- -Basic information about ramen including answers of frequently asked questions-
- -About ramen-
- -7 basic ramen flavors-
- -Ramen Topping-
- -How to order ramen-
- -How to eat ramen-
- -Local special ramen in Japan-
- 1. Sapporo ramen(札幌ラーメン) in Hokkaido
- 2. Asahikawa ramen(旭川ラーメン) in Hokkaido
- 3. Hakodate ramen(函館ラーメン) in Hokkaido
- 4.Tsugaru ramen(津軽ラーメン) in Aomori
- 5. Kitakata ramen(喜多方ラーメン) in Fukushima
- 6. Shirakawa ramen(白河ラーメン) in Fukushima
- 7. Tokyo ramen(東京ラーメン) in Tokyo
- 8. Yokohama-style ramen(横浜家系ラーメン) in Kanagawa
- 9. Kyoto ramen(京都ラーメン) in Kyoto
- 10.Wakayama ramen(和歌山ラーメン) in Wakayama
- 11.Onomichi ramen(尾道ラーメン) in Hiroshima
- 12. Hiroshima ramen(広島ラーメン) in Hiroshima
- 13. Tokushima ramen(徳島ラーメン) in Tokushima
- 14. Hakata ramen(博多ラーメン) in Fukuoka
- 15. Kurume ramen(久留米ラーメン) in Fukuoka
Ramen are considered to be a national dish of Japan and are very popular among international travelers.
There is a wide variety of ramen and there is a countless number of ramen shops too.
In this feature, I have put together useful information when you eat ramen in Japan, including what are ramen, how to eat them, and how to order them.
-Basic information about ramen including answers of frequently asked questions-
Since Japanese ramen are very deep, it is very difficult to explain them.
As I have eaten more than 100 ramen every year, I’m going to explain basic information and answer frequently asked questions about ramen including my point of view.
There are many noodle dishes besides ramen in Japan, such as udon (wheat flour noodles) and soba (buckwheat flour noodles). The key difference between ramen and other noodles is that ramen consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles.
Kansui, a type of alkaline mineral water, is used to make these Chinese-style noodles.
By adding Kansui, Chinese-style noodles have a unique flavor and color different from those of udon and soba.
Although, ramen noodles of quite a small number of shops or areas are made without Kansui, strictly speaking, noodles without Kansui are categorized as udon under Japanese food regulations.
In that sense, noodles are the most important ingredient for ramen.
While many people are usually fascinated by ramen broth, please pay attention to the taste of noodles too.
-7 basic ramen flavors-
In this section, I’m going to explain different types of ramen flavor.
Some ramen don’t apply to these types so please consider these types to be general.
1. Shoyu (Soy sauce-based) Ramen
Shoyu ramen is the most common ramen in Japan.
The first ramen shop in Japan, which was located in Asakura, Tokyo 100 years ago, offered shoyu ramen.
It is made with soy sauce based sauce and broth extracted from pork, chicken, and seafood. Soy sauce based sauce and broth vary depending on the shop or the area.
Therefore, there are various flavors of shoyu ramen in Japan.
Ramen provides a quite different impression depending on noodles when you eat it.
2. Shio (Salt-based) ramen
Shio usually offers a light flavor.
Unlike shoyu or miso ramen, shio ramen has a clear color and a plain flavor. Its broth is also clear so that it looks transparent.
Compared to shoyu or miso ramen, it brings the best out of ingredients. Therefore, shio ramen cannot trick people with its taste.
Recently, you can often find shio ramen with rich flavor, such as shio dare (salt-based sauce),or broth with plenty of umami.
3. Miso ramen
Although the number of ramen shops offering miso ramen are less than that of shoyu and shio, miso ramen is also popular among Japanese people.
Miso ramen in Sapporo, Hokkaido makes a large contribution to this.
Its unique flavor is created by being sautéed miso, vegetables, and broth together in a wok at a high temperature.
You can see ample of lard floating on its surface. This lard not only makes its rich flavor but also works to prevent the broth from getting cold like a lid.
4. Tonkotsu (Pork bone-based) ramen
Tonkotsu ramen is especially popular in Kyushyu.
It usually has thick and cloudy white broth made by simmering pork bones for a long time. Its thickness and flavor varies depending on the simmering time and pork part.
Thin noodles are its unique feature too. Since its noodle portion is relatively small, many shops in Kyushu, especially in Hakata, Fukuoka, introduce Kaedama system, which customers can order just another serving of noodles.
Garlics are often used as a seasoning in Tonkotsu ramen in Kyushu. That is another unique feature too.
