We explore the origin of ramen noodles, the different types, and breakdown the key components which make a delicious bowl of noodle oodle goodness as Japan’s national dish gains international popularity. We’ll also include a few easy to follow recipes for you to recreate the iconic Japanese dish at the end too!
Types of Ramen Noodles
With each of these Japanese ramen noodle ingredients varying from regions in Japan, there are so many creative possibilities to a simple 101 bowl of noodles. Shio (salt-based), shoyu (soy sauce-based), miso (soybean paste-flavoured), and tonkotsu (pork bone broth) are the four main types.
Shio (salt flavour, 塩)
The broth is light, clear in colour. Chefs will make the soup base from chicken bones and sometimes pork.
Shoyu (soy sauce flavour, 醤油)
This is the most common type of soup base you will find and is usually what is served in Japan when the menu doesn’t specify the broth. Similar to shio, this is also a clear soup but brown in colour as it comes from the soy sauce.
Miso (soybean paste flavour, 味噌)
This soup base was originally created by people in colder regions of Japan as a thicker and heartier soup base to consume in the colder winter days. This is a thick soup base that is brown and has a rich taste from the soya bean mix used.
Tonkotsu (pork bone, 豚骨)
In contrast to other soup types mentioned above, this soup base is cloudy white in colour, thick and creamy. Commonly, Japanese chefs will boil a large number of pork bones for long hours to create a rich, cloudy white broth. This broth type is extremely popular in Kyushu and even more so in Fukuoka city.
Based on these four types of base flavours, different parts of Japan have created their own regional styles with individual restaurateurs coming up with new flavour combinations all the time.
Newer variations include beef fat in broth or as garnishing oil, slow cooking prawn heads to make a seafood base. In addition, some restaurants are making the dish completely vegan! Typically this is done by using only kelp to create a light broth, adding fried shallot and red pickled Japanese radish. Afuri in Tokyo does particularly a good job of making vegan and vegetarian variations of this dish. Furthermore, other interesting concepts that are being explored by chefs include soupless ingredients and karaage (fried chicken).
Despite the fact that cold noodles and tsukemen (dipping noodles) are less common in western countries, these are popular meal options in Asia’s summer heat. However, both of these options did not exist until almost 20 years ago and are a result of pure inventions of restauranteurs experimenting creatively with the broth.
With so many combinations available, this Japanese soul food seems like the perfect meal choice for anyone.
Is it for Everyone?
“Rich, poor—everyone can eat ramen.”
– Hiroshi Osaki, food critic and founder Japan’s Data Bank.
Hiroshi Osaki, known as the godfather in the gastronomical world, eats an average of 800 bowls in a year. He has visited over thousands of restaurants across the world. Noteworthy, the acclaimed food critic has mentioned from time to time in interviews that he has never met the perfect bowl of ramen.
“Ramen can change, I can’t say that the noodles or soup should be one way or another. If that were the case, then it would stop evolving. I want it to keep improving.”
Then indeed the top or best Japanese dish does not exist. The James Beard Award-winning food writer, John Birdsall would agree with Osaki that it is a simple three-part formula of noodles, broth, and toppings with infinite possibilities.
Easy Ramen Noodles Recipes
Learn how to make the popular dish with these easy to follow ramen recipes. With regional flavours and almost infinite variations to the bowl of noodle soup with toppings. Enjoy these dishes for any dinner or lunch idea. Feel free to experiment and add your own twist!
Japanese Duck Ramen Noodles
- 8 cup chicken stock
- 10 scallions thinly sliced
- 1 ginger thinly sliced
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- 120 g ramen noodles instant or fresh
- 4 duck breasts
- 2 tsp salt
- 300 g spinach
- 4 egg soft or hard boiled
- 120 g sweetcorn optional
- 2 tbs sesame seeds toasted
- dried seaweed
- EggSoft or hard boil the eggs (depending on your preference). Once cooked, cool this in an ice bath and peel the eggs. Place it in a container and add the soy sauce and rice vinegar. Add some water until the eggs are submerged in the marinade. Leave in the fridge for a minimum of 3-4 hours to marinate. The longer the eggs are left to marinate, the more of the flavour it will retain.
- NoodlesBoil the noodles according to the time indicated on the packaging. Rinse through with cold water and drain. Set aside.
- SpinachBlanch the spinach leaves in a large pot of hot water with a pinch of salt. Once wilted, remove from the heat and cool it down under cold running water to halt the cooking process.Squeeze out excess liquid to avoid it from becoming soggy. Set aside.
