Ramen 101 – What Defines a Ramen Style?

A bowl of steaming fragrant ramen is a simple pleasure for many and a comforting meal that can help keep you fueled all day long. While people today think of ramen as a distinctly Japanese dish, it really has Chinese origins. This is because the noodles were introduced to Japan by Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. However, it’s the broth that pushed ramen over the edge into global success, thanks to the umami-rich stock made with fish bones and dried mushrooms. In fact, it’s the broth that defines each of the three major ramen styles.

According to Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi, chefs and authors of the upcoming cookbook Love Japan (May 2023; Ten Speed), each style is defined by how the broth is seasoned and what ingredients are added. This seasoning is known as tare and it’s what gives the broth its distinct flavor. The three most common and classic tare are shio, which is salty, shoyu, which welcomes a dark soybean flavor into the soup, and miso, which provides rich umami.

The other key ingredient that defines a style of ramen is the toppings. Adding different garnishes helps to create unique flavors and textures in the bowl. Depending on what toppings you choose, it can also change the overall feel of the meal and even make it more satisfying. Some common ramen toppings include bean sprouts, a hard-boiled egg, menma which is a fermented and seasoned condiment similar to braised bamboo shoots, bok choy, and of course, chashu.

As you can see, the variety of ramen is nearly endless and each country has a slightly different way of making it. But the one thing that’s consistent is how delicious it is!

While there are many recipes for instant ramen, it is much better to make the broth from scratch using chicken or vegetable stock. This will give the ramen an amazing depth of flavor that you just can’t get from a packaged product. Also, try to avoid the temptation to add water or milk, it dilutes the flavor and can make the ramen too thin.

When making ramen at home, always cook the noodles separately and only put them in the broth when you are ready to serve them. If you let cooked noodles sit in the hot broth for too long they will continue to cook and soak up the liquid, which can result in a soup that is too runny.

To make the best homemade ramen, use low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock and add a little bit of miso paste to give it the flavor it needs. You’ll also want to add a small amount of garlic cooked with the miso to make it taste more like what you’d find in a restaurant. Finally, add a splash of coconut milk for creaminess and a richer umami flavor. It’s important to use full-fat coconut milk because it’ll add the most flavor. Enjoy!