The wonderful world of Ramen
Ramen is a very popular noodle dish, originally introduced in Japan by Chinese immigrants, likely around the 19th or early 20th century. The dish would consist of wheat noodles in a broth, topped with Chinese-style roasted pork. As its popularity grew immensely over time, so did the number of recipes. Ramen types became hugely diversified, and are nowadays typically bound to certain areas, though ramen chefs themselves are apt to have their own signature recipe and specific cooking style. In fact, one can now find variations such as ‘tsukemen’ (where the noodles come separate, and the broth serves as a dipping sauce) and the famously convenient instant ramen as well.
The unifying elements to ramen are a soup/broth, noodles and toppings.
Shio (salt) ramen
Generally speaking, a ramen broth consists of chicken bones, pork bones, or seafood (or a combination thereof), further flavoured with any favoured ingredients. A popular type of broth is ‘tonkotsu’, originating in Kyushu, a heavy and rich broth made primarily from pork bones. Vegetable broths are also more common these days. Before serving, ‘tare’ (a type of sauce used for an extra punch of flavour) is added to the bowl. Flavour-wise, there are 3 main types to be distinguished: soy, miso, and shio (salt).
The noodles for ramen come in various types, from very thin to very thick, and with a straight or wavy texture. They are generally made from wheat flour, salt, water, and 'kansui' (a type of alkaline mineral water), making them distinguishable from others such as udon or soba noodles. The cooking time varies as well, and can often be chosen by the customer according to their preference (soft, medium or hard cooked noodles).
The toppings are especially varied, and can be anything from stir-fried vegetables to butter. The most common ones are, among others, (half)boiled soy-marinated eggs, ‘chashu’ (Chinese style roast pork), ‘menma’ (pickled/fermented bamboo shoots), ‘nori’ (dried seaweed) and beansprouts.
So in conclusion: not only each region, but each restaurant tends to have their own combination of an umami rich broth, noodle type and toppings, making ramen an especially fun dish to try in multiple places!