THE ANATOMY OF JAPANESE RAMEN

When you hear the word “ramen,” it’s no surprise that dozens upon dozens of adaptations of Japan’s iconic noodle soup may spring to mind. The slurp-y, affordable comfort food first started popping up in port towns in the late 19th century in the form of imported Chinese hand-pulled Lamian noodles, and immediately became a favorite dish among locals. 

1. The BIG FOUR Broth
The simplest way to categorize ramen is by the ‘big four’ broth-based styles that you’ll typically see on menus in the States. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t hundreds of soups that fall somewhere in between, overlap between two or seem to be way off the grid. However, if you’re a beginner, here’s where to start:

Shoyu: A dark, clear, savory soy sauce base that originated in Tokyo is considered the most common style (pictured above).

Shio: This salt-based style has the palest broth and is made from a variety of seaweed and dried seafood or chicken. It is a specialty of Hakodate and is believed to be the oldest variety.

Tonkotsu: A rich, cloudy broth that is made from long-cooked pork bones, fat, and collagen and originated in Kurume.

Miso: Made with fermented bean paste, this tangy, nutty broth didn’t become popular until the early 1960’s after gaining a following in Sapparo.

tonkotsu-eatout

2. Making traditional ramen

Traditional fresh ramen-style noodles are generally made with the same set of ingredients: wheat flour (occasionally egg), salt, water and kansui, which is an alkaline water that gives the noodles their buoyancy and yellowish color. However, they can still be differentiated by several criteria: thickness, color, degree of wave or shape (chijire) and the actual percent of water used to make them. For this reason some noodles are more compatible with certain broths. .

ramen-eatout

3. Topping for ramen
These days many ramen shops allow you to pick and choose your toppings, and provide guidance as to what will go best with each broth (think the Ippudo menu that offers some standard ramen dishes and prints topping suggestions below others.). While there could be an entire post dedicated to the seemingly hodgepodge combination of everything that can go into your soup, here are some of the most popular:

Meat: Chashu pork (sliced pork belly or loin that’s been roasted in a sweet soy and mirin sauce), kakuni (braised pork cubes), bacon, seafood including crab, scallops, mussels and shrimp, or kamaboko (those pink and white fish cakes).

Fresh vegetables: scallions (or negi in Japan, which is a sweeter type of leek), enoki mushrooms and corn.

Preserved vegetables: menma (braised bamboo shoots), wood ear mushrooms, nori and wakame seaweeds and kimchi.

Egg: ni-tamago or ajitsuke tamago, which is soft boiled egg marinated in soy sauce, or onsen tamago, which has a consistency similar to a poached egg.

ajitsuke-tamago-eatout

4. Never forget seasoning
When it comes to ramen, you may be inclined to think that seasonings are mixed directly into each soup’s base broth (and many are, such as shio salt and miso), but in this age of unlimited options and substitutions, an increasing number of ramen shops are opting to hold off on flavorful, distinct seasonings until customers place their orders. Traditional seasonings include: sansho pepper (the Japanese equivalent to a Sichuan pepper, albeit a little more citrus-y), sesame seeds, garlic flakes, and togarashi (spicy chili powder). In Japan, MSG is still a common addition, as well as helpings of oils and fats.

5. The most famous ramen in Japan
As we already noted, the standard ramen varieties all come from different areas of Japan. However, the years since the 1950s have seen a significant increase in regional specialties, many of which have caught on around the country.

ramen-eatout

Asahikawa ramen: Found in the northern island of Hokkaido, this rich tonkotsu style is designed with cold weather in mind and features an assortment of local seafood. It’s also notably topped with a layer of grease to capture heat and make sure the ramen stays hot.

Kitakata ramen: This style is known for its thick, flat, curly noodles, which retain their unique shape due to the fact that they’re made largely from mountain spring water. Fittingly, another characteristic of the region is their generous portion of noodles.

Kitakata-ramen-eatout

Hakata ramen: Since this area known for its pork dishes, it’s no surprise that it features an exceptionally rich tonkotsu broth. Other characteristics include ultra-thin noodles , and the unique topping of benishoga (pickled red ginger).

Tantan-men: Harking back to the soup’s Chinese roots, this ramen is essentially a riff off of Chinese dandan noodles, complete with a spicy red sauce.

Tsukemen: A dipping-type of ramen where all of the components are served separately and you can them into the broth and sauces bit by bit, the perceived advantage being that nothing will have to get soggy.

tsukemen-eatout

You can enjoy a hot bowl of ramen at these restaurants:
– Azuma
Address: Lake Side Hotel, 23 Ngoc Khanh Street, Ba Dinh District, Ha Noi
Opening hours: 11:00 AM – 02:00 PM | 05:30 PM – 10:00 PM
Book a table through Eatout.vn to get the best seat at HERE!

– NijyuMaru
Address: 35 Quang Trung Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Book a table through Eatout.vn to get the best seat at HERE!

– Emporor KTV Japanese
Address: Fortuna Hotel, 6B Lang Ha Street, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
Opening hours: 11:30 AM – 02:00 PM| 05:30 PM – 10:00 PM
Book a table through Eatout.vn to get the best seat at HERE!

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