is a Japanese noodle dish that originated in China. It tends to be served in a meat-based broth, and uses toppings such as , , kamaboko, green onions, and even corn. Almost every locality or prefecture in Japan has its own variation of ramen, from the tonkotsu ramen of Kyūshū to the miso ramen of Hokkaidō.
Though of Chinese origin, it is unclear when ramen was introduced to Japan. Even the etymology of the term "ramen" is a topic of debate. One hypothesis and probably the most credible is that "ramen" is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese: 拉麺 (lamian), meaning "hand-pulled noodles" (a name that is still used in Chinese for these sort of noodles). A second hypothesis proposes 老麺 (laomian, "old noodles") as the original form, while yet another states that ramen was initially 鹵麺 (lúmiàn), noodles cooked in a thick, starchy sauce. A fourth hypothesis is 撈麵 (lāomiàn, "lo mein"): 撈 means to "dredge up" and refers to the method of cooking these noodles by immersing them in boiling water before dredging them up with a wire basket.
In the early Meiji period, ramen was called shina soba (支那そば, literally "Chinese soba") but today chūka soba (中華そば, also meaning "Chinese soba") is a more common and politically correct term. By 1900, restaurants serving Chinese cuisine from Canton and Shanghai offered a simple ramen dish of noodles (cut rather than hand pulled), a few toppings, and a broth flavored with salt and pork bones. Many Chinese also pulled portable food stalls, selling ramen and gyōza dumplings to workers. By the mid 1900s, these stalls used a type of a musical horn called a charumera (チャルメラ, from the Portuguese charamela) to advertise their presence, a practice some vendors still retain via a loudspeaker and a looped recording. By the early Shōwa period, ramen had become a popular dish when eating out.
After World War II, cheap flour imported from the U.S. swept the Japanese market. At the same time, millions of Japanese troops had returned from China and continental East Asia. Many of these returnees had become familiar with Chinese cuisine and subsequently set up Chinese restaurants across Japan. Eating ramen, while popular, was still a special occasion that required going out.
In 1958, instant noodles were invented by the late Momofuku Ando, founder and chairman of Nissin Foods. Named the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th century in a Japanese poll, instant ramen allowed anyone to make this dish simply by adding boiling water.
Beginning in the 1980s, ramen became a Japanese cultural icon and was studied from many perspectives. At the same time, local varieties of ramen were hitting the national market and could even be ordered by their regional names. A ramen museum opened in Yokohama in 1994.
Most men, or noodles, are made from four basic ingredients: wheat flour, salt, water, and kansui which is essentially a type of alkaline mineral water, containing sodium carbonate and usually potassium carbonate, as well as sometimes a small amount of phosphoric acid. Originally, kansui was named after the water from Inner Mongolia's Lake Kan which contained large amounts of these minerals and was said to be perfect for making these noodles. Making noodles with kansui lends them a yellowish hue as well as a firm texture. For a brief time after World War II, low-quality kansui that was tainted was sold, though kansui is now manufactured according to JAS standards. Eggs may also be substituted for kansui. Some ramen is made with neither eggs nor kansui and should only be used for yakisoba. The packages containing the noodles and the mixture are typically popular for children.
Ramen comes in various shapes and lengths. They may be fat, thin, or even ribbon-like, as well as straight or wrinkled.
Ramen soup is generally made from stock based on chicken or pork, combined with a variety of ingredients such as kombu (kelp), katsuobushi (skipjack tuna flakes), niboshi (dried baby sardines), beef bones, shiitake, and onions, and then flavored with the likes of salt, miso, or soy sauce.
The resulting combination is generally divided into four categories (although new and original variations often make this categorisation less clear-cut):
Some restaurants also offer a system known as kae-dama (替え玉), where customers who have finished their noodles can request a "refill" (for a few hundred yen more) to be put into their remaining soup.