5.Toripaitan (white chicken broth) ramen
Toripaitan ramen is thick and creamy white broth made by simmering chicken for a long time. Its appearance is similar to tonkotsu ramen but its flavor is totally different.
While some tonkotsu ramen have unique peculiar smell depending on the shop or the area, toripaitan ramen rarely have such smell.
Compared to tonkotsu ramen, toripaitan ramen is easy to eat so that it is more likely to be favorable to everyone.
Tsukemen is to eat noodles by dipping them into sauce served separately like zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles with dipping sauce).
While ramen is usually being served with freshly boiled noodles in a hot broth, tsukemen is being served with cold noodles and its sauce separately. Freshly boiled noodles are cooled in a cold water before being served.
Noodles are its main ingredient so that noodles used for tsukemen are usually thick and its portion is relatively large.
In addition, its sauce usually has a relatively thick and rich flavor so that it’s presence doesn’t lose that of noodles.
Therefore, you can find soup wari system, which you can dilute this thick sauce with another broth and drink it after finishing noodles.
Abura soba is simply noodles without broth. It is also called “Shirunashi (without broth)”and “Maze soba (mixed noodles)”.
You might feel strange to consider Abra soba to be ramen because it doesn’t have broth. However, this is widely accepted in Japan.
Its unique feature is to coat small portion of sauce with noodles. It is recommended to mix sauce with noodles before eating because sauce is easily to be stuck to the bottom.
Surprisingly, contrary to is name as Abura (oil), it has lower calories than other ramen as it doesn’t have broth.
There are actually a wide range of ramen toppings. These toppings vary depending on the ramen type and the area. I’m going to introduce classic ramen toppings here.
It was originally pork chunks coated with sauce and grilled. This is one of essential toppings for ramen.
Nowadays, Char siu also include those made from other meat such as chicken in the ramen industry.
Furthermore, there are quiet differences in meat parts making Char siu, seasonings,and cooking methods, depending on the shop and the area.
Especially recently, juicy, colorful Char using sous vide method can be seen at many shops. This method is often used in French cuisine.
Menma is steamed bamboo shoots marinated with salt and fermented. It is a unique topping for ramen that you cannot find in others noodles such as udon and soba.
Although thick and firm manma is classic, nowadays, you can often see manma made from tender shoots within a few inches of the top.
Besides ramen topping, Mamma is very popular for finger food going well with alcohols. It is also recommended to eat mamma with beer before eating ramen.
Nori is seaweed hung to dry in the sun. In Japan, it is one of traditional ingredients that are used in sushi.
Nori has a unique aroma and is rich in nutrients and umami components.
Combining nori umami with broth umami makes ramen flavor richer.
However, nori flavor might disturb flavor of some types of ramen broth. Therefore, it is not rare to see ramen without nori.
Negi (green long onion)(ねぎ)
Negi has unique aroma and spiciness. That goes well with ramen.
As it is usually served as condiments, it is not an essential ingredient for ramen. However, you can sometime see ramen with plenty of negi served as a main ingredient.
Types of negi using in ramen differ depending on the area. For example, while white negi is often used in eastern Japan such as Tokyo, green negi is used in western Japan, such as Kyoto and Osaka.
The areas where negi is regarded as a local specialty, many shops there use local brand negi in ramen.
Ajitama is eggs cooked with soy and other seasonings.
Ramen usually doesn’t include ajitama. You need to add it for an additional cost.
While soy sauce is commonly used to make its sauce, you can sometime see the sauce made with salt or miso.
Although many shops serve soft-boiled eggs, some long-established shops offer completely boiled eggs.
-How to order ramen-
There are roughly two ways when ordering ramen in Japan.
One is to tell your order to the staff from the menu.
The other is to select your order and buy a ticket on the ticket machine.
-How to eat ramen-
In Japan, it is common that people slurp when eating noodles including ramen, udon, and soba.
According to the data, slurping noodles will make noodles coat well with broth or make broth flavor more noticeable.
The best way is to slurp noodles quickly as if you entered air together with noodles into your mouth.
International visitors might to feel strange to slurp noodles. Don’t hesitate to slurp and eat them dynamically.
We don’t have any rules other than these above.
You can decide what you will eat first, noodles, broth, or toppings.
-Local special ramen in Japan-
There are a variety of ramen in Japan and you can find local ramen that are popular in particular areas.
Many these ramen are closely related to the climate and history of the area. Therefore, it will be fun to take this opportunity to check the stories behind them.
I cannot introduce you all local ramen so I have selected some of very famous local special ramen form the north, Hokkaido, to the south, Kyushu.
1. Sapporo ramen(札幌ラーメン) in Hokkaido
Sapporo ramen is one of the most famous local special ramen in Japan.
