Ramen (ラーメン) is without a doubt the most popular and well-known noodle dish in Japan (日本). Funnily though, it is actually originally from China and was brought over and adapted to Japanese taste.
It’s a soup-based dish, unlike the noodle dishes that you know from Italy and the likes.
There are 3 major reasons Ramen is as popular as it is:
Variety, Availability and Price.
People usually differentiate between 4 main types of soup for a Ramen dish which I will cover shortly. Additionally, there are many different toppings available, some of which you can add as you like depending on the restaurant.
In its rise in popularity, virtually every little town in all of Japan has multiple Ramen restaurants spread out. You will never struggle to find one, I promise. You could think of it as something like a McDonald’s in Western countries, although more fun and healthier of course. But you’re sure to find SOMETHING to eat should you ever be lost on that topic.
Lastly, Ramen is super cheap. It’s the perfect meal for budget travelers looking to get around on the low (and there are quite a lot of those I heard, traveling is pretty expensive after all). Your typical bowl of Ramen will usually cost between 900 and 1,100 Yen (7,26€/$8.26 to 8,87€/$10), depending on the type.
There are of course more exquisite options for bigger budgets, but I find the cheap ones do the trick just fine.
And there you have it, the tri-factor of a popular dish.
Let me give you a rundown on the 4 different types of soups there are:
This type of soup is based on soy sauce and is easily the most common type. It’s a clear, brown soup that is usually made with a chicken broth along with the soy sauce. Other types of meat are also possible, as well as fish in some regions.
Miso Ramen is based on soybean paste and has a thicker and darker broth compared to Shoyu. The miso gives it a very distinct, rich flavor that might not be for everyone (I am one of those people :D). It originated in Hokkaido (北海道) but can be found all over Japan.
This soup has a salt base and is the lightest out all of the options available. It is clear and generally looks similar to Shoyu Ramen. Shio Ramen also usually comes with a chicken-based broth.
Tonkotsu is originally from Kyushu (九州) and is based on pork bone. This makes it the thickest of the 4 with a touch of creaminess to it.
That marks all 4! Be sure to go ahead and try every single one to see which one you like best!
As I mentioned before, there is a whole lot of toppings one can add to their bowl of Ramen:
This is one of the most common ones which is the thinly sliced pork belly. You usually get one or two pieces with pretty much any bowl. In some restaurants you can pay extra to have more slices added.
Moyashi are bean sprouts that are mixed up on top of the noodles, either raw or cooked. Maybe you have heard of some of the Monster Ramen bowls that you can get in some places (Akihabara (秋葉原) for example). These usually come with a ton of bean sprouts on top which probably fill your stomach before you even get to the noodles. 😀
This is your usual hard- or soft-boiled egg, sometimes cut in half.
Negi means “onion” in Japanese and is a staple in almost every Ramen type. Most commonly used are either green onions or leeks which are chopped into small pieces. For lovers of spicy food there is also the “Karanegi” which is available at some places.
Kamaboko are these sawtooth edged white pink thingies that everyone always wonders about. It is actually steamed fish cake.
This is normal corn which is sometimes added to the side of the bowl.
Lastly, some Ramen places serve butter with their meals. I have personally never eaten one of these but they’re probably very good!
That rounds up all the common toppings that you will find in Japan!
I’m sure there are some specialty restaurants where you can have even more toppings, so be on the lookout!
As already stated above, you can find a Ramen restaurant in pretty much any Japanese city no matter the size. Speaking of size, most Ramen places are of the smaller kind and have a very homely, local feel to it.
Not to say that there aren’t any bigger ones out there! You can find fancier ones if you look hard enough, but the majority is on the cuter side.
In some Ramen restaurants, you do not order your meal from staff or a waiter but rather buy a ticket at a vending machine near the entrance. You can choose from all available types, put in the money and hand the ticket to the staff afterwards.
The only disadvantage here is that most of these machines (especially older ones) do not accept credit or debit cards. Japan is generally still very cash-based so you should always carry around a couple 1000 Yen if possible.
After you handed over your ticket, your bowl of Ramen will be prepared and handed to you shortly (they are quick!).
Enjoying your favorite noodle dish is not hard at all. You’ll get your usual chopsticks accompanied by a spoon for the soup (you could probably eat it with a fork if you’re not good with chopsticks).
You might have heard that it is common in Japan for people to slurp their noodles, a.k.a. make audible noise while eating Ramen, soba (蕎麦), etc. This is mostly true, you’ll see it more often than not.
It’s certainly something to get used to at first but it’s manageable I promise. It’s actually way easier to eat Ramen that way because you don’t have to be careful to not make any noises and such. I find it quite enjoyable.
Ramen and Cup Noodle Museum
There are some Ramen related attractions in Japan, mainly the Ramen and Cup Noodle museums in Yokohama (横浜) and Osaka (大阪).
The Ramen Museum in Yokohama walks you through the history of Ramen and lets you taste a variety of Ramen dishes on the premise. Yokohama’s Cup Noodle Museum does a similar thing with Cup Noodles, displaying all varieties ever created.
In addition, you can design your own cup for an additional fee as well as create your own noodles even (for the latter you need an advance reservation though)!
You can enjoy a similar experience in Osaka’s Cup Noodle museum in Western Japan.
Overall, I think it’s a very fun thing to do especially if you’re a fan of the dish (who isn’t? :D)
To conclude, Ramen is amazing.
I highly encourage you to try as many types and different combinations of toppings as possible to get the full experience. If you have the time and money to spare, maybe try to eat at a fancier place as well to get a comparison.
It’s amazing how this dish brings together local vibes from all over the country, combined in the regional varieties. Its cheap price and vast availability make it a no-brainer for every kind of traveler.
And that’s it for Ramen, I hope you enjoyed it!
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In my next post, I am going to take a look at Sapporo’s (札幌) New Chitose Airport!