Ramen Is a Comfort Food With a Twist


Despite its low price tag and seemingly humble origins, ramen has become one of the world’s most beloved comfort foods. You can find it on menus at acclaimed restaurants and served at tucked-away mom-and-pop shops in subway stations, atop rickety stairs in unassuming apartment buildings, and sandwiched between storefronts across the country. Diners huddle together shoulder-to-shoulder, slurping up steaming bowls of soup and noodles and watching the ramen shokunin, or master, as he deftly flash-cooks a handful of noodles and ladles scalding broth into each order.

The earliest versions of ramen were based on Chinese wheat flour noodles. It didn’t take long for Japanese noodle shops to develop their own version of this popular dish, and they used the term “ramen” in the Japanese pronunciation. Ramen can be categorized into three elements – the soup, noodles and toppings. The most important element of a bowl of ramen is the soup base. The soup can be made with any number of ingredients ranging from chicken bones to pork bone, and there are many regional variations as well.

Noodles are also a crucial part of ramen, and they can be thin or thick, curly or straight. What makes ramen noodles unique is the fact that they use lye water (kansui) in their manufacturing process, which gives them a flavor and texture that distinguishes them from other wheat-flour noodle dishes like pasta or udon. Other factors that differentiate ramen from other noodles are their color and how much they curl. The most common type of ramen is shoyu ramen, which is flavored with soy sauce. It can be further seasoned with garlic paste, sesame seeds, togarashi spices, sancho pepper, butter or flaked dried bonito.

As for the toppings, they can be anything from chashu (marinated braised pork belly) to bamboo shoots. It’s not uncommon to have a mix of meat and vegetables, such as onions, mushrooms and bok choy. Other popular toppings include soft-boiled egg, arugula and nori seaweed.

Ramen is often served with a side of gyoza, Chinese-style, pan fried dumplings. It’s a great way to balance the richness of the soup and it’s an essential for any ramen-ya.

While ramen is not inherently unhealthy, the instant noodles often used in ramen contain high amounts of sodium. Diets high in sodium increase your risk of high blood pressure, which is a major cause of stroke and heart disease. If you want to avoid high sodium, consider using a homemade ramen recipe or adding less instant noodle seasoning.

Ramen is also popular in Japan and is a fast, inexpensive, convenient meal. You can make your own ramen at home by boiling two cups of water, adding the flavor packet, then simmering for about three minutes before serving. You can even customize your ramen to meet your personal taste by changing the amount of water, noodles and seasoning. For example, you can add extra noodles or cook the noodles a little longer than recommended to achieve your preferred consistency.