The Many Bowls of Ramen

I recently travelled to Japan for the first time. Needless to say, I was beyond excited to experience all the country had to offer: the culture, the sights, the quirky cafes and of course, the food. You would be wrong if you thought Japan is only known for sushi. Once I arrived in Japan the food options seemed endless, so much so, that throughout my five weeks travelling around the country I never tired of the cuisine.

I arrived in early spring, to a cold, wet and sometimes miserable climate. The cherry blossoms were late to bloom, due to prolonged cold weather. It was dreary and grey. Luckily a great way to warm up was over a large bowl of piping hot ramen. This is the dish I would consume the most during my travels throughout Japan. It was a no brainer – it was cost effective and delicious!

Most of you probably know ramen as simply instant noodles…I mean who didn’t love ‘Mr. Noodles’ back in its heyday? Some of you may be more familiar with the traditional Japanese soup that consists of long wheat noodles served with varying proteins in a flavourful broth. Both are technically types of ramen, but I’ll let you guess which one tastes better.

What you may not know, is that each region or prefecture, as they are called in Japan, has their own unique style of ramen.

Often, the soup will be topped with pork, dried seaweed, green onion and sometimes a soft-boiled egg. However, you may find a subtle or drastic change of these topping depending on your whereabouts.

Champon – A unique Chinese inspired ramen regional to Nagasaki.

The broths also change from region to region but normally are made with pork and/or chicken bones. Depending on the area the broth could also be seafood based, something I never experienced. The broth is only the beginning; from there the ‘flavour’ is added in accordance to the soup’s style. For example, there are four main flavourings of ramen:

Shio – Salt flavoured soup. A lighter broth in colour and in taste. It is saltier than other styles.

Shio broth with sesame seeds

Miso – Soybean paste soup – A smooth and savoury broth with hints of nuts.

Spicy miso broth. Some like it hot!

Shoyu – Soy sauce flavoured soup – A light to dark brown broth that is most popular in Tokyo.

*I heard a rumour that Tokyo doesn’t have the best water, and therefore the soy sauce is used in the broth to cover up the water’s natural taste. I never tried a Shoyu ramen.

Tonkotsu – A creamy coloured broth that is rich in flavour. This delicious style of broth comes from cooking pork bones for an exceedingly long period to create a rich and complex flavour. This method provides the creamiest, and in my opinion, tastiest of all the ramen broths. Definitely my go-to broth!

Tonkotsu broth in Oita.                     Mmm, I could eat this everyday!

Regardless of the ever-changing styles of ramen there is one thing that remains the same with all ramen dishes. The Slurp.

“SLUUURP!” You will hear this in every ramen restaurant you visit, get use to it.

A display of Champon which demonstrates how long some ramen noodles can be!

The slurp is very important. It’s the sign, or rather the sound of satisfaction made by each patron as they hurry through their ramen. The noodles are long and must be slurped until the wriggling ends have all been engulfed. Trust me, this is a difficult feat. I sometimes would bite the noodles halfway, after I could slurp no more, an action that I believe is considered a big no-no.

Sorry, Ramen Masters!

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