Miso Ramen Origins! This ramen style has achieved massive popularity well beyond Japan's borders. But how and where did miso ramen start?
We cover it all below!
1st Miso Ramen Wave - A Drunk Request
Miso is fermented soy beans. Our story begins with miso soup, a Japanese staple. At a restaurant called Aji no Sanpei, it's rumored that a drunk customer requested noodles to be placed in their miso soup.
This may be how miso ramen got its start. This happened in 1953 in snowy Sapporo, Hokkaido. The restaurant, Aji no Sanpei, is credited with creating miso ramen. They still serve it today too! Before this, most bowls in the city were shoyu (soy sauce) based. But today Sapporo City is Japan's biggest bastion of miso ramen restaurants.
Generally speaking, Sapporo style miso ramen is defined by a hearty, miso-powered soup and stir-fried vegetable toppings. We can't forget the yellow pigment, thick, wavy high hydration noodles. But these aren't rules. These days there's a lot of miso ramen variety from place to place.
Around the same time (the 1950s), there was another miso ramen style brewing in another part of Japan. In similarly cold Yamagata prefecture, ramen restaurant Ryu Shanghai came up with a spicy miso ramen. In it, the miso is actually not in the soup itself. It's found in a red, spicy ball. This style is not as well known as Sapporo's.
2nd Miso Ramen Wave - A Heavier Rendition
In 1964, just a few years after Aji no Sanpei invented miso ramen, Sumire / Junren came on the scene. They ushered in a second wave of miso ramen in Sapporo.
Their version includes a thick layer of pork lard in the soup. This gives the soup a heavier body, and an unmistakably tasty depth. It also serves the purpose of trapping of the heat. This is especially handy given how cold Sapporo is.
Sumire / Junren miso ramen really took off in the 1980s. Even though they were once the same, today Sumire and Junren are two separate entities.
3rd Miso Ramen Wave - Experimentation
So, Aji no Sanpei blazed a miso ramen trail for everyone else to follow. Sumire and Junren thickened that trail with a richer, pork lardy soup. The trail now involves miso ramen restaurants trying new things.
Take this bowl from Sapporo miso ramen restaurant Ame wa Yasahiku. There's a tower jutting out from the middle of the soup. The tower has a liver paste blended with dried sardines. With their modern approach, they definitely threw out the old playbook.
Other miso ramen restaurants simply strive to perfect existing recipes. Sapporo miso ramen restaurant Saimi may be a perfect example of this. The owner at Saimi trained at Sumire back in the day. But many believe his miso ramen has surpassed that of Sumire serves. It's arguably more refined.
In summary, miso ramen has come a long, delicious way. I'm sure we'll continue to see boundaries pushed and recipes perfected in moving forward.