- In a large pot, add the ginger, soy sauce, chopped spring onions, chicken stock, and rice vinegar.
- Bring to a simmer and leave this on a low heat for at least 30 minutes. You may leave this for up until 1 hour. The longer it is left to simmer, the more the flavours will infuse.
- Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.
- Sprinkle a pinch of salt on the skin of the duck breasts. Set aside for 10 minutes and pat dry with a paper towel to rmeove the excess moisture.
- Place the duck breasts in a tray and into the oven for approximately 20 minutes, or until cooked. Remove from the oven and rest for 15 minutes. Slice the duck breast fillets and set aside.
- In a large bowl, add the noodles.
- Pour the hot broth over.
- Add the duck breast, egg (cut in half for better presentation), sweetcorn, sesame seeds and dried seaweed.
Hokkaido Style Ramen Noodle Salad 北海道ラーメンサラダ
- 1 pack ramen noodles (instant or fresh)
- 1 romain lettuce
- 50 g sweetcorn
- ½ cucumber
- ½ carrot
- 1 hard boiled egg
- handful of cherry tomato
- 2-3 tbsp Japanese mayonnaise
- 50 g shredded chicken optional
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 tsp sugar brown
- 3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
- dried seaweed
- sesame seeds
- Boil the noodles according to the time indicated on the packaging. Rinse through with cold water and drain.
- Cut the lettuce into pieces that are easy to eat. Cut the cucumber into thin slices and the carrots into matchsticks.
- Mix the dressing ingredients together and set aside.
- In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together. Serve with dried seaweed or toasted sesame seeds on top.
How to Eat Ramen Noodles
To slurp or not to slurp? A lot of westerners think the action of slurping is rude, offensive or simply bad table manners, but this is the total opposite in Japan. So, consider it appropriate etiquette to slurp the tasty noodles as loud as you like.
When you visit Japan, it is still common to see small counter-style shops scattered in the backstreets of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Sit down and order. Served over the counter by the chef and handed it to you while it’s still steaming hot. Receive it and slurp away with the chopsticks and spoon!
Slurp away as the Japanese dish is served in a traditional Chinese bowl.
Not only because slurping is a form of respect to the chef (as well as super fun!), but speed is a major factor in enjoying the bowl of noodle soup. As the noodles absorb the soup over time and expand, it loses its consistency.
When you’re done with eating the delicious noodles, drink the soup by itself. Alternatively, ask for another portion of noodles to finish off. This is usually for free in Japan. Just say “Kaedama kudasai (替玉ください)!”
Popular Side Dishes
For many people, a bowl of the Japanese soup dish is a big meal in itself. However, if one bowl of the Japanese goodness isnt enough for you, here are a few common side dishes to order with your main dish.
Have a small portion of roast pork fried rice, an extra portion of pork belly, filling buns, or a serving of five or six pan-fried gyoza. The Japanese also like to have plum flavoured or salmon flake onigiri (Japanese rice ball) as a filling side dish. Alternatively, Japanese spirits mixed with cocktails or chilled beer are a fantastic option.
Cocktail beer ramen and buns sound like a good combination to us. Food for the soul!
Ramen Noodles in London
The popular soup dish has become more common on the streets of Central London. Over the last few years, chain restaurants specialising in the filling noodle dish has popped up across the city in locations such as Soho, Bermondsey, as well as Brixton, and more.
Wagamama and Ippudo were among the first eateries to open in the city. Soon to follow suit was Kanada-ya, Shoryu, Bone Daddies, and more recently, Hakata Ramen + Bar on Bermondsey Street.
As there are over 30 dedicated Japanese restaurants in Central London alone, we’ve listed some of our favourite places to go to London for a slurp-licious bowl.
Based on taste, value, and location, our overall best in London winner has to be Kanada-ya. The restaurant is easily accessible by city-goers with branches located in Angel, Piccadilly, and Covent Garden.
For value, our top picks are Shoryu and Ippudo. For those looking for more of a hippy dining experience and daring noodle combinations (some are amazing and some are odd), head to Bone Daddies for a surprise.
With interest continuing to grow in the popular dish perhaps in a few years, internationally recognised ramen joint Ichiran and Chicago’s favourite Japanese noodle shop Ramenster may also decide to take a stake in London’s growing Japanese food scene.
For more, easy to follow recipes, head over to our recipe section. Or, try out dim sum, the Chinese way to brunch!