Ramen
Alternative namesNankin soba, shina soba, chūka soba
TypeNoodle soup
Place of originChina (origin)
Yokohama Chinatown, Japan (adaptation)
Region or stateEast Asia
Japan
Main ingredientsChinese-style alkaline wheat noodles, meat- or fish-based broth, vegetables or meat
VariationsMany variants, especially regional, with various ingredients and toppings

Ramen (/ˈrɑːmən/) (拉麺, ラーメン or らーめん, rāmen, [ɾaꜜːmeɴ] ) is a Japanese noodle dish. It consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles (中華麺, chūkamen) served in a broth; common flavors are soy sauce and miso, with typical toppings including sliced pork (chāshū), nori (dried seaweed), menma (bamboo shoots), and scallions. Ramen has its roots in Chinese noodle dishes and is a part of Japanese Chinese cuisine.[1] Nearly every region in Japan has its own variation of ramen, such as the tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen of Kyushu and the miso ramen of Hokkaido.

The origins of ramen can be traced back to Yokohama Chinatown in the early 20th century. The word "ramen" is a Japanese borrowing of the Chinese word lamian (拉麵), meaning "pulled noodles", but is not derived from the northern Chinese dish of lamian. Instead, the dish evolved from southern Chinese noodle dishes from regions such as Guangzhou, reflecting the demographics of Chinese settlers in Yokohama. Ramen gained popularity in Japan, especially during food shortages following World War II. In 1958, instant noodles were invented by Momofuku Ando, further popularizing the dish.

Today, ramen is a cultural icon in Japan, with many regional varieties and a wide range of toppings. Examples include Sapporo's rich miso ramen, Hakodate's salt-flavored ramen, Kitakata's thick, flat noodles in pork-and-niboshi broth, Tokyo-style ramen with soy-flavored chicken broth, Yokohama's Iekei Ramen with soy flavored pork broth, Wakayama's soy sauce and pork bone broth, and Hakata's milky tonkotsu (pork bone) broth. Ramen is offered in various establishments and locations, with the best quality usually found in specialist ramen shops called ramenya (ラーメン屋).

Ramen's popularity has spread outside of Japan. In Korea, ramen is known as ramyeon (라면). In China, ramen is called rìshì lāmiàn (日式拉麵 "Japanese-style lamian"). Ramen has also made its way into Western restaurant chains. Instant ramen was exported from Japan in 1971 and has since gained international recognition.

Etymology

From Seiichi Yoshida, How to Prepare Delicious and Economical Chinese Dishes (1928).
From Seiichi Yoshida, How to Prepare Delicious and Economical Chinese Dishes (1928)

The word ramen is a Japanese borrowing of the Mandarin Chinese lāmiàn (拉麵, 'pulled noodles').[2][3]

The word ramen (拉麺) first appeared in Japan in Seiichi Yoshida's How to Prepare Delicious and Economical Chinese Dishes (1928).[4] In the book, Yoshida describes how to make ramen using flour and kansui, kneading it by hand, and stretching it with an illustration. He also states that ramen is better suited for soup or cold noodles than for baked noodles. In this case, however, ramen refers to Chinese noodles, not the dish. The first mention of ramen as a dish appears in Hatsuko Kuroda's Enjoyable Home Cooking (1947).[5]

Early ramen or ramen-like dishes went by different names, such as Nankin soba (南京そば, lit.'Nanjing noodles'), named after the city which was the then capital of China), Shina soba (支那そば, lit.'Chinese noodles') or Chūka soba (中華そば, lit.'Chinese noodles').[6][7][8] For example, in 1903, in Yokohama Chinatown (then known as Nanjing Town), there was a Nanjing noodle restaurant (南京蕎麦所, Nankin soba dokoro).[9]

Until the 1950s, ramen was most commonly called Shina soba, but today Chūka soba or just ramen (ラーメン) are more common, as the word 支那 (Shina, meaning 'China') has acquired a pejorative connotation through its association with Japanese imperialism.[10]

History

Origin

Rairaiken (来々軒), the first ramen shop, founded in 1910 by Kan'ichi Ozaki in Asakusa, Tokyo. The signs advertise "Chinese soba" (支那蕎麥) and "Guangdong cuisine" (廣東料理).

