Ramen – Japanese Soul Food.
Have you ever craved for a dish that you are so used to eating, the moment you arrive at the airport of your home country after a trip abroad? Most of the restaurants at major airports in Japan have psychologically appealing restaurants lined up for the Japanese returning to Japan. Sushi, Curry Rice, Tonkatsu (pork cutlet) and Ramen: the dishes most Japanese cannot live without. Ask any Japanese, and the answer will mostly likely be one from these dishes.
Among these dishes, there are two particularly unique ones. One is Curry Rice, and the other is Ramen. They both originate from other countries, India and China respectively to be exact. They both have evolved over the years, fitting into the food culture and lifestyle of the Japanese until they both established a status as “Japanese Soul Food”.
Ramen, originally from China came a long way to become what it is now in Japan. Originally, it started as a noodle soup dish in Chinatown in Yokohama. It did not take long for the dish to become popular among both Chinese and Japanese due to its nutritious values and cost. Quickly adopting Japanese ingredients and local characteristics, ramen started to transform into a noodle dish quite unique to Japanese culnary culture. There are now so many off springs of ramen types that are quite difficult to categorize them as one type of noodle soup dish.
Most of you would probably have eaten instant cup noodles in one form or another. Just pour hot water into a cup, put the lid back on and wait for three minutes, and you have made yourself a noodle dish. This is also a form of Ramen. Some of you may have an image of the iconic Nissin Cup Noodles in your mind now. Do you know how it was invented? When Nissin went on a sales tour to the Europe and United States to promote their instant noodles (without a cup), they did not bring a container to serve the noodles for sampling. Witty as they were, they used paper cups to serve the samples to their potential buyers, and that is said to be the origin of Cup Noodles by Nissin. (Reference: Nissin Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama). What began with Nissin became soon very popular and there are now over 900 kinds of instant cup noodles sold in Japan.
Now back to real ramen. Ramen, being so popular in Japan, there are countless places that serve this dish from north to south. Chinese restaurants serve ramen, but most of the best ramen restaurants are dedicated to making ramen only. They keep on working to create their original recipes to survive in this ever so competitive world of ramen. Ramen restaurants are constantly introduced and rated on the internet, publications and television programs. Once a dish or its restaurant catches the attention of the media, you can say that a long line in front of the restaurant is promised.
Basic style of ramen is noodles in broth with toppings of BBQ pork, green onions and boiled egg. Early ramen broth began as a soy sauce based clear soup, but over the course of its history, it has spread all over Japan and integrated with local ingredients. There are now various types of broths for ramen with regional characteristics. In the recent years, “Ie-kei Ramen” originated in Yokohama, has become the most popular kind of ramen. Broth created by slowly simmered pork bones (ton-kotsu), this savory soup makes the best ramen of all. Thick with complicated flavors of broth and al dente ramen noodles, Ie-kei ramen has ranked high in the world of ramen ever since. In many of the ramen restaurants, you can customize your order. Just tell the chef how you want the noodles cooked: soft, normal or hard. You can also choose the amount of fat in the soup. Some like it with less fat, and some with more. If you ever have a chance to go to a real ramen restaurant, try to make your bowl of ramen to your liking.
Ramen is not quite the most prestige cuisine in the world. It is an affordable everyday dish in Japan and yet, one ramen restaurant in Tokyo won a Michelin star in 2015. It was the first Michelin star for a ramen restaurant and the cheapest meal with that honor. These ever so popular ramen dishes could obviously not be contained in the island of Japan. Ramen has seeped into major cities in the world and attracted the taste buds of many. New York, Paris, Dusseldorf, San Francisco, you name it: you can now find superb ramen restaurants while you are travelling abroad.