The world of ramen is HUGE, and for many people (you know who you are), hugely emotional. At its simplest, ramen is wheat noodles served in a flavorful broth. Those noodles, as is the case most likely with ramen the dish itself, are (shhh!) Chinese in origin. However, since the 20th century, ramen has evolved into distinctly different tasting schools of thought, all of which are distinctively Japanese.
All ramen should have wheat flour noodles, with some restaurants offering variations on how firm you want them cooked. All ramen should also have at least some char siu, or Chinese-style barbeque pork slices. A few vegetables, maybe some scallions, and a soft boiled egg are all frequently found, but are not requisite additions. No one’s going to be disappointed to see some nori (seaweed) arrive with their ramen either, which is also often the case.
Bliss, disappointment, elation, anger, and various other extreme emotions are elicited by the broth. There are three basic broth varieties, presented here in no particular order so as not raise the ire of ramen lovers and drive them to writing hate mail. Shoyu (soy sauce) ramen, as you’d gather from the name, has soy sauce in it, but also tends to be made by simmering for hours (and hours, and hours) bones and such from various seafood. Another variety, most popular in the part of Japan where it was invented, Fukuoka, is tonkotsu ramen. This soup broth is richer than your standard shoyu broth because it is made by simmering pork bones for, again, hours and hours, and then even more bone marrow extracting hours. The third element of the triumvirate is miso ramen, usually made with white miso. This originated in Hokkaido, Japan’s northern hinterlands.
Each region and each ramen chef therein have their own ethos when it comes to ramen. Some like it astringent, while others like it super rich (fatty). Some put hefty pieces of melt-in-your-mouth pork, while others go for more of a vegetable/meat balance. No matter where you travel in Japan, you are bound to experience a different ramen than you had last time!