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Is Ramen From Japan? Tracing The Ramen History And Origins

Is Ramen From Japan? Tracing The Ramen History And Origins

Imagine enjoying a bowl of tasty ramen. But did you know that this beloved dish didn't start in Japan? From street stalls to top restaurants, ramen has become a global dish, loved for its perfect broth and noodles. Ramen history goes back further than you might think. So, as you slurp up those noodles, remember you're tasting a bit of history that has been perfected over time and traveled across continents.

What exactly is ramen?

Of all the types of Japanese noodles, ramen seems to be the most famous. If you're new to ramen, you might wonder what's so special about the hype surrounding noodles that you can order everywhere or buy ready-made ones at the supermarket. The special thing about this type of vermicelli is, on the one hand, the special broth, which is the necessary flavor carrier for the vermicelli dish. Four typical types of broth are:

  • Shoyu: Broth made from soy sauce
  • Tonkotsu: Pork bones boiled into a milky white broth
  • Shio: Mainly made from salt, often made from rich fish soup
  • Miso: Fermented soybeans in paste form

There are, of course, many other variations, often including a mixture of soy sauce and, for example, spicy kimchi sauce or other sauces.

There are also many different topping options. Together with the distinct flavor of the broth, they create a very special flavor combination, making each ramen soup unique. Commonly found in typical Japanese ramen are nori (dried seaweed), chashu (braised pork belly), menma (bamboo shoots), moyashi (soybean sprouts) or tamago (soft-boiled eggs in soy sauce) - to name a few.

Ramen includes four typical types of broth.
Ramen includes four typical types of broth.

Japanese ramen history - where ramen originated?

Ramen is a Japanese adaptation of the Chinese wheat noodle dish. It is first recorded to have appeared in Yokohama's Chinatown in the early 20th century. Although ramen gets its name from lāmiàn, it does not originate from the hand-pulled lamian noodles of northern China because the noodles used in ramen are cut, not pulled. Rather, ramen originated from southern Chinese noodle dishes.

Sōmen is another type of noodle of Chinese origin made from wheat flour, but in Japan, it is distinguished from the noodles used in ramen. The noodles used to make ramen today are called chūkamen (中華麺, literally ‘Chinese noodles’). They are made with kansui (鹹水, alkaline brine), but because there is no natural kansui in Japan, making chūkamen was very difficult in the past.

One theory is that ramen noodles were introduced to Japan in the 1660s by the neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Shunsui, who served as an advisor to Tokugawa Mitsukuni after he became a refugee in Japan to escape colonial rule. Manchu rule. Mitsukuni became the first Japanese person to eat ramen noodles. However, Mitsukuni's noodles are a starch mixture made from lotus root and wheat flour, different from chūkamen with kansui.

History of ramen noodles: Where did ramen originally come from?
History of ramen noodles: Where did ramen originally come from?

According to historians, the more accurate theory is that ramen noodles were introduced to Japan by Chinese immigrants living in Yokohama Chinatown (in the late 19th or early 20th century). By 1900, Chinese restaurants in Guangzhou and Shanghai offered a simple noodle dish, a few side dishes, and a broth with salt and pork bones.

Many Chinese living in Japan also set up portable food stalls, selling ramen noodles and gyōza dumplings to workers. In the mid-1900s, these stalls used a type of trumpet called a camera (from Portuguese caramel) to advertise their presence, a practice that some vendors still use today. At the beginning of the Shōwa period, ramen became a popular eating dish.

Ramen's journey to Japan

The first Japanese restaurant to serve bowls of noodles similar to today's ramen was Yowaken, which opened in 1884. Still, it was not until 1910 that Japan had its first ramen shop called Rairaiken in Asakura, Tokyo.

Then, in 1947, in Fukuoka, the now world-famous Hakata tonkotsu Ramen was created by sheer mistake! The first kitchens to boil water slipped the process, making the pork juice become more milky and milky. But when they tasted it, they realized they were in for a treat - and Hakata tonkotsu broth was born.

Hakata tonkotsu has milky broth.
Hakata tonkotsu has milky broth.

Regional ramen varieties began to appear with the first being Ajino Sanpei 味の三平 in Sapporo, Hokkaido in northern Japan, the first ramen shop to create miso ramen.

After World War II, Japan experienced a prosperous economic boom. This period of rapid economic growth and development contributed to the revival of ramen. Many construction projects require large numbers of construction workers. Ramen contains many healthy ingredients that provide enough energy for workers to be well-fed and energetic.

