Slurping noodles in steaming hot broth, a multitude of toppings to fill all manner of texture preferences and a whole lot of flavour – it’s easy to see why ramen has become more than a buzzword. While ramen is now a global phenomenon, the humble dish originated in China and first reached Japan in the late 1800s. Adapted by Japanese cooks, ramen became the dish we know and love today.
The noodles are the most recognisable feature of ramen and vary in thickness, degree of curling and boiling time. The most traditional noodle for ramen is made with lye water, which gives it its distinctive yellow colour and chewy texture. However, ramen can be served with any type of noodle – from thin spaghetti to flat fettuccine and even curly mung bean noodles (kikurage).
The soup is the foundation of ramen, based on chicken or fish stock and typically seasoned with soy sauce or miso. The soup can be tangy and flavourful, or salty and simple. The Big Four ramen styles – Shoyu, Shio, Miso and Tonkotsu – are all defined by their broths with Shoyu being the oldest, whereas miso is considered the most authentic.
While the noodles, broth and meat are the main components of ramen, it’s the tare that makes it unique. Tare is a combination of a liquid seasoning and an oil that’s mixed into the broth, creating its flavour. Traditionally, chefs would soak dried fish to create tare and mix it into the soup base before serving. Today, tare comes in the form of liquid or powder and is a key ingredient in ramen.
Ramen is also complemented by condiments such as ponzu, sesame paste and pickled ginger to add flavour and contrast to the dish. Other popular ramen condiments include nira, chashu vinegar and bonito flakes.
Lastly, there’s a variety of seasoning oils to choose from. These essentially act as the final garnish and can be used to add additional flavour or keep the ramen hot. Koumiyu is the most commonly used and consists of a coloured oil and a flavouring.
Ramen has become a beloved part of many people’s lives, and is a delicious way to comfort yourself on a cold day. However, the noodle dish was once shrouded in mystery and only available at a handful of small, family-run restaurants. Now, ramen is the most consumed food in Japan and is enjoyed worldwide. We’re confident that it’s here to stay. To try this delicious, warming dish for yourself, head to your local ramen restaurant or grab a pack of instant ramen from the supermarket. You won’t regret it!