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Top 10 Must-Try Types of Ramen for Taste Bud Excitement

Top 10 Must-Try Types of Ramen for Taste Bud Excitement

Japan is buzzing with over 32,000 ramen joints, each packed to the brim, often with lines spilling out onto the streets. This country has unofficially crowned ramen as its national dish, a wheat noodle soup that originally hails from China, where it went by the name "lamian" before Japan put its own spin on it and called it "ramen."

The Yokohama Ramen Museum traces ramen's journey from China to Japan back in 1859, setting the stage for its transformation from a quick, budget-friendly meal into a culinary superstar. In Japan, you'll find these tiny ramen havens tucked away in subway stations, perched on precarious staircases in unassuming apartment buildings, and squeezed between other storefronts across the city. Picture this: cramped spaces, diners shoulder-to-shoulder, enthusiastically slurping noodles, while the ramen masters showcase their skills, effortlessly whipping up noodles and ladling piping-hot soup into bowls as if part of a well-rehearsed dance.

While there are four primary ramen broth types, it's crucial to grasp that ramen is deeply rooted in regional variations in Japan. Take Kyushu, for example, where tonkotsu (pork) ramen reigns supreme. Yet, within this southwestern island, each prefecture — sometimes even specific cities — boasts its own distinctive take on this beloved noodle soup. With the ramen world being virtually limitless, we've compiled a no-nonsense guide to the most widespread styles. Ready your taste buds for a journey through the diverse and delicious types of ramen, brought to you by Kiichin. Explore the different types of ramen with Kiichin and savor the rich variations Japan has to offer.

1. Why are Types of Ramen so Beloved?

The global fascination with Japanese ramen can be attributed to its delightful combination of slurp-worthy noodles, aromatic broth, and an array of toppings providing a diverse range of textures. Originating in China and making its way to Japan, the precise introduction remains shrouded in mystery. While some credit a Confucian Scholar named Shu Shunsui during the Edo period, historians lean towards the notion that immigrants in Yokohama Chinatown first served ramen in the 19th century, a simpler rendition devoid of the elaborate toppings we associate with it today.

The exploration of different types of ramen adds another layer to the rich tapestry of this beloved culinary tradition

The exploration of different types of ramen adds another layer to the rich tapestry of this beloved culinary tradition

Ramen's popularity burgeoned as food carts reemerged, coinciding with Japan's industrialization. Evolving into an affordable, hearty meal, it became a preferred choice for urban workers, soldiers, and students. Post-World War II, rice shortages led to a shift in noodle composition from rice to wheat flour. Initially met with resistance, this change gained acceptance over the years.

The turning point in ramen's history occurred in 1958 with Momofuko Ando's invention of instant noodles, making it convenient for the middle class. This innovation revived ramen's popularity across diverse demographics. By the 1980s, Japanese-owned ramen shops emerged, making it a trendy choice for office workers. The ramen craze experienced a resurgence, leading to experimentation with different regional variations. This renewed interest also sparked curiosity about the diverse types of ramen, ranging from traditional styles to innovative and fusion creations.

Today, ramen enjoys worldwide popularity, firmly embedded as a cornerstone of Japan's culinary culture. The journey from a humble post-meal dish to a global epicurean staple reflects the rich history and evolution of Japanese ramen.

2. Top 10 Must-Try Types of Ramen

Ramen is often categorized based on its broth flavor, primarily falling into three common types: shoyu (soy sauce), shio (salt), and miso. A fourth category, tonkotsu, distinguishes the broth by its foundational ingredient rather than its taste. Nevertheless, in the dynamic evolution of ramen over the past three decades, modern ramen chefs have broken away from these traditional categories. They now craft soups that venture beyond the norm, incorporating ingredients ranging from clams to blue algae. For those eager to explore the diverse world of ramen, there's a curated list titled 10 Must-Try Types of Ramen that showcases innovative and traditional styles alike, providing a delightful journey for ramen enthusiasts.

2.1. Tonkotsu Ramen

If there's a ramen variety that has truly gained popularity in the United States, it's undoubtedly tonkotsu ramen. This rich kotteri broth has become a staple on nearly every restaurant menu, and it even made a brief appearance in Costco as ready-to-cook ramen kits. Tokyo Ramen Tours shares an interesting anecdote about the origin of tonkotsu, suggesting that it came about by accident. In Fukuoka, a prefecture on Japan's Kyushu Island, a ramen maker unintentionally let pork bones boil for an extended period. The result was a broth that was both cloudy and fatty, yet bursting with a delectable, porky flavor. Surprisingly, his customers embraced this culinary mishap, and the rest, as they say, is history! For those interested in exploring different styles of ramen, tonkotsu is just one example of the diverse and unexpected paths that ramen has taken in its journey from a humble noodle dish to a global culinary sensation.