By the 1950s, ramen noodles were increasingly eaten at outdoor stalls known as yatai and began to spring up across towns and cities, providing workers with hot, quick meals day and night.

Additionally, a new form of ramen appeared after World War II. In 1958, an important milestone for ramen lovers was the invention of instant noodles by Momofuku Ando, the Japanese-Taiwanese founder of Nissin Foods. This allows anyone to prepare this comforting dish at home in just a few simple steps.

The invention of instant noodles by Momofuku Ando in 1958.
The invention of instant noodles by Momofuku Ando in 1958.

During this time, more and more regional ramen noodles began to be created and became available throughout Japan. From “Shio” salt, “Shoyu” soy, miso and tonkotsu - with lots in between! All regional ramen noodles have different stories about their creation, background, and history of the side dishes.

The ramen craze led to a ramen museum opening in Yokohama in 1994, celebrating all things ramen. In Hakata Canal City, they built Ramen Stadium, a food court celebrating regional ramen with 8 famous yatai ramen dishes in one space.

In Japan alone, there are more than 24,000 ramen restaurants, including 5,000 restaurants in Tokyo.

From humble street food to a global phenomenon

Ramen in the US

Iconic New York ramen shop Sapporo was founded in 1975, introducing foreigners to authentic Japanese ramen. Ramen quickly became popular because it was considered a casual alternative to sushi, which cannot be eaten daily and tends to be chosen by customers.

Iconic New York ramen shop Sapporo in the US.
Iconic New York ramen shop Sapporo in the US.

Ramen in Europe

In Germany, in the city of Düsseldorf, there is the famous Immermannstrasse. Many Japanese restaurants and grocery stores are on this street because the Japanese community is the largest in Europe. As a result, it has developed into a cult area and attracts people who live further afield. Many ramen restaurants and supermarkets sell instant ramen noodles on this street alone.

But it's not just Germany - noodles are trending across Europe. Urban cities offer countless opportunities to enjoy pho, Japanese-style or with a twist. The variety of vegan ramen noodles is the most notable in Europe. Unlike in Europe, vegetarianism is relatively small in Japan. Shoyu (a broth based on soy sauce) is often used as a base for vegan soups.

Shoyu ramen with vegan soup.
Shoyu ramen with vegan soup.

Related Post: A Guide on How to Make Ramen Noodles with an Easy Ramen Recipe

Ramen in Asia

A lot of modern variations of ramen come from surrounding Asian countries. For example, in Korea, kimchi ramen is a very popular dish. Depending on the amount, the red kimchi sauce will add a mild or stronger spicy flavor to the broth. A popular topping in Korea is melted cheese, which melts into the sauce and adds a special flavor.

Thailand is famous for its peanut vermicelli with coconut milk. Here, tofu is often used as a substitute for meat, making it a great alternative for vegetarians and vegans. There are also many other variations in Asia, such as rice noodles instead of wheat noodles. Technically, these really shouldn't be called ramen.

But if we remember that ramen as we know it today is simply the result of noodles in soup - regardless of the type, then the name makes sense.

A lot of modern variations of ramen come from surrounding Asian countries.

A lot of modern variations of ramen come from surrounding Asian countries.

Shop now: Shinetsu Works Japan Stainless Steel Ramen Chashu Pork Tongs.

Today ramen noodles have become symbols and historical figures of Japanese culture and history. Ramen has expanded its global reach.

Traditional ramen remains integral to Japanese culture, but more and more shops specializing in ramen are opening in popular cities in the United States and many countries worldwide. However, getting authentic Japanese ramen is still possible by staying close to large, diverse cities.

On the other hand, instant noodles are available almost everywhere. They can be found in most supermarket stores. Instant noodles are especially popular among college students because they are cheap and affordable. Although ramen noodles have become a global trend, their deep roots will always be tied to Japanese history. Ramen is what it is today, thanks to the historical events in Japan and the people inspired by those events.

Conclusion

From its humble beginnings as a Chinese noodle dish to its global domination as a beloved comfort food, ramen's journey is a testament to the power of cultural exchange and culinary adaptation. While its Chinese origins are undeniable, ramen's evolution in Japan has resulted in a unique and celebrated dish that continues to captivate taste buds worldwide. Whether savored in a traditional ramen shop or enjoyed in countless variations across the globe, ramen's legacy as a symbol of deliciousness and cultural fusion is undeniable.

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