Japanese Culture: Ramen

Ramen: The “emperor” of Japanese cuisine.

Photo credits: narutonoodle.com/

Until a few years ago, for ethnic cuisine enthusiasts, going to a Japanese restaurant strictly referred to consuming Sushi: a dish made of raw fish and rice.

This dish, with its colourful and evocative shapes, winks at the most fashionable diners (but not just them!), who have the opportunity to taste “first with their eyes, then with their mouth”.  But now another famous dish from Japan has finally made its way to our tables with many people going crazy about it.

We are talking about Ramen (ラーメン,拉麺 rāmen), perhaps the real representative dish of the country. It is so famous throughout Japan that each region boasts a different way to prepare it. Different region, different recipe. Let’s taste them all then…

It is a soup dish with many ingredients: noodles, pork, Nori (海苔) or dried seaweed, boiled eggs, and the kamaboko which is also known as surimi. Its most famous form, the spiral one, is called Naruto (like the manga character of the same name whose name derives from this ingredient). Ramen can be made with either a seafood-based or meat-based broth, various garnishes, and different ways to flavour it; sesame seeds or pepper, for example, miso or soy sauce.

Story of a Soup

Photo credits: travelcaffeine.com

Although it is unclear when the popularisation of this plate began in Japan, it originally came from China as one of its main ingredients is the Chinese mian,or wheat noodles. But we must say that in recent years, there has been a reintroduction of this dish in China, as ramen is no longer considered a traditional dish from China, but a Japanese imported product. In China, they are called rìshì lāmiàn or “Japanese style Lamian”, which is considered as a completely different dish from the Chinese lāmiàn.

Ramen has always been a dish to be enjoyed outside and at the beginning of the 20th century, there were numerous kiosks manned by Chinese handlers. Then, after the Second World War, Japanese soldiers returning from China, where they had learned this culinary tradition, opened several restaurants across the country. From that point on, there has been an evolution that led to ramen as we know it today.

It is so appreciated that in 1994, the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum, which is entirely dedicated to this delicacy, was opened in Yokohama.

‘Company’ Ramen.

Photo credits: jpninfo.com

As previously mentioned, it was not an oddity to taste bowls of ramen in street stalls in the past. These stalls are still popular today, although not as widespread as they once were. This is because ramen is also considered a street food to be enjoyed in traditional Yatai’s or stalls. On the other hand, the best restaurants are the Ramen-ya with just a few seats at the counter and at the tables as well, but with the purpose of eating ramen only. It is not unusual to find ramen in amusement parks or in karaoke’s menus. It may also happen that after work colleagues stop by an Izakaya, a pub with the formula Nomihodai “all you can drink” – Tabehodai “all you can eat”. Here, with a limit of three hours, diners can enjoy ramen together with liquor and other foods with a fixed-price menu.

Honourable mentions and regional variants

Photo credits: zerochan.net

Although the classic recipe is common throughout Japan, there are always innovative variants.

Here we have to mention the Blue Ramen, of beautiful and brilliant colour, and we want to specify that this is completely natural! But this is an extreme innovation.

“Traditional” regional variants are:

  • Tokyo variant, with thick noodles, chicken and soy broth, garnished with bamboo shoots, shallots, sliced pork, seaweed, spinach, an egg and a little bit of Dashi. We recommend that you try shops in Ikebukuro, Ogikubo and Ebisu wards.
  • Sapporo is famous for their “winter” version, sometimes garnished with seafood, butter, pork, corn and bean sprouts.
  • Yokohama has the le-kei , coddled eggs for which each customer can choose the desired softness and then break it so to flavour the broth, also adding onion, pork, spinach and seaweed.
  • Kitakata, with its thick but flat noodles, served with pork broth.
  • Hakata and its broth made of pork bones, thin noodles, ginger, vegetables, mustard and sesame seeds.

If reading this article made you really hungry we want to recommend some places where you can taste ramen in Italy:

Nozomi

Via Pietro Calvi 2, 20129 Milano, Italia
+39 02 7602 3197
http://www.nozomi.milano.it/

Casa Ramen

Via Porro Lambertenghi 25, Milano, Italia
+39 02 3944 4560
https://www.facebook.com/casaramen

Zarà Ramen

Via Solferino, 48, 20121 Milano, Italia
+39 02 3679 9000
https://www.facebook.com/zazaramen/

Mi-Ramen Bistro

Viale col di lana, 15 | Viale Col Di Lana, 15, 20136, Milano
+39 339 232 2656
http://mi-ramenbistro.it/

Osaka

Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi 68, 20121 Milano, Italia
+39 02 2906 0678
http://www.milanoosaka.com/

Ryukishin

Via Ariberto 1, 20123 Milano, Italia
+39 02 8940 8866
http://www.ryukishin.it/

Banki Ramen

Via Dei Banchi 14 Rosso, 50123, Firenze, Italia
+39 055 213776

Waraku

Via Prenestina 321/A, 00177 Roma, Italia
+39 06 2170 2358
https://www.facebook.com/Waraku-192626757583758/