Top Slurp Worthy Ramen Bowl TypesKatachiware Japanese Style Tableware
Ramen, a dish that originated in China has best been adapted by the Japanese to become an inherent part of their national cuisine. Beyond Japan, ramen tops the list of comfort food for people across the globe and just the idea of slurping ramen warms the soul.
The world of ramen is not limited to a single variety, ramen is made in many ways and each with its own distinct flavour. Ramen, as we know is a noodle soup; the noodles are made from wheat flour and accompanied by a flavorful broth with different toppings.
Table of Contents
- 1 What differentiates Ramen bowl types?
- 2 Regional Ramen Variations
- 3 Dry Preparation of Ramen
- 4 Supermarket Ramen
The soup flavours, types of broth, toppings differ depending upon the place and taste of the individual, and the list of variations is almost endless. The following article delves into the innumerable styles of ramen that are available from restaurants, households or supermarkets and this will help you to make a choice best suited to your taste buds.
What differentiates Ramen bowl types?
When you talk of ramen, the differentiating factors that assume importance include the basic noodles, broths, soup and the accompanying toppings.
It all begins with the basic ingredient, Noodles
Today is the age of standardisation and ramen noodles are prepared by machines; however, the basic noodles differ based on their alkaline content. This component decides the shape and colour of the noodles. The alkaline content is lent by ‘kansui’ which is alkaline mineral water. Depending upon the quantum of ‘kansui’, noodles are categorised into “Noodles with low alkaline content” and “Noodles with high alkaline content”.
- Low Alkaline: Noodles with low alkaline content are heavy in terms of texture, have an intense taste of the flour which is wheat flour in this case and have a greater tendency to get mushy faster. They are straight and relatively thinner as compared to the other variety and usually better for soaking up the broth.
- High Alkaline: On the other hand, noodles with high alkaline content have a rich yellow colour, are light and springier. They are thicker or wavy and have a unique taste that adds to the flavour of the dish. Chewier compared to the low alkaline version they are also easier to work with as they don’t get soggy quickly.
As for the question of which noodles are best suited to the soup preparations, the decision is best left to the ramen restaurant or store shop that sells you the noodles.
Followed by two basic broth bases
Ramen broths are normally made from chicken bones or pork bones or it can also be an inclusion of both elements. Salted tuna flakes or anchovy; both in dried form, fresh seafood are some other elements that are popularly used to constitute the broth. Two variations of the same are available depending upon the temperature at which the broth is cooked.
- Chintan Broth: Chintan broth is lighter, clearer and cooked at lower temperatures. Chicken, vegetables or seafood goes into its making. In many cases, this type of broth is combined with dashi. Dashi is a distinct basic soup made from kelp and bonito flakes.
- Paitan Broth: Paitan is a thicker, richer and opaque broth that gets its texture from the gelatin that is formed by boiling the meat at high temperatures for long periods. The collagen in the meat gets totally mixed into the stock to give it its opaque colour.
Ramen broth is sans salt and it is the seasoning or the flavour that gives it the distinct taste. Following are some of the flavours that make up the ramen.
Different broth seasonings
Broth seasoning is the critical savoury component of ramen however they vary in regions of Japan. In Sapporo, Hokkaido, miso-flavoured ramen is common while in the southern region of Kyushu they use pork bones to make the broth for ramen while Shio Ramen was inspired by the use of salt instead of soy sauce in traditional Chinese soups.
- Shio: One of the conventionally used flavours, the term ‘Shio’ in this soup flavour stands for salt. Since the basic flavouring agent is salt, Shio ramen is a little saltier than the other kinds. The soup is clear and light in colour.
- Shoyu: The term ‘Shoyu’ stands for soy sauce. Soy is used in place of salt, in this; the broth gets its flavour from the soy sauce. The soy sauce, however, differs from the regularly used soy sauce; it is a specially prepared sauce with closely guarded ingredients. The presence of soy sauce lends the soup a darker hue and a sweet taste.