Known for its rich pork bone broth and hearty toppings

Known for its rich pork bone broth and hearty toppings

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2.2. Kotteri or Paitan Broth

You probably won't come across the term "kotteri" at a ramen spot in the U.S., but this opaque broth serves as one of the two fundamental bases for all soup-based ramen. Instead, the menu might characterize this luxurious and thick broth as "paitan," denoting its cloudy, white appearance, or as "tonkatsu," specifically referencing a kotteri broth made with pork bones. Kotteri, with various translations from Japanese, is often described using words like "heavy," "thick," or "dense" to capture the essence of the ramen broth. Achieved through high-heat bone boiling, kotteri's opaqueness and rich, fatty consistency make it a distinctive element in ramen crafting. For those keen on exploring different types of ramen, understanding the nuances of kotteri adds another layer to the appreciation of the diverse styles within this beloved culinary tradition.

A thick, concentrated broth offering bold flavors
A thick, concentrated broth offering bold flavors

2.3. Tonyu Ramen

While many ramen broths typically feature pork or chicken bones, there's a growing trend of vegetarian ramens crafted with charred vegetables or mushroom-based broth. Tonyu broth stands out in this realm as it is uniquely made with soy milk, a staple in Asian cuisine. According to Zenbu Travel, the roots of this soup trace back to Mamezen, a restaurant in Kyoto, and it's recommended to use fresh soybeans for the optimal flavor. The inclusion of fresh soy milk imparts a delightful sweetness to the broth, mirroring the buttery qualities found in opaque, white kotteri broths.

The original recipe at Mamezen combines soy milk with dashi, a broth derived from dried bonito fish flakes and kombu seaweed. However, variations exist, with some establishments offering a vegan ramen recipe. If having vegetarian ramen is a priority for you, it's advisable to inquire about the options before placing your order. This exemplifies the rich diversity found within Japanese ramen noodle types, where innovative twists and adaptations cater to a broad range of dietary preferences.

Features soy milk broth, adding a unique creamy element
Features soy milk broth, adding a unique creamy element

2.4. Assari or Chintan Broth

Assari represents the alternative ramen soup base, described by Yamato Noodle Japan as "light" or "unsaturated," in stark contrast to the denser kotteri ramen. Often interchangeably called chintan due to its clear character, this broth, like its counterpart, is crafted using pork or chicken bones. However, assari distinguishes itself by its translucent appearance, achieved through a slow simmer over low heat to prevent cloudiness. This gentle process extracts less fat from the bones, resulting in a broth that is not only lighter but also less filling. When perusing a restaurant menu, you might encounter assari broths featured in soy-based shoyu ramen or shio ramen, the latter denoting the incorporation of salt seasoning.

A light, clear broth, allowing the flavors to shine
A light, clear broth, allowing the flavors to shine

2.5. Shoyu Ramen

Shoyu, a translucent ramen broth akin to salt-based shio, distinguishes itself with a bolder and more robust seasoning, courtesy of the addition of soy sauce. Although soy sauce's origins trace back to China, shoyu takes on a unique Japanese twist, involving the fermentation of soybeans with wheat, a tradition dating back to the 13th century. Clear assari broths frequently incorporate shoyu, but it can also be introduced into thicker kotteri broths to impart bold flavors. This seasoning not only elevates the salty undertones but also contributes a profound umami flavor to the overall profile. Delving into the vast world of ramen, one discovers various types of ramen noodles, and exploring the distinct characteristics of shoyu-infused variations adds a fascinating dimension to the rich tapestry of this cherished culinary tradition.

Seasoned with soy sauce, offering a savory and robust taste

Seasoned with soy sauce, offering a savory and robust taste

2.6. Miso Ramen

Miso, a fermented soybean paste, stands out as another popular ramen seasoning, infusing dishes with a delightful blend of sweet, salty, savory, and distinctive flavors. The miso family includes three varieties: white, yellow, and red. White miso, also known as shiro miso, is a frequent choice for ramen due to its appealingly nutty taste. In some instances, ramen may be labeled as "red ramen" or aka, indicating the use of longer-aged miso, intensifying its flavor and introducing a unique funkiness. While it's not uncommon to encounter spicy miso ramen, where miso is paired with heat, it also finds its way into tonyu broths crafted from soy milk, contributing a layer of richness and complexity to the overall flavor profile.