Sapporo, from the capital of Hokkaidō, is especially famous for its ramen. Most people in Japan associate Sapporo with its rich miso ramen which was invented there and which is ideal for Hokkaidō's harsh, snowy winters. Sapporo miso ramen is typically topped with sweetcorn, butter, beansprouts, finely chopped pork, and garlic, and sometimes local seafood such as scallop, squid, and crab.
Kitakata in northern Honshū is known for its rather thick, flat, curly noodles served in a pork-and-niboshi broth. The area within its former city boundaries has the highest per-capita number of ramen establishments. Ramen has such prominence in the region that locally, the word soba usually refers to ramen, and not to actual soba which is referred to as nihon soba ("Japanese soba").
What is known as Tokyo style ramen consists of slightly thin, curly noodles served in a soy-flavoured chicken broth. The broth typically has a touch of dashi, as old ramen establishments in Tokyo often originate from soba eateries. Standard toppings on top of chopped scallion, menma, and sliced pork are kamaboko, egg, nori, and spinach. Ikebukuro, Ogikubo and Ebisu are three areas in Tokyo known for their ramen.
Hakata ramen originates from Hakata district of Fukuoka city. It has a rich, milky, pork-bone tonkotsu broth and rather thin, non-curly and resilient noodles. Often, distinctive toppings such as beni shoga (pickled ginger), sesame seeds, and picked greens are left on tables for customers to serve themselves. Ramen stalls in Hakata and Tenjin are well-known within Japan. Recent ramen trends have made Hakata ramen one of the most popular types of ramen in Japan, and these days several chain restaurants specializing in Hakata ramen can be found all over the country. Chahan and Gyoza are popular side orders.
Wagamama, a successful pan-Asian chain with establishments mainly in European cities, is known for its noodle soups marketed as ramen (but which are quite different from ramen in Japan).
Ramyon (라면) is the Korean version of ramen. Ramyon in Korea is a popular instant meal. Korean ramyon is known to be hot and spicy, as its soup is usually flavored with chili peppers. There are many varieties of Korean ramyon, such as kimchi-flavored, seafood-flavored and beef-flavored. Some restaurants serve variations of ramyon with different flavors. Back to Korean-Style Ramyeon at Nenassi's Noodle Bar It is usually served with vegetables, such as carrots and green onions, and eggs on top.
In Central Asia the dish has thicker noodles, is significantly spicier, and is known as laghman.
In North America, Japanese noodles were imported starting in the 1970s bearing the name "ramen" and today it most commonly refers to instant noodles, although many restaurants that specialize in Japanese-style ramen exist, especially in California, and also in other urban centres with large demand for ramen such as Vancouver, Toronto, New York or Seattle. It gained popularity as a Japanese dish of noodle soup which sold so well in the United States in the late 1970s that imports from Japan were supplanted by American manufacturers by the mid-1980s as a popular food item for tight income buyers. Today, due to its very low cost, ramen has become characterized in the United States as a very cheap food eaten by people such as students or teenagers. A packet of instant ramen in a U.S. supermarket often costs as little as 20 cents. Some generic brands often cost as little as 8 cents per packet, or are sold in bulk. In America, ramen is becoming increasingly popular, especially among teenagers and college students.
Ramen is also widely sold in Mexico, usually in a disposable cup in which it can be cooked in a microwave oven. The ubiquitous stock flavors, sold by several companies, are chicken, beef, "oriental" and shrimp. An even more specialized local variation is cheese-flavored ramen, which contains classic instant ramen in an instant sauce similar to the cheese sauce in instant mac and cheese. A streetcart with ramen cups in all these flavors and a microwave is a common sight in Mexico City, and one of the cheapest prepared meals to be found there. Ramen is available in other Latin American countries but not nearly as popular.
Many Japanese people also believe that ramen soup contains a high amount of fat and also that pre-fried fat from the noodles seeps into the soup. However, a typical serving of ramen, even when drinking all of the soup, has less food energy than a fast-food menu consisting of a hamburger, soda, and fries.