp, or you can dip it into the broth which will absorb the taste of the broth.
- Benishoga: It is red pickled ginger stripes.
- Vegetables: green onion, corn, leek, bean sprouts, asparagus, onion, cabbage, garlic, spinach, sesame seeds, mushrooms