I want to begin this post by saying that those who haven’t tried authentic Japanese ramen haven’t really lived. Now, I’m not talking about those freeze-dried noodle chunks you can find for 50 cents in the grocery store (although those can be delicious), but the savory, perfectly balanced noodles served fresh with meat and vegetables. In Tokyo alone there must be hundreds of ramen shops, all with their own unique approach and styles of ramen.
These noodles aren’t just a popular dish. Ramen is a countrywide delicacy, an art form, and a huge cultural phenomenon.
I ate ramen at least once a week while I was in Japan, and I never got tired of it. It’s sometimes called gakusei ryori (student cuisine) due to its cheap and filling nature, but even foodies of Japan go to great lengths to grab the perfect bowl. On my way to school, I often passed a popular ramen shop called Ramen Jiro that had lines wrapping around the block at 8 am…. and the restaurant didn’t even open until 11!
Different areas of Japan are known for different styles of ramen, each with unique broths and toppings. Sapporo style ramen, for instance, has a rich broth and is topped with corn and butter, while Tokyo style ramen has a soy and dashi (fish and seaweed stock) based broth with bamboo shoots and green onion.
Typically, there are 4 types of broth, including shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso (miso paste), and tonkotsu (pork bone). Depending on the style of the dish and type of broth, ramen can be topped with a countless number of different ingredients. Some of the most popular include nori (seaweed), bamboo shoots, scallion, leeks, garlic, bean sprouts, egg, and fish cake.
Ramen shops are typically very small, and only have seats at a counter or a few small tables and booths along the wall. Because of this, the shops fill up quickly and customers only stay long enough to eat their ramen before they go. To expedite the process even more, customers often pay for their food before they enter the restaurant using what looks like a vending machine. The guests enter their money, choose the type of ramen they want, and receive a small ticket that they hand to the chef.
Ramen is great on cold days, when you’re sick, or you’re just looking for a great meal. It’s definitely the dish that I miss the most from Japan, as it’s hard (but not impossible!) to find authentic ramen in the United States. My favorites so far have been Pikaichi in Boston and Terakawa in Philadelphia.
What about you? Where do you get your ramen fix? And more importantly…did I make you hungry yet?