Finding the Perfect Ramen

Finding the Perfect RamenIf you’re looking for an eclectic proficiency in something Japanese, why not join the ranks of the ramen connoisseurs? Ramen noodles differ from region to region within Japan, making the hunt for the perfect ramen a fun, affordable activity to do while traveling around the country. At the same time, you’ll be getting a unique taste of the local culture.

Although ramen originally comes from China, the Japanese have made it their own by adding ingredients and changing the flavor of the broth. Japanese ramen connoisseurs are known to drive 4-6 hours to go to a well-known ramen shop. They can taste the difference between regional varieties of ramen, from Kyushu to Hokkaido. And so will you, if you make ramen hunting a part of your itinerary. And if you’re in Yokohama, the birthplace of ramen, don’t miss the ramen museum!

Becoming a ramen connoisseur isn’t that difficult. With over 30,000 ramen shops in Japan (5,000 in Tokyo alone), these restaurants are literally on every corner. And, ramen is one of the cheapest foods you can eat in Japan. There are even 100-yen ramen shops. Wherever you travel, leave at least one meal for ramen, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a ramen connoisseur. Here are some basics to help get you started.

Ramen is distinguished by “umami,” or the savoriness of the broth, and the size and softness of the noodles. There are four main types of broth: the original “shouyu,” (soy flavor), “tonkotsu” (made from pig bones), Miso ramen (Miso flavor) and Shio (salt flavor). Ramen is usually topped off with bean sprouts, pork slices, dried bamboo shoots, seaweed, boiled egg, leeks or any combination there of.

Here are some of the regions famous for ramen — Sapporo, the “city of ramen” with over 1,000 ramen shops, is the birthplace of miso ramen. In the Tohoku area, try Yonezawa ramen where the noodles are aged for a few days before they are boiled. Yokohama is famous for tonkotsu-soy ramen. In Chubu, try Gifu ramen known for its very soft noodles, and in Kansai, try Kyoto ramen known for its straight noodles. Shikoku’s Tokushima ramen is served with a raw egg and in Kyushu, the home of tonkotsu, try the Hakata ramen which is available just outside the Hakata shinkansen station in Fukuoka.

How do you find a good ramen shop once you arrive in a new city? Just look for the lines of people waiting outside the shop to get in!

Instant ramen six packages for $1 is common in supermarkets across the nation

The inventor of instant ramen, Momofuku Ando, passed away Jan 5 at the ripe old age of 96. He was the founder of Nissin Food Products (Cup Noodle) and was the first to perfect a flash-frying method of cooking to create Chikin Ramen, the world’s first “instant ramen.”

Japanese ramen chefs have created many ramen variations that incorporate ‘umami’, the subtle soup stock flavour produced from seafood products and fresh vegetables, and added distinctive soup seasonings based on soy sauce, miso, and so on. In the city of Yokohama, not far from Tokyo, there is even an amusement park with ramen as its theme. The irresistible attractions of ramen draw more than 1.3 million visitors to it every year, proving just how much the Japanese love ramen noodles.

The Ramen of Sapporo

Morito Omiya, who founded “Aji-no Sanpei”, is the most memorable person among owners and chefs of ramen restaurant in Sapporo. He created “ramen in miso (fermented soybean paste) – flavored soup”. Before that, ramen was served only in soy sauce-flavored soup, which was cooked with soy sauce in soup stock of pig bones. He had been looking for new flour, so he kept researching it over and over. At last he found “miso-flavored” soup, which was familiar to Japanese people like soy sauce, and he came up with ideas to put stir-fried vegetables on it. Then he perfected “ramen in miso-flavored soup” and put it on his menu in 1954. This new ramen “with vegetables on it in miso-flavored soup” was significantly popular in Sapporo. About 1960, “miso-flavor” was started at other restaurants and established “the specialty of Sapporo” among tourists. After that, it got known all over Japan, by a demonstration of cooking it and a sale of it at exhibits of the products of Hokkaido in various parts of Japan or by the mass media. Between 1960 and 1970, as “the ramen of Sapporo”, it was extremely in throughout.

More Than a Thousand Ramen Restaurants in the City of Ramen, Sapporo

Sapporo is famous for ramen. You can see signs “RAMEN” here and there, and especially on Ramen Alley (Ramen Yokocho), New Ramen Alley (Shin Ramen Yokocho), Tanuki Menkoi Street, and in Kotoni are many ramen restaurants. Every restaurant has a lot of customers during the Sapporo Snow Festival and in summer, the good season, because many tourists come here. Sapporo has more than a thousand ramen restaurants, and it’s said to be one of the three cities of ramen in Japan. Today in Japan, ramen is called “the popular dish all over the country”. What’s “ramen”?

The first shop dedicated solely to ramen was called Rairaiken and opened in Tokyo’s Asakusa district in 1911.

Amy Chavez is author of Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won’t tell you” She is a columnist for The Japan Times, co-hosts the Planet Japan podcast. Visit her website at www.amychavez.com