In the cold winter months, dinner decisions often turn into a question of which warm noodle bowl to dive into next. And with so many soupy noodle dishes to choose between—from Vietnamese pho and Japanese udon to Thai curry laksa and Chinese wonton—it can be hard to choose.
But there’s one classic, brothy noodle dish that stands out from the rest as a cult favorite—we’re talking about ramen. Ramen’s standing in the American culinary scene has come a long way from the dorm room staple instant ramen of the early 2000s. Today, it seems that more and more ramen restaurants pop up each year in every major U.S. city, each with their own unique spin on the much loved comfort food.
But where did ramen come from? What sets it apart from other soup noodle dishes? And what makes those noodles so addictively chewy? We’re here to explore these questions and more, giving you a dive into all things ramen.
The History of Japanese Ramen
Ramen is one of Japan’s most treasured national dishes (along with sushi, of course) that has captured the hearts of cooks and eaters far beyond the country’s borders. While Japan is also the culinary home for other delicious soup noodles—like soba (a thin buckwheat noodle with a grayish purple hue) and udon (a thick, wheat flour noodle)—there’s something about a warm, hearty bowl of chewy ramen noodles and rich, salty broth that makes ramen rise above the rest.
It must be said—not all ramen is created equal. The different regions of Japan all have their own take on the traditional ramen bowl, with variations on the broth, protein, and toppings. In general though, there are four main categories of Japanese ramen, which vary by by broth base: shio (salt-based broth), shoyu (soy sauce-based broth), miso (fermented soybean broth), and tonkotsu (pork bone broth). Much of the variation stems from differing climates: people living in the colder, northern Japanese region of Hokkaido lean towards a rich, nutty, miso-based Sapporo ramen loaded with hearty meat and seafood to ward off the chill. Meanwhile, Tokyo-style ramen relies on a dark, shoyu and chicken stock base, and a touch of dashi—a seafood stock made from kelp and preserved fish.
No matter what kind of ramen is in your bowl, you are in for a savory, hearty, umami meal. And while we love the opportunity to try a new ramen restaurant and make a night of it, we’re also huge proponents of putting our own spin on the traditional ramen bowl at home.
If you’re not sure where to start with the various flavor combinations (we get it—the choices are overwhelming!) our ramen-inspired recipe matrix should help get the creative juices flowing and have you cooking in no time. Our personal favorite for an easy weeknight dinner: Plated’s riff on chicken and vegetable ramen.
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