What is ramen
Ramen (pronounced ‘RAA-men’) is a Japanese noodle soup consisting of four elements: broth, sauce, ramen noodles and toppings. The broth is usually made from a mixture of pork and chicken, but can be made from seafood and/or vegetables. The sauce is a strong, salty base flavouring the stock. Typical toppings are chopped spring onions, grilled pork, beansprouts, seaweed and bamboo shoots.
There are four categories of ramen:
Shoya ramen have a soy sauce base. This variation is most common and comes from Tokyo.
Miso ramen, with a sauce of fermented bean paste, is less common.
Shio ramen are full of umami (savoury tastes) thanks to a sauce of seaweed and dried seafood.
Tonkatsu ramen are served in a broth made of pork bones.
In Japan, the eating culture around ramen has exploded since the 1980s. Ramen is a Japanese dish, which has been experimented with and reworked; there are therefore numerous variations available. Where sushi must be prepared traditionally and according to the rules, there are no rules for ramen. This appeals to many young chefs and gradually this noodle soup is conquering the world.
Did you know...
The first ramen dishes were sold in the streets at the beginning of the twentieth century under the name shina soba (Chinese noodles), particularly to construction workers in the harbours of Japan. After the Second World War, a severely affected Japan became dependent on imported ingredients from America for its food. Wheat, lard and garlic were used to make filling dishes such as okonomiyaki, gyoza and ramen. Since then, the simple soup has grown into a dish with a cultural heritage.
How to make ramen?
A good bowl of ramen is nothing like a ready-made pack of dry noodles from the store. All the elements are time-consuming to make, and it’s the slow cooking that gives the ramen taste and depth.
For the sauce, the chosen seasonings, such as chicken skin, bacon, sake, mirin (rice wine) and shoyu (soy sauce), are cooked slowly and reduced to produce concentrated flavours. The broth is simmered, a chicken broth for example with kombu (seaweed) and shiitakes. Like the sauce, the broth is the chef’s secret and can contain various seasonings, and special combinations of meat, shellfish and/or vegetables.
The special noodles are made of wheat flour, water, salt, sometimes eggs and – the main ingredient – kansui (alkali water). This makes the noodles yellow, elastic and yet firm, so they don’t go soggy in the hot soup. The dough is so elastic that an experienced noodle maker can pull it into a large portion of thin ramen noodles by hand in less than a minute, without breaking them.
The toppings can be quick – chopped spring onion and bean sprout – or cooked in the oven for hours, as with chasu (slowly cooked pork).
Only when all these elements are ready can the ramen bowl be assembled. The chef mixes some sauce with the stock and serves it with noodles and the toppings.
The Vietnamese have developed the same modest Chinese noodle soup into their own national dish: pho.