What is Ramen?
Ramen is preferably known as a traditional Japanese noodle dish consisting of stretchy wheat noodles, a special homemade broth comprised with a variety of flavors, and delicate toppings of meat, spring onion, seaweed, bamboo shoots, spinach, and a soft boiled egg.
Ramen originated from China, immigrating through the hands of Japanese soldiers during World War II who could not resist bringing home one of their favorite Chinese food delicacies. In many countries, Ramen is known as the curly dehydrated noodle packets or styrofoam cups which turn into an instant meal by adding water. This generally cheap, but fairly convenient creation, is far from the truth of Ramen’s delicious potential as a staple dish while roaming the streets of Japan.
Whilst in Japan, it’s only necessary to try a Ramen experience where I not only scourer the streets for the best noodle soup street chefs, but partake in a Japanese kitchen taught by a Ramen Master chef on how to make Ramen from scratch.
Before we dive into the process of assembling Ramen, let’s break down the individual ingredients that make up the noodle dish.
Ramen can be divided into three parts: noodles, broth, and toppings.
Ramen noodles are generally made by wheat and styled after the Chinese. The four basic ingredients are wheat flour, salt, water, and kansui (a type of alkaline mineral water). The kansui is the distinguishing ingredient in ramen noodles, originating from Mongolia, which causes the noodles to turn a firm, yellowish color. Some noodles can be made with egg, or neither egg or kansui, and should then be used for other types of noodle dishes which require a weaker structure and are more prone to soaking up moisture and becoming extremely soft when served. Like pasta, Ramen noodles can come in a variety of shapes, lengths, and textures.
Because most noodles are already pre-prepared for restaurant kitchens, the chef and I did not make Ramen noodles from scratch, however here is a very thourough video on how to make noodles from scratch.
The broth of a Ramen dish is one of the most key factors in the deliciousness and authenticity of your experience. Don’t be fooled by just anyone who puts a Ramen dish in front of you. Unless that person made the broth from scratch to the best of their abilities over an extended period of time, you may as well be dining on Instant Noodles.
The broth of a Ramen dish is comprised of either chicken or pork stock. Combined with a variety of ingredients such as kombu (kelp), katsuobushi (skipjack tuna flakes), niboshi (dried baby sardines), beef bones, shiitake, and onions, then flavored with salt, miso, or soy sauce, and sometimes additionally added with curry flavors, a traditional Ramen dish is simply not the same if you do not put the necessary work, time, and fresh ingredients into creating a complex and savory broth.
Ramen broth, similar to noodles, have a variety of options.
Shoyu broth is made with a soy sauce base and usually clear brown in color. Curly noodles and additional meat or vegetable stock gives Shoyu a delicious, tangy flavor. In Tokyo, Shoyu is the most familiar form of ramen you’ll find.
- Tonkotsu (my personal favorite)
Tonkotsu in Japanese means “pork bone”. Tonkotsu is gernally thick, cloudy, and white in color. The color and consistency are made by boiling pork bones and fat on high heat for many hours, sometimes up to 20 hours for a bowl of broth. Extremely savoring in taste, Tonkotsu is perfection for anyone looking to be blown away by traditional Japanese street cuisine.
A saltier broth, Shio is considered the oldest of Ramen broths. Shio, translated into “salt”, is an ancient Japanese seasoning for dishes. Typically made with a pork or chicken base, this traditionally dated bowl of Ramen is great for anyone with sodium deficiency.
Developed in the region of Hokkaido, Japan this broth is considered the youngest of the bunch. This nutty, sweet soup is a genuine Japanese creation.
If you’re dining with children, this form of Ramen broth may be best suited. Meant for dipping, the noodles come separate from the broth. This broth is thicker, more robust, and packed with flavor. Don’t get ahead of yourself if you’re unfamiliar with chopsticks, otherwise you’ll be splashing your delicious Tsukemen broth all over the place.
With many Ramen dishes, you can choose your toppings as you please. Here is a list of the most common toppings for a typical Ramen dish:
- Fresh Vegetables
- Preserved Vegetables
Wood Ear Mushrooms
- Condiments and Spices
Black or white pepper.
Curry powder or paste
Ramen also varies in certain regions of Japan, so if you’re visiting a particular area or town, do a quick search of what’s best known for Ramen dishes and pop into a local restaurant or street vendor to try some.
The process of cooking ramen goes by very quickly if you have all of your ingredients and broths pre-made and set to dump and stir together. During my cooking course in Japan, the time it took to assemble my Ramen dish and have it served took a matter of minutes.
Serving size: 1 Bowl
- Combine 1 tsp of Sesame Oil and 4 Tbsp of Soy Sauce in your bowl.
- Add fresh Ramen noodles in boiling water and stir with chopsticks for 2 minutes.
- While noodles are boiling, add 2 cups of Ramen broth of your choice in your bowl.
- Strain Ramen noodles from water and add into your Ramen bowl.
- Add toppings of choice to the edge of the bowl.
- Finish with seasoning of choice.
There you have it! A delicious bowl of traditional Japanese Ramen noodles ready to serve and eat!
Credit: Ramen Cooking Course taken in Tokyo, Japan with Ramen Experience Tokyo.