RAMEN (ラーメン, らーめん, 拉麺)

Ramen (ラーメン, らーめん, 拉麺) is a Japanese dish of noodles served in broth originating from China. It differs from native Japanese noodle soup dishes, in that it is served in broth based on meat such as chicken, as well as in the type of noodles and toppings used.

Ramen is served with a variety of toppings, such as sliced pork (チャーシュー chāshū), seaweed, kamaboko, green onions, and even corn. Almost every locality or prefecture in Japan has its own variation of ramen, from the tonkotsu ramen of Kyūshū to the miso ramen of Hokkaidō.

Ramen originated in China before making its way to Japan and was used in Japanese cuisine. The men in ramen is 麺, "noodle", in essence the same character as the Chinese 麵 employed in chow mein.

While Tokugawa Mitsukuni reportedly ate ramen in the late 17th century, it was only during the Meiji period that the dish became widely known (perhaps because for most of its history, the Japanese diet consisted mostly of vegetables and seafood rather than meat). The introduction of American and European cuisine, which demanded increased production of meat products, played a large role in ramen's increased popularity.

Ramen was first introduced in the Chinatowns of Kobe and Yokohama during the Meiji era. Salt ramen originated in Hokkaido in the Taisho era.

Though of Chinese origin, it is unclear when ramen was introduced to Japan. Even the etymology of the term "ramen" is a topic of debate. One hypothesis and probably the most credible is that "ramen" is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese: 拉麺 (lamian), meaning "hand-pulled noodles." A second hypothesis proposes 老麺 (laomian, "old noodles") as the original form, while yet another states that ramen was initially 鹵麺 (lumian), noodles cooked in a thick, starchy sauce.

In the early Meiji period, ramen was called shina soba (支那そば, literally "Chinese soba") but today chūka soba (中華そば, also meaning "Chinese soba") is the more common and politically correct term. By 1900, restaurants serving Chinese cuisine from Canton and Shanghai offered a simple ramen dish of noodles (cut rather than hand pulled), a few toppings, and a broth flavored with salt and pork bones. Many Chinese also pulled portable food stalls, selling ramen and gyōza dumplings to workers. By the mid 1900s, these stalls used a type of a musical horn called a charumera (チャルメラ, from the Portuguese charamela) to advertise their presence, a practice some vendors still retain via a loudspeaker and a looped recording. By the early Shōwa period, ramen had become a popular dish when eating out.

After World War II, cheap flour imported from the U.S. swept the Japanese market. At the same time, millions of Japanese troops had returned from China and continental East Asia. Many of these returnees had become familiar with Chinese cuisine and subsequently set up Chinese restaurants across Japan. Eating ramen, while popular, was still a special occasion that required going out.

In 1958, instant noodles were invented by the late Momofuku Ando, founder and chairman of Nissin Foods. Named the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th century in a Japanese poll, instant ramen allowed anyone to make this dish simply by adding boiling water. Beginning in the 1980s, ramen became a Japanese cultural icon and was studied from many perspectives. At the same time, local varieties of ramen were hitting the national market and could even be ordered by their regional names.

A wide variety of ramen exists in Japan, with geographical and vendor-specific differences even in varieties that share the same name. Ramen can be broadly categorized by its three main ingredients: noodles, soup, and toppings.

Shoyu (soy sauce) ramen.Most ramen noodles are made from four basic ingredients: wheat flour, salt, water, and kansui (かんすい) which is essentially a type of mineral water, containing sodium carbonate and usually potassium carbonate, as well as sometimes a small amount of phosphoric acid. Originally, Kansui was named after the water from Inner Mongolia's Lake Kan which contained large amounts of these minerals and was said to be perfect for making these noodles. Making noodles with kansui lends them a yellowish hue as well as a firm texture. For a brief time after World War II, low-quality kansui that was tainted was sold, though kansui is now manufactured according to JAS standards. Eggs may also be substituted for kansui. Some ramen noodles are made with neither eggs nor kansui and should only be used for yakisoba.

Ramen noodles come in various shapes and lengths. They may be fat, thin, or even ribbon-like, as well as straight or wrinkled.

