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Ramen
Shoyu ramen, at Kasukabe Station (2014.05.05) 1.jpg
Alternative namesNankin soba, shina soba, chūka soba
TypeNoodle soup
Place of originChina (origin) Yokohama Chinatown, Japan (adaptation)
Region or stateEast Asia
Serving temperatureHot
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, IPA: [ɾaꜜːmeɴ]) is a Japanese noodle dish. It consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles (or 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.[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.

History

Etymology

The word ramen is a Japanese borrowing of the Mandarin Chinese lāmiàn (拉麵, "pulled noodles").[2][3] However, historian Barak Kushner argues that this borrowing occurred retroactively and that various independent Japanese corruptions of Chinese words had already led to Japanese people calling this Chinese noodle dish "ramen".[4] One theory suggests that the Japanese mistook the Chinese particles "le" (了) or "la" (啦, a contraction of 了啊)[4] for a "ra" sound when Chinese cooks would announce "hăo le" (好了) to communicate that a dish was complete. The Japanese then appended the word "men" (麵, meaning 'noodle') to the "ra" to create the word "ramen".[5] Early ramen or ramen-like dishes went by different names, such as Nankin soba (南京そば, literally "Nanjing soba", named after the city which was the then capital of China), Shina soba (支那そば, literally "Chinese soba"), or Chūka soba (中華そば, also meaning "Chinese soba").[6][4][5] 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.[7]

Origin

Ramen is a Japanese adaptation of Chinese wheat noodle soups.[8][9][10][11][12] It is first recorded to have appeared in Yokohama Chinatown in the early 20th century.[13][14] Although the ramen takes its name from lāmiàn, it does not actually evolve from the northern Chinese dish of lamian. The noodles used in ramen known as "chūkamen" are cut rather than hand-pulled.[4] The ramen is derived from southern Chinese noodle dishes such as the char siu tangmian of Guangdong and the rousi tangmian[15][5][6] of Jiangnan.[16] This is reflective of Yokohama Chinatown's demographics, as most Chinese settlers in the district came from the cities of Guangzhou and Shanghai.[17][18]

One theory says that ramen was introduced to Japan during the 1660s by the Chinese neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Shunsui who served as an advisor to Tokugawa Mitsukuni after he became a refugee in Japan to escape Manchu rule and Mitsukuni became the first Japanese person to eat ramen. Most historians reject this theory as a myth created by the Japanese to embellish the origins of ramen.[19]

According to historians, the more plausible theory is that ramen was introduced to Japan in the late 19th[8][20] or early 20th centuries by Chinese immigrants living in Yokohama Chinatown.[13][14] 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]

According to ramen expert Hiroshi Osaki, the first specialized ramen shop opened in 1910, in Asakusa, Tokyo, and was named Rairaiken [ja] (来々軒). The Japanese owner employed twelve Cantonese cooks from Yokohama's Chinatown and served the ramen arranged for Japanese customers.[21][22] Early versions were wheat noodles in broth topped with char siu.[8]

Postwar popularization

Ramen stall in Tokyo
Ramen stall in Tokyo

After Japan's defeat in World War II, the American military occupied the country from 1945 to 1952.[8] In December 1945, Japan recorded its worst rice harvest in 42 years,[8][23] which caused food shortages as Japan had drastically reduced rice production during the war as production shifted to colonies in China and Formosa island.[8] The US flooded the market with cheap wheat flour to deal with food shortages.[8] From 1948 to 1951, bread consumption in Japan increased from 262,121 tons to 611,784 tons,[8] 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.[8] Although the Americans maintained Japan's wartime ban on outdoor food vending,[8] flour was secretly diverted from commercial mills into the black markets,[8] where nearly 90 percent of stalls were under the control of gangsters related to the yakuza who extorted vendors for protection money.[8] Thousands of ramen vendors were arrested during the occupation.[8]

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.[8] 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.[8] Ramen yatai provided a rare opportunity for small scale postwar entrepreneurship.[8] The Americans also aggressively advertised the nutritional benefits of wheat and animal protein.[8] The combination of these factors caused wheat noodles to gain prominence in Japan's rice-based culture.[8] Gradually, ramen became associated with urban life.[8]

