Ramen (ラ ー メ ン). In the Western countries, we originally learned to know it through Japanese anime and manga, such as Lupine III by Monkey Punch and Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto. Then came the noodles and instant soups from the most desperate tastes, then, finally, even in Europe and the Americas began to spread kiosks and ramen restaurants.
A Bit of Ramen History
This rich Japanese soup, of which there are many variations, can boast a history that began several centuries before the achievement of the current worldwide fame. In fact, legend says that in 1665 the nephew of the Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu, Tokugawa Mitsukuni, tasted ramen, a Japanese version of a Chinese soup known as lāmiàn. However, the true ramen spread in the Japanese archipelago saw its first peak during the Meiji period, from 1868, and secondly after World War II, when it became an extremely popular dish among the working class, being economic and particularly nutritious.
The Japanese Version
Unlike the original Chinese version, Japanese ramen turned from a simple soup made of noodles in broth into a complex dish, in which the umami, the fifth fundamental taste, is exalted. The preparation, which can start from a minimum of five to over fifty ingredients, is long and complex. However, it always includes some fundamental bases that are never lacking even in the simplest of ramen.
The Bases of Ramen…
The first element is undoubtedly the Tare, the sauce that is placed on the bottom of each bowl before the stock. Each Ramen-Ya (ramen restaurant) has its own personal recipe that tends to make its ramen unique. A further diversification is then given by the choice of the base, which may consist of soy sauce, Shōyu, miso or salt, Shio. Another unmissable element is the broth, made with chicken, vegetables or pork bone, which is called Tonkotsu. No less important is the pasta, Men, straight and thin noodles, curly and medium-thick or curly and thick.
… & the Garnishes
To all these elements the most different garnishes are added, according to the restaurant’s creativity. The most classic are nori seaweed, spring onion, menma (bamboo sprouts), chashū (roasted pork slices), ajitama (marinated boiled egg), naruto (the famous little wheel) and seafood. Lots of ingredients for many mixes of flavours.
Ramen & Culture
Over the years, the ramen phenomenon has become a real cult, so much so that in all of Japan it’s not difficult to find museums entirely dedicated to this national dish. So we have the Kyōto Ramen Koji or the Asahikawa Ramen Village, not to mention the Ramen Expo, which in its latest editions has attracted over 100,000 visitors.
Geography of Ramen
It’s true that ramen is one of the Japanese dishes par excellence, and yet in every Japanese island and in every prefecture there are some real distinctive variations of it. Starting from the North, in the region of Hokkaidō, we find for example many miso options, including that of Sapporo, while descending to Honshū, Kantō and Kansai, we meet the Tōkyō Tsukemen, where the noodles are served separately, or the Wakayama ramen. Continuing to the South to the islands of Shikoku and Kyūshū, we find the styles of Tokushima and Kumamoto, based on pork broth with a very rich flavour.
The Importance of Etiquette
As for any dish, Western or Eastern, even ramen has its own etiquette when it comes to eating it. Primary, making noise while eating is not considered rude. On the contrary, it’s a sign of appreciation. Obviously you have to eat with chopsticks, drinking the stock with the renge, a spoon of Chinese style. We must therefore remember to never leave chopsticks planted straight in the bowl, as they would recall the image of the incense sticks used in funeral ceremonies.
10 Ramen-ya not to be missed
Where to taste good ramen? Here are 10 ramen restaurants around the world that you shouldn’t miss.
Hidden among the lanes of the Roman Quadrilatero of the magical city par excellence, Kokoro-ya is a small gastronomy with only 5 seats that absolutely deserves a visit. The place is owned by an Italian-Japanese couple, him, Italian at the counter, her, Japanese in the kitchen, and offers several home-made dishes among which, of course, ramen stands out.
Via Piave 9, 10122, Turin
Casa Ramen, Milan
In a trendy city like the capital of Lombardy, could a good ramen restaurant be missing? Certainly not! In fact, right in the Isola (the Italian for island) area – ironic, if you think about the insular nature of Japan – you can eat at Casa Ramen. The specialties of the Chef Luca Catalfamo are based on tonkotsu broth accompanied by gourmet toppings, able to create dishes with an irresistible flavour.
Via Porro Lambertenghi 25, 20159, Milan
Located in the heart of Paris’ Japanese district, this restaurant bearing the name of the capital of Hokkaidō Prefecture stands within walking distance of two very important points of cultural interest: the Louvre and the Opera Garnier. Here, along with many traditional Japanese recipes, you can taste one of the best ramen of the Ville Lumière, declined in different variations.
Rue Sainte-Anne 37, 75001, Paris
Butao Ramen, Hong Kong
Hong Kong can boast a great culinary heritage, which has its roots in Cantonese cuisine. However, if we consider its cosmopolitan nature, we should not be surprised by encountering international contaminations, of which ramen is a clear example. Visiting the “fragrant port”, between a local specialty and the other, it’s definitely worth eating at Butao, choosing between one of its several restaurants around the city.
Wellington Street 69, Central, Hong Kong
As a great cultural melting pot, even London can’t excuse itself from hosting its ramen-ya in the pulsating heart of the City. Without a doubt, Kanada-ya stands out with its restaurants in some of the liveliest spots in the area, such as Covent Garden, Soho and Piccadilly. There is no lack of specialties based on tonkotsu here, alongside other recipes that change from month to month depending on the season.
Panton Street 3, Soho, London
Ramen Dayo, Glasgow
London is to England what Glasgow is to Scotland (although not being its capital). Consequently, also in terms of openness to international cuisine, the Scottish economic heart can not be outdone. Among its gastronomic pearls stands therefore Ramen Dayo (literally meaning “this is ramen”) with its preparations of tonkotsu and miso and spicy variants.
Queen Street 25, Glasgow
Ippudo, New York
Showcase of the United States of America and meeting point of immigrants from almost all the countries of the world, New York collects in itself the most different gastronomic traditions, from Indian to Italian, from Irish to Japanese. With the latter, along with sushi bars, even the ramen-ya as Ippudo arrived in the Big Apple. This world famous chain sees the reign of chicken broth-based ramen, served almost instantly.
Forth Avenue 65, 10003, New York
Nagomi Ramen, Seoul
Historically, Korea has always been the bridge between the cultures of China and Japan. So, since the ramen is a Japanese dish of Chinese origin, this tasty soup has managed to settle in Seoul. Just in the capital of one of the Asian tigers, in the district of Hongdae, Nagomi Ramen opened, where you can taste ramen with all the classic bases, from miso to soy sauce.
370-24, Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Sen no Kaze, Kyōto
Ramen is obviously one of the souls of the Japan Wave, so not trying it directly in the country where it has found its highest expression would be a sort of culinary crime. A must is then the old capital, Kyōto, where Sen no Kaze is based. Here ramen is prepared according to the Kansai style, based on soy sauce and enriched with pork oil, which makes everything even tastier.
580 Nakanochō (Shinkyōgokudori), Nakagyō Ward, Kyōto
Ramen Tei, Tōkyō
Another characteristic restaurant in an equally characteristic area is certainly Ramen Tei, a small restaurant in Asakusa, the area of Tōkyō that has retained the traditional imprint of past centuries. The taste of ramen here is simple, and in this way the umami is exalted, while in terms of price it’s one of the most contained ramen-ya in the whole megalopolis. Absolutely to try.
1-39-9 Asakusa, Taito 111-0032, Tōkyō