Sautéed vegetables and meat are sautéed in a wok, added broth over it, and heated at a high temperature for a finishing.
Each shop usually offers three different flavors: soy sauce, salt, and miso. However, miso ramen is the most famous among them.
Its rich, thick broth with some spices comes with ample of lard floating on top. This will create its rich flavor as well as keep the broth from getting cool like a lid.
This clever idea is unique to Hokkaido, where it is very cold in winter.
Sapporo ramen usually have medium thick, twisted noodles. These noodles are often used after being mature.
2. Asahikawa ramen(旭川ラーメン) in Hokkaido
Asahikawa ramen is equally as popular as Sapporo ramen in Hokkaido.
Unlike Sapporo ramen, it usually has soy sauce-based broth. However, many shops offer salt or miso-based broth too.
Compared to Sapporo ramen, Asahikawa ramen can be described as a simple ramen.
Its broth is often called as double soup, which is combined animal stock such as pork bone with seafood stock such as dried sardines. It has relatively strong taste.
Like Sapporo ramen, it comes with plenty of lard so that the broth won’t easily get cold.
Asahikawa ramen has twisted noodles containing less water. Therefore, they will absorb the broth well.
3. Hakodate ramen(函館ラーメン) in Hokkaido
Hakodate ramen is another famous ramen in Hokkaido along with Sapporo and Asahikawa.
While miso and soy sauce based ramen are popular in Sapporo and Assahikawa respectively, salt-based ramen is popular in Hakodate.
It is rare that the salt-based ramen is a local specialty among many local ramen across Japan.
Salt-based ramen in Hakodate has a very light flavor and contains less oil. You can often find completely clear broth on the bottom of the bowl when taking the noodles out of the bowl.
Although Hakodate is located near the ocean, strangely, there are few ramen shops using seafood. Many shops use broth made from pork born and chicken simmered over a low heat for a long time.
4.Tsugaru ramen(津軽ラーメン) in Aomori
Aomori is located on the northernmost of Honshu. Tsugaru ramen is a local special ramen here.
Its distinctive feature is using niboshi* in the broth. Locals love niboshi. It is not rare to see ramen in a Japanese soba shop here.
When it comes to niboshi ramen, there are a wide range of it, ranging from light flavor and easy to eat to strong niboshi flavor that makes a strong impression.
Actually, there are various niboshi ramen in Aomori. Please try different ramen and compare them when you visit Aomori.
*Niboshi: small fish is boiled in salt water and dried.
5. Kitakata ramen(喜多方ラーメン) in Fukushima
Kitakata city in Fukushima is the top in Japan when it comes to the number of ramen shops per population.
Many ramen shops open in the morning and not a few people eat ramen for breakfast and off to work.
Even some shops offering food and drinks but not a ramen shop has ramen on the menu. Ramen is closely related to the life of people in Kitakata.
Kitakata has rich source of good quality water. Ramen is made with this water. Thick noodles with high water content are usually used.
Soy sauce-based ramen is the most popular. However, some shops offer salt or miso based ramen.
It has relatively a large portion of noodles or Char siu. Large servings are one of unique features of Kitakata ramen.
6. Shirakawa ramen(白河ラーメン) in Fukushima
Shirakawa ramen is another famous local special ramen in Fukushima, besides Kitakata ramen.
Tora Shokudo, which is still very popular, is said to be the birthplace of Shirakawa ramen. Chefs who leant about ramen there opened a own shop. As a result, Shirakawa ramen becomes widely known.
Its most unique feature is wide, twisted noodles.
Many ramen shops along with Tora Shokudo offer homemade, wide, twisted noodles. Its broth is clear and soy sauce-based.
It has stronger taste than Kitakata.
But, recently fewer shops offer homemade noodles.
7. Tokyo ramen(東京ラーメン) in Tokyo
Although there are currently countless types of ramen in Tokyo, traditional Tokyo ramen, which has unchanged since the old times, still exist here.
Classic soy sauce-based ramen is regarded as Tokyo ramen. This is the most standard one among soy sauce-based ramen across Japan.
To make Tokyo ramen, clear broth made from pork or chicken is blended with Japanese-style stock extracted from niboshi.
Sauce made from soy sauce is added to this blended broth, and then twisted noodles are placed into the broth. These noodles are coated well with the broth. For toppings, negi, Char siu, menma, and nori are usually used. Most of these toppings are common in ramen too.
8. Yokohama-style ramen(横浜家系ラーメン) in Kanagawa
Yoshimuraya in Yokohama is the birthplace of Yokohama-style ramen.
Nowadays, you can find Yokohama ramen across Japan, not only in Yokohama. It is very unusual that the style of one ramen shop became popular in such wide area.