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 the 20th century in a Japanese poll,[24] 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.[25]

Today ramen is one of Japan's most popular foods, with Tokyo alone containing around 5,000 ramen shops,[8] and more than 24,000 ramen shops across Japan.[26] Tsuta, a ramen restaurant in Tokyo's Sugamo district, received a Michelin star in December 2015.[26]

Types

A wide variety of ramen exists in Japan, with geographical and vendor-specific differences even in varieties that share the same name. Although ramen usually has toppings, ramen can be broadly categorized by its two main ingredients: noodles and broth.

Noodles

Fresh ramen 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. Although ramen noodles and Udon noodles are both made with wheat and are similar, they are different kinds of noodle.

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.[27]

Soup

Ramen in tonkotsu soup
Ramen in tonkotsu soup

Ramen soup is generally made from stock based on chicken or pork, combined with a variety of ingredients such as pork bones, katsuobushi (skipjack tuna flakes), niboshi (dried baby sardines),[28] beef bones, shiitake, onions, and kombu (kelp). Some modern ramen broths can also be vegetable-based. Tare is often added to broth to make the soup.

Flavors

Shio ramen
Shio ramen
Shoyu ramen
Shoyu ramen
Miso ramen
Miso ramen
Karē ramen
Karē ramen

The resulting combination is generally divided into several categories. Although newer and older variations often make this categorization less clear-cut, a description of said old variations is as follows:

Toppings

After basic preparation, ramen can be seasoned and flavored with any number of toppings, including but not limited to:[34]

Preference

Seasonings commonly added to ramen are white pepper, black pepper, butter, chili pepper, sesame seeds, and crushed garlic.[35] 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.[36]

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). 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.

Restaurants in Japan

A ramen restaurant in Shinjuku Kabukicho
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.[41]

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.[42]

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.[43]

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 distinctly Japanese dishes, such as tempura and yakitori. Interestingly, in Japan, these dishes are not traditionally served with ramen, but gyoza, kara-age and others from Japanese Chinese cuisine.

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.[44]

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 in Japan

Instant ramen noodles were exported from Japan by Nissin Foods starting in 1971, bearing the name "Oodles of Noodles".[45] 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.[46][47] However, instant ramen noodles, known to have a serving of 43 g, consist of very high sodium. [48] 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.[49][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. [50]

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.[51] In 2015, the icon was added to Emoji 1.0.[52]

Museum

The Shin-Yokohama Rāmen Museum is a unique museum about ramen, in the Shin-Yokohama district of Kōhoku-ku, Yokohama.[53]

Shin-Yokohama Rāmen Museum
Shin-Yokohama Rāmen Museum

Anime

Ramen features prominently in many Japanese anime, including Naruto, Kaguya-sama: Love is War, Komi Can't Communicate, and Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma.

See also

References

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  3. ^ Kodansha encyclopedia of Japan, Volume 6 (1st ed.). Tokyo: Kodansha. 1983. p. 283. ISBN 978-0-87011-626-1.
  4. ^ a b c d Kushner, Barak (2012). Slurp! : a social and culinary history of ramen - Japan's favorite noodle soup. Leiden: Global Oriental. ISBN 978-90-04-22098-0. OCLC 810924622.
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  7. ^ Cwiertka, Katarzyna Joanna (2006). Modern Japanese cuisine: food, power and national identity. Reaktion Books. p. 144. ISBN 978-1-86189-298-0. However, Shina soba acquired the status of 'national' dish in Japan under a different name: rāmen. The change of name from Shina soba to rāmen took place during the 1950s and '60s. The word Shina, used historically in reference to China, acquired a pejorative connotation through its association with Japanese imperialist association in Asia and was replaced with the word Chūka, which derived from the Chinese name for the People's Republic. For a while, the term Chūka soba was used, but ultimately the name rāmen caught on, inspired by the chicken-flavored instant version of the dish that went on sale in 1958 and spread nationwide in no time.
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  44. ^ Back to Korean-Style Ramyeon at Nenassi's Noodle Bar
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Further reading