Recently the dish on everyone’s minds has been ramen (ラーメン) and with ramen-ya (ラーメん屋) opening country wide, you don’t have to look far to buy a bowl. There are times when you don’t want to go out to eat just to get your ramen fix, however. Ramen made at home doesn’t have to be the instant packages that people grow to know through their college years. With these prepackaged noodles, which come with their own soup broth, it’s possible to make a quick, restaurant quality bowl of ramen in your own home.
Ramen is actually a fairly recent dish in Japan; it was created on the tail end of the Meiji era of Japan, around the early 1900s. While there is much debate about the actual origin country of ramen, it is agreed that it’s a dish with a Chinese base, as the noodles used are Chinese noodles (中華そば), which are thicker and more yellow in color than Japanese noodles. Regardless of where it was made, it first appeared in restaurants specializing in Chinese food throughout Japan. Soon after restaurants started selling the dish, it began appearing in mobile food carts, or yatai (屋台店), used to deliver food to workers.
Ramen noodles contain four basic ingredients: wheat flour, salt, water, and kansui (かんすい), a mineral water with sodium carbonate and often potassium carbonate, which gives it its yellow color and firm texture. Some noodles substitute the kansui with eggs or egg whites. The noodles can come in various different shapes and sizes; they’re thinner than udon noodles but can be thick or thin, some come in a flattened ribbon shape, and they can be straight or wrinkled in the packaging process. Pre-made noodles can be bought dried or frozen; the frozen noodles will have the best texture, slightly firm and chewy, while the dried noodles break more easily but have a longer shelf life than the frozen variety.
The soup base for ramen noodles is usually made from a chicken or pork bone stock mixed with kombu dashi, which is a boiled mixture of kelp and katsuobushi flakes, combined with ingredients like onions or even beef bones for taste. There are four popular soups for ramen noodles: tonkotsu (豚骨) or pork, shio (塩) or salt, shoyu (醤油) or soy sauce, and miso (みそ). Shio, shoyu, and miso soup bases can all be made with either pork or chicken broth, while tonkotsu is strictly pork bones.
Tonkotsu ramen is characterized by its deep flavor and by its cloudy, creamy texture. The tonkotsu soup has a very pure flavor, as it isn’t seasoned beyond the making of the broth.
Shio is Japanese for salt, which is the main addition to broth in shio ramen. The soup is usually made with chicken broth in order to keep its light flavor. The use of the chicken broth also gives shio ramen an almost clear color. Shio ramen can also be made using tonkotsu broth, however, which will give the ramen the creamy texture and look that is characteristic to tonkotsu ramen.
Shoyu ramen is traditionally made with a clear or chicken broth as a base, but recently it’s become common to make it with the tonkotsu broth too. Shoyu ramen is salty like shio ramen, but what separates it is the umami flavor that the soy sauce adds to the soup.
Miso ramen is a relatively new flavor in the ramen world, only gaining popularity in the 1960s. Miso ramen uses the same kind of miso paste that is used to make miso soup, which is then added to chicken, or more recently tonkotosu, broth.
Recently, there are many brands, such as Shimadaya, Myojo, and Sun Noodles, that have started selling a sort of gourmet instant ramen. These frozen packages contain fresh ramen noodles and a pre-made soup flavor packet. It’s simple to make these packages: just thaw and shortly boil the noodles, mix the flavor package with water, diluting it to taste, then put the noodles into the hot soup and garnish with your own toppings.
Toppings for these noodles are limited only by your own choices, though there are traditional things that can be added to a bowl of ramen to make it as authentic as possible. Tonkotsu, shio, and shoyu ramen dishes all contain similar toppings, while the newcomer flavor miso pushes boundaries on traditional ramen toppings. Traditional toppings that can be easily found at Asahi include chashu (チャーシュー), menma (メンマ), nori (のり), and naruto maki (なると巻き). Chashu is a braised pork belly rolled into a log and seasoned with soy sauce then cut into thin slices to place on top of a bowl of noodles. Menma are sweet, seasoned bamboo shoots cut into strips, which can be placed in a small pile on top of your ramen. Nori, or dried seaweed, is often cut into a rectangular strip and slipped into the edge of the bowl. Naruto maki is a type of fish cake that is white with a red swirl in the middle; though it’s usually used in miso and shoyu soups, a couple of slices can be placed on top of any flavor of ramen. Any of these toppings can be put in a bowl of miso ramen, but the most popular toppings for this flavor are ground beef and sweet corn. Sliced green onions and soft-boiled eggs are commonly placed on each flavor of ramen. The soft-boiled egg can be used as is or marinated in a mix of soy sauce, garlic, dashi stock, and onion anywhere from an hour to multiple days.
At Asahi, we sell multiple brands and flavors of the “instant gourmet ramen” packages. One increasingly popular brand is Sun Noodle (hyperlink to http://sunnoodle.com/), a company created by a Japanese man living in Hawaii who wished to “provide everyone in Hawaii and the U.S. with the authentic taste of Japanese noodles.” The frozen ramen packets made by Sun Noodle come in tonkotsu, miso, shoyu, and tantan men (担々麺), which is a unique, chicken based sesame and chili flavored ramen.
Do you have a favorite flavor of ramen that you want to make at home? Or maybe you just want to try out different flavors without having to make a trip out to eat each time. Stop by Asahi and you can grab everything you need to make a delicious bowl of ramen in the comfort of your own home.