Infused with fermented soybean paste for a sweet-savory profile

Infused with fermented soybean paste for a sweet-savory profile

2.7. Shio Ramen

Shio stands out as one of the two widely embraced methods for presenting a clear assari broth, making it the ideal choice if you're eager to savor the essence of the soup itself. Translating to "salt" in Japanese, shio ramen is straightforwardly seasoned with salt. While a popular iteration of shio ramen incorporates dashi or seafood broth, it's crucial to note that shio doesn't exclusively imply a seafood-based soup. The foundational assari broth can be crafted from vegetables, chicken, or pork, with a key emphasis on avoiding prolonged boiling or high temperatures to preserve its clarity.

A salt-seasoned broth, delivering a simple yet flavorful experience

A salt-seasoned broth, delivering a simple yet flavorful experience

2.8. Tsukemen

Tsukemen, a specialized ramen variety, isn't a fixture at every ramen spot, but it does grace the menus of some of America's top ramen establishments. What sets it apart is the departure from the conventional presentation – here, the noodles and broth are served separately, with the noodles being intentionally chilled. The broth, however, takes center stage with its intense concentration, delivering an elevated flavor profile.

To indulge in these dipping noodles, grab the desired amount, dip them into the concentrated broth to warm them up, and relish the robust slurp. Depending on the venue, your tsukemen experience might include a side plate featuring succulent braised chashu pork, a marinated ajitsuke tamago (ramen egg), or those eye-catching swirly white and pink fish cakes. For enthusiasts eager to explore various types of ramen, tsukemen stands out as a unique and interactive option, offering a different approach to savoring the delightful flavors of the dish.

Dipping noodles served separately with a concentrated, intense broth

Dipping noodles served separately with a concentrated, intense broth

2.9. Mazemen or Mazesoba

Myojo further explains the evolution of abura soba, culminating in a more daring and robust iteration that fuses Japanese ramen with Taiwanese influences: Mazemen, a distinct brothless ramen creation. The term "mazemen" translates to "mixed noodles," emphasizing the blending of noodles with oil and flavorings before serving. Typically, featuring thick, chewy noodles, mazemen bowls are infused with the richness of lard or back fat and a tare sauce reminiscent of the seasonings found in traditional ramen broth. It's customary to find a vibrant egg yolk adorning mazemen bowls, and instead of the conventional chashu or kakuni, they often boast a zesty topping of spicy ground pork.

A brothless ramen, mixing noodles with rich flavorings

A brothless ramen, mixing noodles with rich flavorings

2.10. Onomichi Ramen

Onomichi-style ramen traces its roots back to the Shukaen ramen shop in Hiroshima Prefecture. Despite the original restaurant closing its doors in 2019, the legacy of this ramen style endures, distinguished by a distinctive flavor resulting from its unique combination of ingredients. Notably, the broth takes on a prominent seafood profile, courtesy of dashi and the incorporation of fish sourced from the local Seto Inland Sea. Just before serving, a touch of shoyu enhances the broth, and it's crowned with pork back fat, known as seabura, imparting a sumptuous richness to the dish. For those with an adventurous palate eager to explore diverse types of ramen, Onomichi-style offers a unique and flavorful experience that reflects the regional influences of its origin.

Originating from Hiroshima, features seafood-forward broth with local ingredients

Originating from Hiroshima, features seafood-forward broth with local ingredients

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Conclusion

In conclusion, the world of ramen offers a delightful spectrum of flavors and textures, making it an exciting journey for any food enthusiast. From the rich and indulgent tonkotsu to the opaque and luxurious kotteri, each type of ramen tells a unique culinary story. Exploring the Top 10 Must-Try Types of Ramen for Taste Bud Excitement opens the door to a diverse world of noodle possibilities, showcasing both traditional and innovative styles. To stay updated on the latest ramen trends, recipes, and discoveries, make sure to follow Kiichin for a continued culinary adventure. Embrace the rich tapestry of ramen and let your taste buds revel in the excitement of this beloved and ever-evolving dish.

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