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What is Ramen? Ramen 101

Today, ramen is much more than a fleeting buzzword. This delicious Japanese noodle dish has impressively captured the attention of the world. But how did ramen come to be? What exactly are ramen noodles? We'll cover all this and more below!

Ramen 101 - Noodles

Ramen - How it all Started

Let's go back in time - the roots of ramen are Chinese. The late 1800s saw greater numbers of Chinese immigrants come to Japan. After this, it was in Chinatowns across Japan that Chinese noodle dishes eventually turned into ramen.

Ramen 101 - Chinatown
Yokohama's Chinatown (Japan's Biggest)

Many consider 1910 to be the turning point. This was when Rairaiken, Japan's first ever ramen restaurant, opened its doors in Tokyo's Asakusa neighborhood.

Ramen 101 - Yutenji Rairaiken Bowl
3rd Generation Ramen at Yutenji Rairaiken

But what exactly changed? How was ramen different from the Chinese noodle dishes it evolved from?

Generally speaking, some other things were added to the soup. This included vegetables, and quintessential Japanese ingredients like dried fish and kelp. People think of ramen today as a distinctly Japanese dish, which it is. But it's also one that doesn't forget its Chinese roots.

Main Ramen Styles

Today there are countless ramen styles. But let's look at what I call the "Big 4" (moving clockwise in the photos below):

  • Shoyu (Soy Sauce) Seasoned Ramen

  • Shio (Salt) Seasoned Ramen

  • Tonkotsu (Pork Bone) Ramen

  • Miso (Fermented Soy Beans) Ramen

From the Big 4, only "tonkotsu" is defined by the soup (pork bones). The other 3 are defined by the seasoning.

Ramen 101 - Dateya Shoyu Bowl
Shoyu Ramen at Dateya

Think of Shoyu and Shio ramen as cousins. As a seasoning, Shoyu (soy sauce) is often tangy, and even sweet. It gives the soup a brown, sometimes blackish color. Shio (salt) creates a clearer soup and is usually lighter.

Ramen 101 - Hanamichi Miso
Miso Ramen at Hanamichi

Tonkotsu and Miso ramen are often heavier (although not always). Tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen usually has