What is Ramen, Exactly?

GET TO KNOW THIS COMFORTING JAPANESE NOODLE DISH

Menya Jiro’s Tonkotsu Ramen
Menya Jiro’s Tonkotsu Ramen

If you’ve ever slurped up a big, comforting bowl of ramen (and not those cheap instant noodles you just add water to), then you already know that it’s one of the most delicious foods on earth. And the trend is catching on: in recent years, ramen has grown in popularity worldwide, and just about every major American city has no shortage of great ramen shops.

What is ramen, and how is it made?

Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup with thousands of variations. Most ramens are tonkotsu, made by boiling pork bones, pork fat, collagen, and other umami-rich ingredients like kombu (kelp), mushrooms, and katsuobushi (tuna flakes) for hours until it’s rich, creamy, and an absolute umami bomb. Other popular broths can be chicken- or vegetable-based. So if you’re wondering, “Is ramen vegan?”, the answer is: it can be, but certainly not by default.

Afuri’s Shio Ramen
Afuri’s Shio Ramen

Rich and creamy tonkotsu ramen is widely considered to be its own ramen style these days, and there are a handful of other ramen flavors and styles that have also become popular. Shio, or “salt” ramen, is pale, yellow, and clearer than tonkotsu. It’s also lighter, usually made with chicken, vegetables, and fish; if pork bones are used, they’re not boiled for as long. Shōyu, or “soy sauce” ramen, is also lighter than tonkotsu, and is usually chicken- and vegetable-based and flavored with an ample dose of soy sauce. And miso ramen is rich and hearty, made with nutty miso, chicken or fish broth, and occasionally a dose of tonkotsu broth or pork fat.

There are countless regional styles and spinoffs, including tsukemen, in which the noodles and concentrated soup are served in different bowls, and the noodles are dipped before being eaten. 

What are ramen noodles made of?

All ramen styles have one thing in common: the noodles. Ramen noodles are made with wheat flour and an alkaline mineral water called kansui, which gives them a yellowish hue and a firm, springy texture.

Almost as important as the noodles in ramen are the toppings, of which there are many varieties and are generally customizable by the customer. Popular toppings include chashu (sliced pork), bean sprouts, a boiled egg, green onion, bamboo shoots, wood ear mushroom, nori, corn, chili oil, and a type of fish cake called naruto.

How do you eat ramen? 

Most ramen shops have a few styles and a variety of toppings on offer, so take your pick, wait for the steamy bowl to be placed in front of you, and go to town. Use chopsticks to eat the noodles and toppings, a spoon to eat the soup, and don’t be shy. After a few spoonfuls, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the rest disappears!

Killer Noodle’s Tan Tan Men
Killer Noodle’s Tan Tan Men

If you’re eager to try ramen in the comfort of your own home, you’re in luck! A wide variety of ramen styles are shipping to your door on Goldbelly. Tokyo’s Menya Jiro Ramen specializes in three varieties of tonkotsu ramen: rich, light, and spicy. New York’s acclaimed Ivan Ramen, from legendary ramen chef Ivan Orkin, is shipping its renowned shio ramen, as well as a completely vegetarian ramen. LA’s Killer Noodle Tsujita, which was founded in Tokyo, sells a classic pork-based ramen as well as their renowned tan tan ramen, which is inspired by Chinese dan dan noodles and made with sesame, peanut butter, and ground pork. New York’s Ramen Nakamura is famous for its light, restorative, chicken-based torigara ramen and rich tsukemen (dipping) ramen. And Portland’s AFURI, which was also founded in Japan, specializes in shio-style ramen that’s brightened up with yuzu, an Asian citrus.