Ramen soup is generally made from stock based on chicken or pork, combined with a variety of ingredients such as kombu (kelp), katsuobushi (skipjack tuna flakes), niboshi (dried baby sardines), beef bones, shiitake, and onions, and then flavoured with the likes of salt, miso, or soy sauce.

The resulting combination is generally divided into four categories (although new and original variations often make this categorisation less clear-cut):

Shio ("salt") ramen soup is clear, almost transparent. It is probably the oldest of the four and, like the Chinese maotang (毛湯), is a simple chicken broth.

Tonkotsu ("pork bone") ramen is usually cloudy white. It is similar to the Chinese baitang (白湯) and is a thick broth made with crushed pork bones that have been boiled for hours. It is a specialty of Kyūshū and is often served with beni shoga (pickled ginger).

shoyu ("soy sauce") ramen soup is made by adding a soy-based sauce to a clear stock usually made from chicken and various vegetables. It is popular in Honshū. A popular seasoning is black pepper.

Miso ramen is a relative newcomer, having reached national prominence around 1965. This uniquely Japanese ramen, which was developed in Hokkaidō, features a broth that combines chicken stock with a fermented soybean paste. It is often topped with sweetcorn and butter.

It's worth noting that inventive chefs continue to push the boundaries of ramen cuisine. By 2006, Hokkaido's regional curry ramen had leapt to national prominence, and restaurants from Sendai to Kobe have for years offered a ramen based on the made-in-Japan Chinese dish of ebi chili sauce, or "shrimp in chili sauce."

Some seasonings commonly added to ramen are black pepper, butter, chili pepper, sesame seeds, and garlic. Soup recipes and methods of preparation are closely-guarded secrets in many restaurants.

Ramen are almost invariably topped with finely chopped negi (a type of scallion), menma (fermented and pickled bamboo shoot), and sliced chāshū (char siu, 叉焼 or 焼豚: traditionally a barbecued pork but usually a thinly sliced braised pork when used as a ramen topping).

Popular additional toppings include boiled egg (sometimes marinated), naruto (a type of kamaboko), nori, spinach, bean sprouts, wakame, deep fried scallion, or kimchi. Hokkaido-style miso ramen is often topped with sweetcorn.

In most cases, toppings are cooked separately and added at the end so as to not change the flavor of the soup.

While standard versions of ramen are available throughout Japan, the last few decades have shown a proliferation of regional variations. Some of these which have gone on to national prominence are:

SAPPORO, the capital of Hokkaidō, is especially famous for its ramen. Most people in Japan associate Sapporo with its rich miso ramen which was invented there and which is ideal for Hokkaido's harsh, snowy winters. Sapporo miso ramen is typically topped with sweetcorn, butter, beansprouts, finely chopped pork, and garlic, and sometimes local seafood such as scallop, squid, and crab.

KITAKATA in Northern Honshu is known for its rather thick, flat, curly noodles served in a pork-and-niboshi broth. The area within its former city boundaries has the highest per-capita number of ramen establishments. Ramen has such prominence in the region that locally, the word soba usually refers to ramen, and not to actual soba which is referred to as nihon soba ("Japanese soba").

What is known as TOKYO style ramen consists of slightly thin, curly noodles served in a soy-flavoured chicken broth. The broth typically has a touch of dashi, as old ramen establishments in Tokyo often originate from soba eateries. Standard toppings on top of chopped scallion, menma, and sliced pork are kamaboko, egg, nori, and spinach. Ogikubo and Ebisu are two areas in Tokyo known for their ramen.

Ie-kei (家系) ramen is from YOKOHAMA and consist of thick, straight-ish noodles served in a soy-pork broth.

HAKATA ramen originates from Hakata district of Fukuoka city. It has a rich, milky, pork-bone tonkotsu broth and rather thin, non-curly and resilient noodles. Often, distinctive toppings such as beni shoga (pickled ginger), sesame seeds, and picked greens are left on tables for customers to serve themselves. Many restaurants operate a system known as kae-dama (替え玉), where customers who have finished eating can ask for additional bundles of noodles to be put in their remaining soup cheaply. Yatai (ramen stalls) in Hakata and Tenjin are well-known within Japan. Recent ramen trends have made Hakata ramen one of the most popular types of ramen in Japan, and these days several chain restaurants specializing in Hakata ramen can be found all over the country.