- Miso: The Shoyu or Shio soup add to the flavour of the basic broth of your Ramen but in the case of Miso soup, the Miso paste serves as something more than being just an accentuating factor. Miso has a unique taste of its own and carries this to give the soup an additional taste. The colour of the soup is opaque in this case.
- Tonkotsu: The broth used to serve this type of ramen is the thick, opaque Paitan broth. This ramen is also known as Hakata ramen.
The ingredients of each region have become increasingly mixed while Yokohama is the home of shoyu-tonkotsu ramen.
Toppings to complete your ramen experience
A number of toppings varying from fresh vegetables, meat, sprouts etc. are used to complete your ramen and the combination eventually decides the level of your ramen experience. Listed below are some of the popularly used toppings that differentiate one ramen from the other.
- Scallions: Fine slices of green onions called scallions are one of the popularly used toppings.
- Eggs: Eggs are hard-boiled, marinated in soy sauce or mirin to enhance their taste and halves of each is added as one of the toppings.
- Sesame seeds: Sesame seeds add a fine crunch to the ramen.
- Fermented bamboo shoots: Fermented bamboo shoots or Menna as they are called help to lend a sweet and nutty flavour to the ramen.
- Bean sprouts: Another source to add crunch to your ramen are bean sprouts. They need to be stir-fried or blanched before adding them as a topping.
- Chasu: One more source of popular topping is Chasu. This comprises of pork loin recipe or fatty pork belly which is cooked in mirin or soy sauce till it gets soft.
- Nori: Dried seaweed or fine sheets of nori as it is called is another option.
- Benishoga: Vibrantly coloured pickled ginger is best combined with tonkatsu broth.
- Shiitake mushrooms: Shiitake mushrooms are often added to add depth to the taste of your ramen.
- Bok choy: The leafy cabbage is cut in quarters before adding to your ramen.
Other items that are popularly added as toppings include kikurage or wood mushroom, kakumi or simmered pork cubes, sweet corn kernels and butter.
Regional Ramen Variations
Ramen preparation is influenced a great deal by the region it belongs to. For example, when you talk of Miso flavour you connect it with the northern region of Hokkaido Island; while Tonkotsu is mainly associated with Kyushu Island in the southern part of Japan and Shoyu flavour comes from the central region of the Honshu Island. These are broad categorizations; within these, there are local variations that use local produce.
Given below are some of the regional variations of ramen that are known all over the country.
- Tokyo Style Ramen: The uniqueness of Tokyo style ramen is defined by its use of dashi mixed in chicken stock and Shoyu. The toppings that go into this ramen include an egg half, Chashu, Kamaboko, preserved bamboo shoots alongside chopped leak. In Yokohama, chicken is substituted with pork in the preparation of broth.
- Champion from Nagasaki: Champion specialty has become synonymous with Nagasaki’s Chinatown where it is a popular feature in almost every restaurant there. This ramen is characterized by the absence of Tonkotsu soup which otherwise is a common feature in entire Kyushu. Instead, special noodles go into the ramen that is simmered within the soup and served with stir-fried seafood, cabbage and pork.
Ramen Styles within the Kyushu Island
- Hakata Style Ramen: The origin of Tonkotsu style ramen can be traced to the Hakatadistrict lying in the city of Fukuoka, the largest city on Kyushu Island. The ramen served here acts as a benchmark for the Tonkotsu ramen. The toppings here include egg, Chashu, scallion, pickled ginger and sesame seeds.
- Kurume style Ramen: Kurume style ramen is very similar to the Hakata style. In fact, the Tonkotsu can be said to have originated from this style prior to it being revised into the Hakata style. The toppings in this ramen include dried seaweed and fried bits of pig lard. The soup has a more intense taste of pig meat.