Ramen is a Japanese adaptation of Chinese wheat noodle soups.[11][12][13][14][15] It is first recorded to have appeared in Yokohama Chinatown in the early 20th century.[16][17] Although ramen takes its name from lāmiàn, it did not originate from the hand-pulled lamian noodles of northern China, since the noodles used in ramen are cut, not pulled.[7] Rather, ramen is derived from southern Chinese noodle dishes such as char siu tangmian (roast pork noodle soup) from Guangdong, and rousi tangmian (sliced meat noodle soup) from Jiangnan.[18][8][6][19] This is reflective of Yokohama Chinatown's demographics, as most Chinese settlers in the district came from the cities of Guangzhou and Shanghai.[20][21]

Sōmen is another type of noodle of Chinese origin made from wheat flour, but in Japan it is distinguished from the noodles used in ramen. The noodles used for ramen today are called chūkamen (中華麺, lit.'Chinese noodles') and are made with kansui (鹹水, alkaline salt water), but since there is no natural kansui in Japan, it was difficult to make chūkamen before the Meiji Restoration (1868).

The official diary of Shōkoku-ji Temple in Kyoto, Inryōken Nichiroku (蔭涼軒日録), mentions eating jīngdàimiàn (経帯麪), noodles with kansui, in 1488.[22][23] Jīngdàimiàn is the noodle of the Yuan dynasty. This is the earliest record of kansui noodles being eaten in Japan.

One theory says that ramen was introduced to Japan during the 1660s by the neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Shunsui, who served as an advisor to Tokugawa Mitsukuni after he became a refugee in Japan to escape Manchu rule. Mitsukuni became the first Japanese person to eat ramen. However, the noodles Mitsukuni ate were a mixture of starch made from lotus root and wheat flour, which is different from chūkamen with kansui.[23]

According to historians, the more plausible theory is that ramen was introduced to Japan in the late 19th[11][24] or early 20th centuries by Chinese immigrants living in Yokohama Chinatown.[16][17] By 1900, restaurants serving Chinese cuisine from Guangzhou and Shanghai offered a simple dish of noodles, a few toppings, and a broth flavored with salt and pork bones. Many Chinese living in Japan also pulled portable food stalls, selling ramen and gyōza dumplings to workers. By the mid-1900s, these stalls used a type of a musical horn called a charumera (チャルメラ, from the Portuguese charamela) to advertise their presence, a practice some vendors still retain via a loudspeaker and a looped recording. By the early Shōwa period, ramen had become a popular dish when eating out.[citation needed]

First store

A bowl of ramen from the second Rairaiken in Yūtenji, opened in 1933 by Fu Xinglei (傅興雷), one of the twelve Chinese cooks from the first Rairaiken store in Asakusa

According to ramen expert Hiroshi Osaki, the first specialized ramen shop was Rairaiken [ja] (来々軒), which opened in 1910 in Asakusa, Tokyo. The Japanese founder, Kan'ichi Ozaki (尾崎貫一), employed twelve Cantonese cooks from Yokohama's Chinatown and served the ramen arranged for Japanese customers.[25][26] Early versions were wheat noodles in broth topped with char siu.[11] The store also served standard Chinese fare like wontons and shumai, and is sometimes regarded as the origin of Japanese-Chinese fusion dishes like chūkadon and tenshindon.[27][28]

Rairaiken's original store closed in 1976, but related stores with the same name currently exist in other places, and have connections to the first store.

In 1933, Fu Xinglei (傅興雷), one of the twelve original chefs, opened a second Rairaiken in Yūtenji, Meguro Ward, Tokyo.[29]

In 1968, one of Kan'ichi Ozaki's apprentices opened a store named Shinraiken ("New Raiken") in Chiba Prefecture.[29]

In 2020, Ozaki's grandson and great-great-grandson re-opened the original Rairaiken as a store inside Shin-Yokohama Rāmen Museum.[30]

Post-war popularization

Women eating shina soba at a shina soba stall, Tokyo, 1956

After Japan's defeat in World War II, the American military occupied the country from 1945 to 1952.[11] In December 1945, Japan recorded its worst rice harvest in 42 years,[11][31] which caused food shortages as Japan had drastically reduced rice production during the war as production shifted to colonies in China and Formosa island.[11] The US flooded the market with cheap wheat flour to deal with food shortages.[11] From 1948 to 1951, bread consumption in Japan increased from 262,121 tons to 611,784 tons,[11] but wheat also found its way into ramen, which most Japanese ate at black market food vendors to survive as the government food distribution system ran about 20 days behind schedule.[11] Although the Americans maintained Japan's wartime ban on outdoor food vending,[11] flour was secretly diverted from commercial mills into the black markets,[11] where nearly 90 percent of stalls were under the control of gangsters related to the yakuza who extorted vendors for protection money.[11] Thousands of ramen vendors were arrested during the occupation.[11]

