What is Ramen Anyway?

Many Americans think of ramen as the little cup of noodles that you just add hot water to. They aren’t very tasty, yet are an inexpensive dorm room staple.   But before there was Top Ramen from the dollar store, there was genuine authentic Japanese Ramen.

While the origin of Ramen is a little debatable, most sources agree that it is of Chinese origin and has flourished in Japan. Traditionally, ramen is a dish of noodles served in a pork-flavored broth with a few toppings added in. The styles and varieties are endless. Not only do the ingredients differentiate ramen, but also the regions where they were developed and are most popular.

RamenFor example Shio (salt ramen) is the oldest of the four styles. It has a pale clear yellow broth and will be salty (duh!) with chicken, vegetables, fish and seaweed.

Tonkotsu ramen looks white and cloudy and is made by boiling pork bones and fat for hours, combined with the noodles, it usually includes pickled ginger and sesame seeds. This is a specialty of Hakata-ku, Fukuoka, located in southwest Japan.

Shoyu (soy sauce) has a clear brown broth that is tangy and salty. This usually contains curly noodles, instead of the straight ones found in the other types. Shoyu ramen often has bamboo shoots, green onions, boiled eggs, and even chili oil.

Miso ramen is thought to be the newest variety, becoming popular in the mid 1960’s. Developed in Hokkaido, Japan the broth is a mix of miso (again, duh!) with chicken or fish broth. Toppings can include corn, onions, bean sprouts, pork and sesame seeds.

Ramen 2

We recently ate at Shin Sen Gumi and had the Hakata ramen and a side of gyoza (pan fried pork dumplings). I got mine with green onion and pork. Robbi got his with green onion, pork, corn and ginger.  Now this is a salty dinner! But with a cold beer and nice cool weather outside it was just what the doctor ordered.   Ramen ordered at a ramen house in no way compares to the cup of noodles in the back of your cupboard that you are keeping for an emergency. Time to try something new!

Gyoza 2On the subject of ramen, I must admit that I discovered a guilty pleasure in my cheesy movie collection. Ramen Girl is a movie that came out in 2008 starting Brittany Murphy (I did say a guilty pleasure). It is about a young and somewhat ridiculous girl abandoned by her boyfriend in Tokyo. She soon discovers an obsession with learning how to prepare ramen in the traditional Japanese way and becomes the student of a local Japanese ramen master. It’s silly and campy but it was also cute and borderline informational. Check it out next time you’re surfing Netflix.


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