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The soul warming pride of Japan – Ramen

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The soul warming pride of Japan – Ramen

When one thinks of Japan, other than sushi, what else do people think of? Of course, Ramen!

Nikky

Nikky

Published on 15 Dec 2020, 12:00

Considered as one of the soul foods in Japan, you can always catch it starring in anime or Japanese drama series, with the main actors slurping away at a bowl of ramen. Don't say I didn't warn you, this article is going to make you drool!

So, what is ramen?

It’s a bowl of wheat made noodle served in meat or fish broth soup with typical toppings such as pork slices, vegetables, nori or scallions.

Every region in Japan has their own speciality and famous type of ramen. The four main types of ramen are determined by their soup base:

  • shio (salt based)
  • shoyu (soy sauce based)
  • miso (soybean paste based)
  • tonkotsu (pork bone broth-based)

When one gets asked what is their favourite food in Japan, if the answer is ramen, the next question typically follows with which one? The answer is typically considered in the four mentioned above.

Hint: This is another way to become closer with your Japanese friends, if you happen to like the same type of ramen, it does make you closer.

Where did this delicious to die for a bowl of noodle come from?

To start off, it’s said that ramen originally came from China, and has been adapted and gradually became the Japanese version. According to the Yokohama Ramen Museum, ramen first came into Japan in 1859.

As I mentioned before each region in Japan has their own version and pride of ramen.

So let’s take a tour through Japan and see what to expect!

First of all, starting right up north, in Sapporo, which is the capital of Hokkaido, is especially famous for its ramen. Out of the major four types of ramen base, Sapporo boasts its pride with the miso base ramen.

Miso based Ramen with added spice
Miso based Ramen with added spice

Moving down a bit south of Hokkaido, in Hakodate, a small town famous for its early morning seafood market, is famous for Shio ramen.

Shio (Salt) based ramen
Shio (Salt) based ramen

As we move down the map of Japan, we get to Kitakata, in Fukushima, which is also considered as the top three ramen in Japan (the other two beings, Sapporo ramen and Hakata ramen). Kitakata ramen has a soy-based and is topped with fish cake, pork slices, green spring onions and bamboo shoots.

Another point to note is that the noodle use is also thicker than other types of ramen.

Soy based Ramen with bamboo shoots, pork slice and spring onion
Soy based Ramen with bamboo shoots, pork slice and spring onion

As we move along to Tokyo, which serves a slightly thinner and curly noodle in a soy flavoured chicken broth soup. Point to note is that Tokyo ramen is also often served with dashi*.

*dashi: a seafood stock, used in Japanese cuisine, made from Kombu (Kelp) and kezurikatsuo (shavings from katsuobushi).

Ramen in Tokyo
Ramen in Tokyo

Located close to Tokyo, we have Yokohama, which is also said to be the origin of where ramen started in Japan because Yokohama is where China town in Japan is located.

Yokohama’s speciality is a thick, straight noodle serviced in soy flavoured pork broth, the toppings are roasted pork, spinach, nori (seaweed), spring onion and a boiled egg.

Yokohama Ramen with added spinach, bamboo, egg, spring onion and pork
Yokohama Ramen with added spinach, bamboo, egg, spring onion and pork

Moving towards the west, we reach the Kansai region, where there is a Wakayama ramen which is a broth served with soy sauce and pork bones.

Wakayama Ramen
Wakayama Ramen

Lastly, we reach the south of Fukuoka in Kyushu, which is also one of the most famous ramen in Japan, the Hakata ramen. It boasts a rich, milky pork-bone tonkotsu broth with a thin, straight and chewy noodle.

Another difference here is that other than the typical toppings one would find on ramen, crushed garlic is also added onto the ramen as a topping.

Kyushu Ramen
Kyushu Ramen

Of course, having said all the typical ones we see in Japan, there are numerous types of other variations of ramen in Japan.

Ramen restaurants are generally small business owners, and the recipes are generally have been passed on centuries or through the family.
Negi Ramen, topped with mince and spices
Negi Ramen, topped with mince and spices

Soupless Ramen
Soupless Ramen

Kagoshima Ramen
Kagoshima Ramen

Fuji San Ramen with prawns as toppings
Fuji San Ramen with prawns as toppings

Japan has a reputation for a high amount of stress and workload. I personally think it’s how strict the society is, the high expectation that society, family and people themselves have.

Japanese like to go to Izakaya (small drinking eatery) to enjoy some drinks with friends and to relax, share office gossip, catch up and just to be carefree. Typically, after enjoying their time at Izakaya, they choose a ramen restaurant to indulge a bowl of heartwarming, soul-feeding ramen to end the night.

Standing ramen store
Standing ramen store

My personal favourite is the Tonkotsu (pork-bone soup base) and I love the garlic topping on it. Definitely not a good idea for a first date!

Crushed garlic and pork Ramen
Crushed garlic and pork Ramen

In my first travel trip to Japan, I travelled extensively through Tokyo, Fuji mountain region, to Hakodate. Sapporo, Otaru then to Nara, Osaka and Kyoto. I tried a bowl of ramen in each city and it was an experience to remember.

Of course, my scale reminded me of all the ramen that I ate in Japan after returning to my home country. Ramen is not so calorie friendly!

My first trip as a traveler to Japan in winter - Otaru City
My first trip as a traveler to Japan in winter - Otaru City

I remember I came in winter for my first trip to Japan and coming from Africa, winter was definitely not my best season. To escape the winter coldness, I walked into small ramen restaurants with the piping steam and the tasty smell surrounding you, then finally get served a piping hot noodle in front of you.

That first bite and slurping of the noodle (yes, it’s the correct way to eat the ramen, is to slurp) down that hot soup, and hear that owner’s shout of irasshaimase (meaning welcome in Japanese).

Perhaps it’s through ramen, that’s how Japanese can fulfil ikigai (the Japanese word, for reason for being), through post-war, the natural disasters, the bubble economy collapse and daily hardship, ramen soothes the soul, and it gives the people a sense of purpose and strength to continue forward through every day.

(by now, you should be starving)

Disclaimer: All pictures used in the article are the owner's pictures.

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Nikky

Nikky

Born: Taiwan Raised & Education: South Africa Background: Int Telecommunications. Currently living: Tokyo, Japan. Studied @ Waseda university. Current Job: @Tokyo in Technology Consultancy. Interests: Love exercise, Food, travels! Follow me for more insight into Japan life!

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