The ramen we know today was introduced to Japan by Chinese immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a colonial and industrial power, Japan had many Asian immigrants emigrate there in search of a better life. In Asakusa, Tokyo, the first ramen shop opened. The owner hired 12 Cantonese immigrants to cook ramen to cater to the Japanese customers. Since ramen was so popular, it has been adapted for the global palate.
The first style of ramen was tsukemen, which is a type of soup made with pork bones. While shoyu ramen uses pork bones to create the rich collagen broth, Hakata ramen is renowned for its ultra thin noodles and refill system. Other styles may blend chicken bones into the soup and use thicker noodles. In addition to soy sauce, the broth also contains kansui, a mineral water with alkaline properties. Its presence gives the noodles an extra bite and flavor that other soups don’t have.
The most popular style of ramen is called shoyu ramen. The name comes from the tare (seasoning) that is added to the soup. Shoyu means soy sauce in Japanese, and this flavoring is one of the most prominent characteristics of shoyu ramen. Shoyu ramen’s broth is usually clear brown in color, and is richer than Shio ramen.
Hakata ramen comes from Fukuoka prefecture. It is a southern city, known for its pork dishes. Tonkotsu broth, a meatsplosion made at a rolling boil, is a distinctive characteristic of Hakata ramen. The thick, opaque soup provides a rich and meaty taste. In Fukuoka, you’ll find several Ippudo ramen-ya.
While many ramen restaurants use miso as the main flavoring, you can also find it with chicken oil and fish broth. Some chefs also add tonkotsu or lard to the broth. But, the star of the show is the noodle, and there are countless variations. It can be thin or thick, curly, or flat. It’s up to you to decide how to combine all these ingredients to create a ramen dish that suits you.
Traditionally, ramen noodles were made by hand by homemakers and chefs. The dough is made from wheat flour, which is stretched and doubled to thin noodles. The process requires several hours, and many chefs practice hand-pulling the noodles to create the ramen’s signature opaque creaminess. These dishes are best eaten hot. The flavor of ramen is what makes them such a unique food. However, many people still prefer the soup to be cold.
While visiting a ramen restaurant, be sure to bring some cash as you may find it easier to make change at a machine than in person. Generally, a bowl of ramen costs about Y=800 to Y=1,300 (roughly $7.50 – $12) depending on what you choose. When choosing a ramen restaurant, remember to choose the house special (usually the top-left button) and add the correct amount of cash.