- Kumamoto style Ramen: The Kumamoto region coming within the Kyushu area is similar to the above two areas which showcase the styles from the southern Kyushu Island. It includes the Tonkotsu which come with toppings of julienned leek and pickled ginger. Servings of simmered pork belly, fried garlic and the oil in which it was fried are a must for this style.
Ramen Styles Originating from Northern Islands
- Kitakata style Ramen: The flavour in this style of ramen comes from a shoyu soup that is quite unlike those served elsewhere and a pork broth combined with dried anchovies based dashi. The ramen originates from Kitakata based in Northern Honshu; an area that is said to have the maximum number of ramen shops around the globe. The ramen comprises flat noodles accompanied with a serving of fish cake, leek and a slice of pork belly.
- Sapporo style ramen: This style of ramen originates from Sapporo city which lies in northern Hokkaido Island. This is the region that gave the Miso flavoured ramen to the world. The soup was dished out in the year 1954 by chef Omiya based in the shop named Aji no Sanpei and today it has become one of the most loved flavoured ramens in the world. The soup is rich in texture and content, a form best suited for the Northern cold weather. Pork or chicken bones go into the broth and the richness comes from the red Miso paste. Hokkaido has large tracts of vegetable and dairy farms and the toppings for this soup, therefore, use the local produce which is available in abundance. Butter, leek, corn, roasted scallops go as toppings alongside seafood.
Tokushima/Wakayama Style Ramen
This style comes from Wakayama which lies on the key Island of Honshu and is a sub-variety of Tokushima style ramen. It comprises a rich brown coloured tonkutsu-shoyu soup and includes a serving of raw egg or a boiled runny-yolk egg.
There are some ramen styles that are not typical to any specific region. A couple of these are listed below:
- Ebi Ramen: Prawn heads are simmered in the meat stock giving the soup a reddish tint. In addition to the regular condiments, the soup includes sakura shrimp and shallots that are deep-fried.
- Torikotsu Ramen: The broth of this soup substitutes chicken instead of meat used in Tonkotsu style ramen. The chicken is simmered for a long time in the soup resulting in a heavy concentration of gelatin. This lends the soup a thick, milky hue and an intense meat flavour. The toppings include cabbage, fried shallots, scallions and a lemon wedge in some cases.
Dry Preparation of Ramen
Though ramen is synonymous with a flavoured broth there are a few dry preparations of ramen as well. Three such styles are listed below:
- Tsukemen: This type is known as Dipping Ramen as in this style the cooked noodles come in a dry form and this is served with a thick soup. Every spoonful of the noodles has to be dipped into the soup before eating and hence, the name of Dipping ramen is given to this style. The flavour of the soup is decided by the preparation dished out by the ramen shop. The noodles in this style are lukewarm rather than piping hot as in the above styles and this makes eating them easier.
- HiyashiChuka: Supposed to have originated from a Chinese restaurant this type of ramen is served in a chilled form. It is eaten alongside a sweet sauce and is said to be the best option in the summer months. The chilled form adds a refreshing and cool twist to the otherwise hot ramen during the sweltering months. It comprises cucumbers, omelette, ham and imitation crab sticks which go well in chilled form.
- Abura Ramen: This type of ramen comes very close to the popular Italian Pasta and combines the best of HiyashiChuka and Tsukemen styles. The toppings that normally go into this style include sliced scallion and diced charshu. The sauce is fortified with vinegar and oil and this forms the base within which the noodles are tossed together.
Last but not the least type is home-cooked ramen. The ramen packs are bought from the supermarket and you can pick your favourite choice after reading the packing contents. The packing will indicate the cooking instructions and a soup pouch will be included within the contents. You need to add the condiments and toppings of your choice.
On a Summarising Note
With such an interesting array of ramen styles, it can be quite difficult to decide which style you will like best especially for first-time eaters. The above article will offer some hints to make the best pick for the beginner getting initiated to the taste of this global favourite. Read more about ramen bowl history at wikipecia.org.