A mobile ramen stall (yatai) in Shinjuku, Tokyo

In the same period, millions of Japanese troops returned from China and continental East Asia from their posts in the Second Sino-Japanese War. Some of them would have been familiar with wheat noodles.[11] By 1950 wheat flour exchange controls were removed and restrictions on food vending loosened, which further boosted the number of ramen vendors: private companies even rented out yatai starter kits consisting of noodles, toppings, bowls, and chopsticks.[11] Ramen yatai provided a rare opportunity for small-scale postwar entrepreneurship.[11] The Americans also aggressively advertised the nutritional benefits of wheat and animal protein.[11] The combination of these factors caused wheat noodles to gain prominence in Japan's rice-based culture.[11] Gradually, ramen became associated with urban life.[11]

Modern period

A hot bowl of tonkotsu ramen in Tokyo

In 1958, instant noodles were invented by Momofuku Ando, the Taiwanese-Japanese founder and chairman of Nissin Foods. Named the greatest Japanese invention of 20th century in a Japanese poll,[32] instant ramen allowed anyone to make an approximation of this dish simply by adding boiling water.

Beginning in the 1980s, ramen became a Japanese cultural icon and was studied around the world. At the same time, local varieties of ramen were hitting the national market and could even be ordered by their regional names. A ramen museum opened in Yokohama in 1994.[33]

Today ramen is one of Japan's most popular foods, with Tokyo alone containing around 5,000 ramen shops,[11] and more than 24,000 ramen shops across Japan.[34] Tsuta, a ramen restaurant in Tokyo's Sugamo district, received a Michelin star in December 2015.[34]

Types

A wide variety of ramen exists in Japan, with geographical and vendor-specific differences even in varieties that share the same name. Usually varieties of ramen are differentiated by the type of broth and tare used. There are five components to a bowl of ramen: tare, aroma oil, broth, noodles and toppings.[35]

Noodles

Fresh ramen noodles

Most noodles are made from four basic ingredients: wheat flour, salt, water, and kansui [ja], derived from the Chinese jiǎnshuǐ (鹼水), a type of alkaline mineral water containing sodium carbonate and usually potassium carbonate, as well as sometimes a small amount of phosphoric acid. Ramen is not to be confused with different kinds of noodle such as soba, udon, or somen.

The kansui is the distinguishing ingredient in ramen noodles, and originated in Inner Mongolia, where some lakes contain large amounts of these minerals and whose water is said to be perfect for making these noodles. Making noodles with kansui lends them a yellowish hue as well as a firm texture.[citation needed] Eggs may also be substituted for kansui. Some noodles are made with neither eggs nor kansui and should only be used for yakisoba, as they have a weaker structure and are more prone to soaking up moisture and becoming extremely soft when served in soup.[citation needed]

Ramen comes in various shapes and lengths. It may be thick, thin, or even ribbon-like, as well as straight or wrinkled.

Traditionally, ramen noodles were made by hand, but with growing popularity many ramen restaurants prefer to use noodle-making machines to meet the increased demand and improve quality. Automatic ramen-making machines imitating manual production methods have been available since the mid-20th century produced by such Japanese manufacturers as Yamato MFG. and others.[36]

Soup

Ramen in tonkotsu soup

Ramen soup is generally made from chicken or pork, though vegetable and fish stock is also used. This base stock is often combined with dashi stock components such as katsuobushi (skipjack tuna flakes), niboshi (dried baby sardines),[37] shiitake, and kombu (kelp). Ramen stock is usually divided into two categories: chintan and paitan.

Tare

Shio ramen
Shōyu ramen
Miso ramen
Karē ramen

Tare is a sauce that is used to flavor the broth. The main purpose of tare is to provide salt to the broth, but tare also usually adds other flavors, such as umami. There are three main kinds of tare.[35]

Toppings

Gomoku ramen, sometimes called Gomoku soba

After basic preparation, ramen can be adorned with any number of toppings, including but not limited to:[39]

Preference

Seasonings commonly added to ramen are white pepper, black pepper, butter, chili pepper, sesame seeds, and crushed garlic.[40] Soup recipes and methods of preparation tend to be closely guarded secrets.

