Although it originated in China, ramen is one of the most popular Japanese dishes for both tourists and locals. There are heaps of ramen restaurants nationwide and food lovers can easily find them in urban areas. How can you pick the perfect ramen restaurant with so many options? Pictures of noodles, toppings, and hot soups will help make your decision easier! There are different ramen broth flavours, so you can pick your favourite one or we recommend enjoying various flavours during your stay in Japan. Try them all! Today, we are featuring hot soup flavours to give you some choices in variety in this popular Japanese Noodle dish.
Shoyu Ramen – Soy Sauce Based Flavour
It is said that Rairaiken opened in 1910 in Asakusa, Tokyo and was the first ramen restaurant in Japan. It is also said that they established shoyu or soy sauce ramen and this is the basis of Tokyo ramen. Rairaiken promoted ramen and boosted the popularity of the cuisine nationwide.
This soy sauce broth has as long a history as the noodles it contains. The shio flavoured broth does as well and will be featured later in this article. Many local ramen shops all over the nation have been established based on shoyu ramen. It also can be referred to as Chukasoba.
Ramen broth is made by blending soup bases, sauces, and oil. Cooking soup bases is hard work due to how time consuming it is – the process takes hours of boiling and cooling down. In restaurants, the broth for shoyu ramen is cooked in huge pots by boiling chicken bones and dried fish as well as vegetables such as spring onions, ginger, and garlic. The other added flavors include soy sauce and cooking sake. Other ingredients including vinegar and chicken skins can also be added into the sauce.
When your order is placed, chefs begin by reheating the soup base and boiling the noodles. While waiting for these processes to be done, they pour sauces and flavors into bowl. Soup bases are added into the sauces once they have been boiled, are stirred well, and then the cooked noodles are placed into the broth. Finally, toppings are added and the completed bowl is brought to you to enjoy!
Miso Ramen – Miso Based Flavour
Miso is not only the ingredient for miso soup, but also for the broth of certain kinds of ramen. Miso has been served in the Japanese cuisine for 1,300 years!
Even with this ancient history, miso ramen is still the youngest noodle soup flavour since it was established in 1954 at Ajino Sanpei, a restaurant based in Sapporo. Morito Omiya, the Ajino Sanpei owner, thought that miso paste was good for health, so he sought to create a ramen that used this super food ingredient, and his passion helped him to establish and develop the miso ramen recipe. His hard work promoted miso ramen in Sapporo and, as a result, the biggest city in Hokkaido became the home of miso ramen.
Unlike soy sauce flavoured ramen, miso ramen is cooked in a deep frying pan, by stirring vegetables as toppings first and then cooking the soup bases and miso paste. Boiled noodles are then placed inside ramen bowls, followed by miso flavoured broth and extra toppings such as char siu (stirred and boiled pork with soy sauce flavours).
To match with the flavour of the ramen noodles and deepen the taste and aroma, miso is grilled in a deep frying pan. Chili oil is added into the miso soup base to create a spicy and deep tasting broth. In Sapporo, the home of miso ramen, a lot of chili oil is added, but the amount is adjusted to meet local food cultures outside of Sapporo. If you are not in Sapporo but want to try the authentic miso ramen, you might be able to ask a chef to add extra chili oil in advance or you can do it on your own since bottles of chili oil are usually placed on the table.
Shio Ramen – Salt Based Flavour
Shio ramen is said to be the first ramen dish served in Japan because a Hakodate newspaper advertised 15 cent Nankin Soba in 1884. Although, it is unclear whether or not Nankin Soba used the modern types of ramen broth.
Hakodate, the home of shio ramen with 150 restaurants currently located in south Hokkaido. Its port opened for trade ships after Japan had reopened borders, after banning trade for a very long time (with the exception of a few countries. ) Foreign cuisine began to influence Japan and the establishment of salt flavoured ramen emerged during this time.
One feature of shio ramen is its simple, clear broth. Although the taste is simple, there is a complex, deep flavour hidden within. It’s common for people to keep drinking the broth and end up having it all without leaving any left over in the bowl. Cooking clear soup bases for shio ramen requires hard work and time since the chefs need to keep an eye on it to adjust the heat whilst simultaneously boiling pork and chicken bones, seaweed, scallop shells, and aromatic plants. This is so that they don’t create murkiness in the soup.
When you order Shio Ramen, like shoyu ramen, the soup base will be reheated once your order is taken and then blended with the salt flavoured sauce in a bowl before serving you the cooked noodles.
Tonkotsu Ramen – Creamy White Coloured Soup
Tonkotsu translates to pork bones. As mentioned above, it is one of the key ingredients in soup bases for all ramen broths. Chicken bones are an essential part of the soup bases alongside vegetables.
You might be wondering what is different in tonkotsu ramen. Let us start by sharing the story of its history. Tokio Miyamoto worked at ramen restaurants in Yokohama’s Chinatown and Tokyo to gain cooking skills. After hearing about the trends in ramen at Yokohama around 1935, Tokio, originally from the Nagasaki prefecture, created tonkotsu flavoured soup based with soy sauce, which is an influence from his native cuisine of Nagasaki Champon. Mr. Miyamoto established Nankin Senryo, the first ramen restaurant in Kyushu in 1937.
The current white tonkotsu flavoured soup was created in 1947 by accident. One day Katsumi Sugino, who established the Sankyu ramen restaurant in 1947, had completed his daily food preparations in soup bases using pork bones. However, he set the heat too high accidentally, which caused the soup broth to whiten. Mr. Sugino had initially thought that overcooked ramen noodle broth could not be served, but after tasting it he realized that it was delicious. Sankyu has been serving this ‘overcooked’ tonkotsu soup ever since. This white ramen broth has become the authentic taste of tonkotsu ramen soup.
While distinct from shoyu, the broth in tonkotsu ramen is made with a different amount of heat while cooking. While low heat is used for shoyu ramen’s soup base, using high heat is important for tonkotsu ramen’s white soup base, in which collagen is the key material.
Also, tonkotsu ramen has not only one flavour in its sauce but three. As mentioned earlier, soup bases are different; so, their accompanying sauces can be any of the three previous options – soy sauce, miso, and salt. If you become a tonkotsu ramen fan after having one of these amazing flavours, you can still try two more types of broth!
Unlike other Japanese noodles, you can enjoy ramen noodles with various flavoured soups from simple tasting shio ramen to spicy miso ramen with deep and thick textures. Furthermore, ramen soup flavours are steadily growing in diversity these days with plenty of uniqueness and authenticity. Spices and herbs are playing a bigger role in ramen broth bases. You could become a real ramen expert if you have these delicious noodle bowls often.
Many ramen restaurant owners are passionate about research to create better noodles and soups in order to meet customers’ expectations and satisfaction. Noodles and toppings are matching well with hot soups to complement their great taste. You can even ask for different noodle firmness and vary the amount of fat in soups if you order a tonkotsu ramen.
We hope our explanation of the major ramen styles will help you enjoy this famous and popular Japanese cuisine!