Rich, salty, creamy, savory, smooth, and addicting. When it comes to ramen, it’s easy to see why so many people have embraced the dish across the world. Consisting of a steaming, fragrant broth holding a tangle of noodles and a heap of toppings nestled over it all, ramen is young enough in the culinary world, at least compared to other traditions in Japanese cuisine, to still be growing and the flexibility of the broth, tare, noodles, and toppings. make it perfect for innovation.
There are four main styles of broth in ramen: tonkotsu, miso, shōyu,and shio, though the beauty of ramen is that there is plenty of room for invention.
- Tonkotsuis a thick, creamy pork bone-based broth originating from modern-day Fukuoka.
- Miso ramen comes from Hokkaidō and as one might expect, the main ingredient ismiso.
- Shōyu is thought to be the original style of ramen and, as one might guess from the name, is based around soy sauce.
- Shioramen, or salt-based ramen, tends to be the lightest of the four. The broth is generally made from chicken bones and seasoned with seafood-based ingredients likeniboshi (dried sardines),dashi, andkatsuobushi(dried bonito flakes.)
Tare, also known askaeshi, is another element of ramen that goes into determining what style it is.Shōyu-basedtareis the most common, though there aremiso andshioversions as well.Tareis in many ways a base flavor; it is the intensely salty essence that is ladled into the bottom of each bowl before the broth is poured in.
What would ramen be without the noodles? One thing that sets ramen apart from other noodle-based dishes are the noodles themselves. Along with flour, water, and salt, there is one essential ingredient in ramen noodles:kansui.Kansui is an alkaline water containing potassium carbonate and sodium carbonate that gives the noodles their signature flavor, golden coloring, and bouncy firmness. It also helps prevent them from getting soggy as they steep in the broth. Recipes for noodles differ from shop to shop and region to region, giving variations of flavors, consistency, size, and shape.
When it comes to toppings, the list is endless, but some classics includemenma(fermented bamboo shoots),negi(green onions),chashu (thin slices of braised pork belly),kamaboko(steamed fish cakes),hanjuku tamago(soft boiled eggs that are usually marinated), andnori(dried seaweed.)
Learn more about the different regional varieties of ramen in Japan.
About the author: The spark that lit Kevin Kilcoyne’s interest in Japanese culture began in elementary school through a friendship with his then classmate Keisuke. Since then, that passion has evolved and bloomed to encompass more than just video games and manga, leading Kevin to live in Japan as a participant of the JET program. During his time in Japan, Kevin sought out as many foods as he could, the experiences and taste memories lingering long after they had gone. Now he is forging a path to link his passions for Japanese food, history, and visual culture and is planning for his return to live in Japan once again. For now, you can find Kevin on Instagram (@waruishouten) where he posts his photography and illustration work. Keep an eye out for more posts and updates as Kevin delves more deeply into his passions for writing and food!