Most tonkotsu ramen restaurants offer a system known as kae-dama (替え玉), where customers who have finished their noodles can request a "refill" (for a few hundred yen more) to be put into their remaining soup.[41]

Regional variations

While standard versions of ramen are available throughout Japan since the Taishō period, the last few decades have shown a proliferation of regional variations, commonly referred to as gotouchi ramen (ご当地ラーメン "regional ramen"). Some of these which have gone on to national prominence are:

Related dishes

There are many related, Chinese-influenced noodle dishes in Japan. The following are often served alongside ramen in ramen establishments. They do not include noodle dishes considered traditionally Japanese, such as soba or udon, which are almost never served in the same establishments as ramen.

Hiroshma-type Tantan-men, or soupless dandan noodle

Restaurants in Japan

A ramen restaurant in Shinjuku Kabukicho

Ramen is offered in various types of restaurants and locations including ramen shops, izakaya drinking establishments, lunch cafeterias, karaoke halls, and amusement parks. Many ramen restaurants only have a counter and a chef. In these shops, the meals are paid for in advance at a ticket machine to streamline the process.[48]

However, the best quality ramen is usually only available in specialist ramen-ya restaurants. Some restaurants also provide Halal ramen (using chicken) in Osaka and Kyoto. As ramen-ya restaurants offer mainly ramen dishes, they tend to lack variety in the menu. Besides ramen, some of the dishes generally available in a ramen-ya restaurant include other dishes from Japanese Chinese cuisine such as fried rice (called chahan or yakimeshi), gyoza (Chinese dumplings), and beer. Ramen-ya interiors are often filled with Chinese-inspired decorations.[49]

From January 2020 and September 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, many ramen restaurants were temporarily closed, with 34 chains filing for bankruptcy by September 2020. Ramen restaurants are typically narrow and seat customers closely, making social distancing difficult.[50]

Outside Japan

Ramen became popular in China where it is known as rìshì lāmiàn (日式拉麵, lit.'Japanese-style lamian'). Restaurant chains serve ramen alongside Japanese dishes, such as tempura and yakitori. In Japan, these dishes are not traditionally served with ramen, but gyoza, kara-age and others from Japanese Chinese cuisine.[citation needed]

In Korea, ramen is called ramyeon (라면 / 拉麵). There are different varieties, such as kimchi-flavored ramyeon. While usually served with egg or vegetables such as carrots and scallions, some restaurants serve variations of ramyeon containing additional ingredients such as dumplings, tteok, or cheese as toppings.[51]

Outside of Asia, particularly in areas with a large demand for Asian cuisine, there are restaurants specializing in Japanese-style foods such as ramen noodles. For example, Wagamama, a UK-based restaurant chain serving pan-Asian food, serves a ramen noodle soup and in the United States and Canada, Jinya Ramen Bar serves tonkotsu ramen.

Instant ramen

Main article: Instant noodles

Instant ramen in Japan

Instant ramen noodles were exported from Japan by Nissin Foods starting in 1971, bearing the name "Oodles of Noodles".[52] One year later, it was re-branded "Nissin Cup Noodles", packaged in a foam food container (It is referred to as Cup Ramen in Japan), and subsequently saw a growth in international sales. Over time, the term ramen became used in North America to refer to other instant noodles. While some research has claimed that consuming instant ramen two or more times a week increases the likelihood of developing heart disease and other conditions, including diabetes and stroke, especially in women, those claims have not been reproduced and no study has isolated instant ramen consumption as an aggravating factor.[53][54] However, instant ramen noodles, known to have a serving of 43 g, consist of very high sodium.[55] At least 1,760 mg of sodium are found in one packet alone. It consists of 385k calories, 55.7 g of carbohydrates, 14.5 g of total fat, 6.5 g of saturated fat, 7.9 g of protein, and 0.6 mg of thiamine.[56][better source needed]

Canned version

In Akihabara, Tokyo, vending machines distribute warm ramen in a steel can known as ramen kan (らーめん缶). It is produced by a popular local ramen restaurant in flavors such as tonkotsu and curry, and contains noodles, soup, menma, and pork. It is intended as a quick snack, and includes a small folded plastic fork.[57]

In popular culture

Emoji

In October 2010, an emoji was approved for Unicode 6.0 U+1F35C 🍜 STEAMING BOWL for "Steaming Bowl", that depicts Japanese ramen noodles in a bowl of steaming broth with chopsticks.[58] In 2015, the icon was added to Emoji 1.0.[59]

Museum

The Shin-Yokohama Rāmen Museum is a unique museum about ramen, in the Shin-Yokohama district of Kōhoku-ku, Yokohama.[60]

Shin-Yokohama Rāmen Museum

See also

References

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Further reading