What is Ramen, Exactly?

GET TO KNOW THIS COMFORTING JAPANESE NOODLE SOUP

Menya Jiro Ramen Tonkotsu Ramen
Menya Jiro Ramen | Rich 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.

It’s important not to confuse traditional Japanese ramen with the cheap, instant noodles beloved by college students; this “instant ramen” (also called ramyun in Korea) comes in packets and bowls, and only require the addition of hot water for a quick meal.

Ivan Ramen Chicken Paitan Ramen
Ivan Ramen | Chicken Paitan
tsukemen ramen kit
Ramen Nakamura | Tsukemen Ramen

Popular Types of 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. 

These additional varieties of ramen are primarily differentiated by tare, which is the primary seasoning or sauce that serves as a flavor base:

Shio Ramen

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. As opposed to being seasoned with strongly-flavored miso or soy sauce, it’s only seasoned with salt. Because it’s only seasoned with salt, shio ramen encourages the chef to be creative.

Shōyu Ramen

Shoyu, 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. While it may be slicked with a thin layer of garlick-flavored fat, the broth itself remains clear and much less rich and creamy than tonkotsu.

Miso Ramen

Miso ramen is actually the newest major ramen style, emerging in Hokkaido in the 1960s. Miso ramen can be made with a clear soup base, but it’s often made by stirring an ample dose of nutty miso into tonkotsu ramen, resulting in a ramen that’s rich and hearty, a serious umami bomb that will warm you up on even the coldest day.

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.

Ivan Ramen Veggie
Ivan Ramen | Veggie Ramen
yuzu ratan ramen
AFURI | Yuzu Ratan (Spicy) Ramen

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!

Is Ramen Healthy?

With its ample dose of sodium, it’s widely understood that instant ramen isn’t exactly healthy. But is traditional Japanese ramen healthy? It definitely isn’t considered a health food. It’s high in sodium, the wheat noodles are very high in carbs, roasted pork on top can be high in fat, and if the broth is tonkotsu-style, it is usually infused with very large amounts of fat. However, the broth is also high in healthy collagen, and toppings including nori and mushrooms are generally considered healthy.

The Most Famous Ramen

Menya Jiro Ramen

Tokyo’s Menya Jiro Ramen

Tokyo’s Menya Jiro Ramen specializes in three varieties of tonkotsu ramen: rich, light, and spicy.

Killer Noodle Tsujita

LA’s Killer Noodle Tsujita

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.

Ramen Nakamura

New York’s Ramen Nakamura

New York’s Ramen Nakamura is famous for its light, restorative, chicken-based torigara ramen and rich tsukemen (dipping) ramen.

Read More: The Best Ramen in New York City & Beyond

If all this talk of ramen has got you hungry, then you’re in luck! Discover the most delicious ramen shipping nationwide– and happy slurping!

Dan-Meyers
Dan Myers

Dan Myers is Goldbelly’s Senior Content Manager and Senior Editor of the Goldbelly Blog. He joined Goldbelly in 2020, and as the company’s primary copywriter he also writes copy for all brand marketing initiatives including marketing emails as well as on-page descriptions for all new merchants and products.

Before joining Goldbelly, Dan spent seven years as Deputy Editor for The Daily Meal, a food and drink website. During his time there, he wrote everything from news briefs to major tentpoles including the 101 Best Restaurants in America and the 50 Best Burgers in America, forming a base of knowledge that has served him well at Goldbelly.

Prior to joining The Daily Meal, Dan founded and spent several years running a neighborhood blog called Here’s Park Slope, based out of the neighborhood in Brooklyn. Its primary focus was on the opening and closing of local businesses (especially restaurants), and it was named Brooklyn’s Best Neighborhood Blog by The L Magazine.

Dan graduated from NYU with a degree in Communication & Mass Media, and still lives in Brooklyn with his wife Janie and French Bulldog, Nugget.