Ramen: A Bowl of Ingenious Goodness

A BRIEF HISTORY

For fans, ramen isn’t just a bowl of noodles ready for easy consumption. It’s a thing of beauty with its firm noodles bathe in steaming, rich broth. Some say it tastes like home while others say that consuming a bowl of ramen is a healing process. But what is a ramen and why is it so special?

If we were to trace back, ramen’s origin is unclear. Many sources claim that it originated in China. However, some also claim that ramen is invented by the Japanese in the 20th century. The word ramen came from the Japanese borrowing the Chinese word called lamian. Ramen was called shino soba (Chinese soba) during the 1950’s but as the years go by, shino soba turned to chūka soba (also means Chinese soba) until it became the iconic dish we now call as ramen. During the early days, ramen is just a simple dish which consists of cut noodles, a few toppings, and a broth flavored with salt and pork bones. Many Japanese vendors sell ramen along with a serving of gyoza dumplings. According to Hiroshi Osaki, a ramen expert, the first ramen shop opened in Yokohama in 1910.

In 1958, instant noodles came to life when it’s invented by the founder of Nissin Foods, Momofuku Ando, which boomed and was named the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th century. Instant ramen became the answer for the quick satisfaction of the belly by just adding boiling water to the simple dish. Ramen was – and still is – the talk of the town and was popularized during the 1980’s, easily becoming a Japanese cultural icon and the main subject of the world from many perspectives. It was a unique cuisine of its own. Since then, there have been a lot of local varieties hitting the market, in and out of the country. In 1994, a ramen museum opened in Yokohama.

Ramen isn’t only found in food stalls along the streets but also in high-end restaurants. There are also restaurants which specialize only in selling ramen dishes called ramen-ya. There are over 10,000 ramen-ya establishments all over Japan and since most ramen-ya shops have very limited seating capacity, most customers are asked to line up and wait for them to be seated. Customers can place their order and get their ticket from the server as they wait. Other ramen-ya shops provide sit-down service in which patrons are taken care of by being given a menu and placing orders to the server.

RAMEN-YA RESTAURANTS IN TOKYO, JAPAN

Ramen is a quick but satisfying meal that is easily devoured and can almost be compared to pizza, meaning most patrons are willing to line up and wait for their turn just to get their hands to this heavenly bowl of goodness. It’s a meal worth lining up. With its varieties, you can choose which broth you want which are shoyu (soy sauce), shio (sea salt), miso, and the most popular, tonkotsu (not to be confused with tonkatsu, another Japanese pork dish). Other varieties include tsukemen (dripping noodles), tantanmen with its all-encompassing spiciness and dan dan noodles, ebi ramen where the meat stock is enriched with the juice from the prawn heads.

Now, for the exciting part. These are some of the choices of the best ramen-ya shops in Tokyo. Always keep in mind that these popular shops can hold up a long waiting line that can up to take thirty minutes to an hour (sometimes more).

Afuri
Bowls are selected from a vending machine like-system. One must order their signature dish called yuzu shoyu ramen, with marinated pork belly, firm, and chewy noodles, and a perfectly soft boiled egg to finish the dish. Located in 1F UF Bld. 4,4-9-4 Roppongi, Minato-ku.

Asuka
You can’t go wrong with their version of tantanmen, this spiked chili Chinese dish with its dan dan noodles and topped with tonkatsu, completing the perfect marriage of two flavors. In winter, they serve hot tantanmen and in summer, they serve it cold. Located in 2-11 Skuragaokacho, Shibuya-ku.

Tonchin
If you like something cheap but scrumptious, then this is for you. You can even customize however you want the noodles in your dish, be it cooked soft, normal, or firm, and can even select the amount of pork fat too, whether you want it none, normal, or more. It is the pioneer of Tokyo tonkotsu shoyu ramen. Located in 2-26-2 Minami-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku.

Tsuta
It’s the first ramen shop to be awarded a Michelin star with its signature shoyusoba dish made with craft soy sauce and spiked with its homemade truffle paste. Located in 1 Chome-14-1 Sugamo Toshima-ku, Tōkyō-to 170-0002.

Matador
Not as central as the other shops in Tokyo but if you want the best beef ramen, Matador is worth the trip. Order the zeitaku yakigyū ramen, with its enormous slice of roast beef, extra stewed beef, and an egg. Located in 120-0025 Tōkyō-to, Adachi-ku, Senjuazuma, 2 Chome−4−17.

FUN FACTS ABOUT RAMEN

  1. Ramen was once considered a luxurious dish. When it was first released, buying fresh Japanese noodles (udon) was cheaper than buying instant ramen noodles.
  2. There are museums (yes, three of them) dedicated solely for ramen, where you can be educated on the history of ramen and learn more about it.
  3. Ramen is the first type of noodle to go to space. Called “Space Ram” by Momofuku Ando in 2005, it’s a vacuum packed ramen made of smaller noodles and thicker broth.
  4. Ramen, not their advanced technology, is considered the greatest Japanese invention in the 20th century.
  5. David Chang, owner of Momofuku chain, eat his ramen uncooked by sprinkling the seasoning to the noodles in every bite.
  6. Slurping is considered respectful because it goes to show that you enjoy the meal. Also, being the dish is hot, slurping actually cools the noodles.
  7. Ramen must be eaten fast since the noodles are still cooking in the hot broth. Leaving it to cool makes overcooked noodles.
  8. Eat ramen in moderation. It contains tertiary-butylhydroquinone, a chemical used to lengthen the shelf life of food. It may cause nauseating, vomiting, high blood pressure and collapse if ramen is consumed violently.
  9. There’s a movie about ramen starring the late Brittany Murphy.
  10. With its noodle length of 51 meters, it’s equivalent to two basketball courts.

She’s cooking and baking for her family and friends. She finds grocery shopping therapeutic, always takes the longest time in the Asian section and debates with herself whether she needs that extra pack of instant ramen. A lover of sweets, she dreams of owning a patisserie and publishing her book but most of the time, she’s just really thinking of what to eat for breakfast the next day.

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