There are a number of related, Chinese-influenced noodle dishes in Japan. The following are often served alongside ramen in ramen establishments. They do not include noodle dishes considered traditionally Japanese, such as soba or udon, which are almost never served in the same establishments as ramen.

Champon is topped with a variety of ingredients, mostly seafood, and covered in a starchy sauce.

Essentially ramen noodles and toppings served without the soup, but with a small quantity of oily soy-based sauce instead.

The noodles and soup are served in separate bowls. The diner dips the noodles in the soup before eating. Can be served hot or chilled.

Japanese version of dan dan noodles. Ramen noodles in a reddish, spicy chilli and sesame soup, usually containing minced pork, garnished with chopped scallion and chilli and occasionally topped with the likes of spinach.

Also known as reimen, esp. in western Japan. A summer dish of chilled ramen noodles on a plate with various toppings (typically thin strips of omelette, ham, cucumber and tomato) and served with a vinegary soy dressing and karashi (Japanese mustard). It was produced in a Chinese restaurant the Ryutei in Sendai.

Many ramen restaurants also serve gyoza, fried rice, shumai, and similar Chinese-derived dishes, which customers frequently order along with ramen. Combinations such as ramen and rice or ramen with char siu are quite popular.

Ramen has been exported back to China in recent years where it is known as ri shi la mian (日式拉面, "Japanese lamian"). Popular Japanese ramen chains serve ramen alongside distinctly Japanese dishes such as tempura and yakitori, something which would be seen as odd in Japan.

In North America, Japanese noodles were imported starting in the 1970s bearing the name "ramen" and today it most commonly refers to instant noodles. It gained popularity as a Japanese dish of noodle soup which sold so well in the United States in the late 1970s that imports from Japan were supplanted by American manufacturers by the mid-1980s as a popular food item for tight income buyers. Today, due to its very low cost, ramen has become characterized in the United States as a very cheap food eaten by people such as students or teenagers.

Ramen is nearly ubiquitous in Japanese popular culture and Japanese literary depictions of contemporary life in Japan. In some works, depicting characters with traits relatively infrequent in actual Japanese society, well-known characters are described as liking ramen to the point that it alone forms the bulk of their diet to the exclusion of nearly all other foods. Japanese writers often include a comedy or horror subplot where their main characters go out to eat or cook ramen. Ramen is also used as the object of comedy in many anime and manga such as Naruto, with characters typically getting splashed over the head by a bowl of ramen, or stepping on a bowl of ramen and falling, often taking down another helpless person.

In the anime and manga Naruto, the main character Uzumaki Naruto's favorite food is ramen, and he is seen frequently eating ramen in many episodes. His favorite ramen is one with a lot of barbecue pork. Naruto is also the name of sliced Kamaboko, a staple of Japanese ramen dishes.

The manga Kinnikuman features a character called Ramenman, a Chinese stereotype wrestler, who specialises in martial arts. He was so popular that he had his own spin-off manga series.

Ramen was considered the best food in the game Kingdom of Loathing before chow mein was introduced.

Ramen appears in the game Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, which due to the mid-1960's setting is touted as the food of the future, as well as being one of the best foods in the game.

Ramen is featured in the series InuYasha, and is the favourite food of the title character, InuYasha.

In the Puffing Tom Arc of the popular manga One Piece, a Marine-Chef named Wanze uses ramen as a weapon and body armor.

In the anime and manga Great Teacher Onizuka (also known as GTO), the main character Onizuka practically lives off a diet of instant ramen due to being broke most of the time.

In the Nicktoons Network TV series Kappa Mikey, A character of the show titled Guano is walking around with steaming bowls in a box yelling "RAMEN, GET YOUR HOT FRESH RAMEN HERE!!!" Someone comes up to him and says "I'd Like A Ramen." In response, Guano throws the bowl and it hits the man directly in the face, causing him to scream "MY EYES!!!!"

In the anime series Lupin the 3rd, the main characters eat ramen regularly, particularly when on a long mission and needing a quick lunch fix. Inspector Zenigata in particular eats ramen continuously(it's his favorite food), and it is a running joke in the series that when he tries to fix himself a bowl, BAD things happen.