Ramen is essentially, noodles in stock. The stock can be made traditionally from either meat or fish, but modern variations can be made from vegetable bases. Every region in Japan has it's own variation of Ramen.
The basic types of ramen are based on their stocks; there is Tonkotsu ramen, which is made of pork bone broth, miso ramen, which is made from miso paste broth, Shoyu ramen, which has a soy sauce base, and Shio ramen, which has a salt stock.
Popular and famous regional variations include Sapporo's miso ramen, Muroran curry ramen, Honshu's ramen which is made with thick curly noodles and a pork broth, and Tokyo ramen which has a chicken and soy broth.
Popular ramen in Japan today include Hakata ramen, which is made from thin noodles and a very rich pork broth. It's served with help-yourself condiments such as garlic paste, sesame seeds and pickles.
Ramen noodles can be any thickness or shape, but they are specifically made with either egg or kansui, which is a salt water very rich in minerals. This can be found in many lakes in Japan and some lakes are famous for their noodle making water!
The kansui or the egg make the noodles firm and yellow, they have a strong structure which won't break apart when they sit in a soup broth, unlike other noodles.
Although ramen is delicious simply served as noodles in broth, it becomes much more healthy and balanced when you add toppings. One of the most famous ramen toppings is Chashu which is thinly sliced braised pork. You won't often see other meats used for ramen toppings, but fish cakes are also popular, and sometimes even gyoza are used.
Traditional toppings include a soft boiled egg, nori and finely chopped spring onions, but bean sprouts, fried tofu, nori, mushrooms, corn and Japanese pickles are also often used.
Many places in Japan will serve good ramen, but if you're looking for the best, visit a Ramen-ya. These little establishments are often family run and the chefs have spent years training to make ramen. The broth is cooked slowly over time and the flavours are carefully balanced. These establishments will also often serve gyoza and beers, but little else! What more do you need?
Of course you can also make ramen at home, and instant ramen is incredibly popular.
Look out for more ramen recipes on our blog