Typical Yokohama-style ramen includes rich soy sauce-based broth made from pork born and thick noodles, and spinach, three sheets of nori and Char siu for toppings.
Another unique feature is that you can order your favorite firmness of noodles, richness of its flavor, and quantity of oil.
Yokohama ramen goes well with rice, so please enjoy rice together with Yokohama-style ramen.
9. Kyoto ramen(京都ラーメン) in Kyoto
Although many people don’t think there is ramen in Kyoto, ramen culture actually exists here.
Surprisingly, you can find many very rich and thick soy sauce-based ramen here. These ramen are totally different from the impression of delicate food culture of Kyoto where plays key role in Japanese cuisine.
The photo is ramen at Shinpukusaikan, one of the most famous long-established shops in Kyoto.
This is a pioneer of Kyoto ramen that has been offered until now.
Later, soy sauce-based ramen made from chicken carcass with lard floating on top or ramen with super rich broth are came out.
Some shops became so popular that they could open other shops across Japan. These shops are leading ramen culture in Kyoto.
10.Wakayama ramen(和歌山ラーメン) in Wakayama
Wakayama is located south of Osaka. It has local special ramen too.
There are roughly two types: soy sauce-based ramen with a relatively light flavor and with a rich flavor of pork bone broth. The ramen on the photo is the latter.
Although it has a rich and thick flavor, it is not greasy. It has surprisingly mild flavor and easy to eat.
It is common that mackerel sushi called Hayazushi are placed on the table. It is a unique custom of Wakayama.
Customers usually eat them while waiting for ramen. Hayazushi goes well with ramen.
Servings of Wakayama ramen is relatively small. Therefore, this sushi will compensate its small serving.
11.Onomichi ramen(尾道ラーメン) in Hiroshima
Onomichi ramen is a famous local ramen offering around Onomishi city in Hiroshima.
But, actually it is very hard to exactly define Onomichi ramen.
It is usually common that it has soy sauce-based broth with lard and medium thin noodles.
Syukaen, the most famous ramen shop in Onomishi, doesn’t use any seafood. However, most shops use seafood in Onomichi ramen.
That makes difficult to define Onomichi ramen.
How to serve lard vary depending on the shop such as fried or seasoned ones.
12. Hiroshima ramen(広島ラーメン) in Hiroshima
Although it is not as famous as Onomichi ramen, another local special ramen in Hiroshima is Hiroshima ramen.
Compared to soy sauce-based broth of Hiroshima ramen, Onomichi ramen has cloudy white made from pork bones.
Despite its appearance, its broth surprisingly has a light and mild flavor so that it is easy to eat.
I think this is because chicken and vegetables are added in the broth besides pork bones.
Most Hiroshima ramen have thin noodles and firmly boiled. This feature is similar to Hakata ramen.
13. Tokushima ramen(徳島ラーメン) in Tokushima
There are three types of Tokushima raman depending on the broth color. Brown broth is especially popular among them.
It has rich and thick broth made from pork bones with a strong flavor of soy sauce and soft medium thin noodles.
Overall, it has sweet and hot taste.
It usually has pork ribs instead of Char siu. They go well with rice.
It is not rare that placing raw egg into Tokushima ramen with brown broth.
Raw egg goes perfectly well with the broth.
14. Hakata ramen(博多ラーメン) in Fukuoka
When it comes Tonkotsu ramen, many people think of Hakata ramen.
Hakata ramen is one of the most famous local special ramen in Japan.
Its unique feature is cloudy white broth made from pork bones simmered for a long time and super thin noodles.
Its taste differs depending on the part of pork bones or the simmering time, which creates uniqueness of each shop.
As its noodles are very thin and easy to become too soft, it is common to offer a small portion of noodles and customers can order only another portion of noodles with Kaedama system.
You can find unusual toppings compared to other local ramen including wood ear mushroom, white sesame seeds, and red pickled ginger. (These toppings are placed on the table and you can usually add them for free.)
15. Kurume ramen(久留米ラーメン) in Fukuoka
Kurume ramen is said to make great influence on ramen across Kyushu such as Hakata ramen in Fukuoka, the same city of Kurume.
Nankinsenryo in Kurume is the first ramen shop in Kyushu. The shop still has many fans until now.
Although its broth has a wide range of thickness, I feel that many shops offer ramen with a thicker flavor and stronger aroma than that of Hakata.
It has relatively thick noodles not to reduce their flavor with the thick broth. One of its uniqueness is that many shops don’t offer a Kaedama system.
I have introduced basic information about Japanese ramen. Please refer to this information when you eat Japanese ramen.