Do you like ramen?
I love ramen, a little bowl of heaven🤤 I mean who wouldn’t love a little heaven, right!?
I have been living in Australia for almost 2 years and I have tasted ramen many times pretty much everywhere in Sydney, Perth, and Brisbane. I am not some kind of food critic who says “ramen in Australia is completely different from the ones in Japan and it’s not ramen at all”. Most of the ramen shops I have been to were owned by Japanese people. Aside from their techniques of making ramen, they are ramen and delicious. But, it feels somewhat different.
There are four main flavors; Shoyu, Shio, Miso, and Tonkotsu in Australia. However, there are so many types of ramen in Japan. I personally love Yokohama Iekei Ramen which originates from the Yokohama area. Yokohama Iekei means Yokohama family-style.
I have many friends who love ramen. But they only know a few things about it and I was correcting them until today. So, I will explain the types of ramen that you should try in Japan!
*I may talk about ramen from my perspective and mainly my favorite ramen will be introduced. So there might be a lot of my bias towards ramen but, bear with me.
Ramen is not from Japan
Even though ramen is extremely popular in Japan, ramen is not originally from japan at all. It is actually Chinese influenced. Ramen shops were popular in both China and Japan in the early 1900s, as well as ramen was called Chinese soba in Japan until the 50s. Many Chinese came to three major ports in Japan; Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagasaki. Therefore, they formed Chinatown and started providing cheap and quick meal options for non-wealthy people.
After many years, ramen has changed its style to more expensive and luxurious food and has been enjoyed by many people that even they line up outside the ramen shop for hours for a bowl of ramen. In order to become skilled ramen chefs, they have to study and practice how to make ramen for many years under a ramen master.
Anyone can open their own ramen shop however, with so many competitors, only a few ramen chefs can be successful. That is why ramen you eat in Japan tastes so exclusive compared to the ones in Australia or the USA.
4 Basic Types of Ramen
Shoyu means soy sauce in Japanese.
If you have eaten ramen, you probably have consumed Shoyu Ramen. Shoyu Ramen is one of 4 basic types of Japanese ramen.
Shoyu Ramen consists of soy sauce-based soup, flavored oil, noodle of choice, and toppings. The name of Shoyu Ramen comes from its soup which is Shoyu.
Shoyu Ramen was very popular in the 70s and 80s in Japan that most tv dramas that portray those eras have scenes where a poor father and his daughter eating one bowl of Shoyu Ramen at a food cart. Probably because of those images and actually my father’s favorite flavor is Shoyu Ramen, whenever I have Shoyu Ramen I feel nostalgic and think about my family.
It is usually made from pork or chicken broth or both mixed. the soup stock is made with various veggies. If the ramen uses niboshi broth with konbu stock, it’s called Niboshi Ramen. Niboshi is dried sardines and this type of ramen is categorized as Gyokai-Kei (Gyo means fish in Japanese).
Common toppings are Menma (sliced bamboo), Chashu (Japanese braised pork), Nori, and Naruto (you know what Naruto means).
I do not normally choose Shoyu Ramen since it tastes quite boring. It seems to me that any ramen shops make the same quality of ramen when it comes to the Shoyu. Therefore, if I was not in the famous ramen shop and did not have many options to choose from, I would simply go for Shoyu Ramen because you can never go wrong with Shoyu Ramen.
Shio means salt in Japanese.
Shio Ramen has a salt-based soup. It is considered the lightest in terms of the flavor of the soup among the 4 types of ramen as the soup looks cristal clear. It has a tendency to have a delicate taste since it’s just salt and broth and shows the flavor of the broth.
Shio Ramen has a very thin and simple taste. yet, you will feel the flavor of the broth very much depending on the types of it such as chicken, pork, and seafood. Therefore, this is where the ramen chef can show off his skill, making the most of the original taste of the ingredients.
Common toppings are Chashu, Green Onions, Menma, and Moyashi (bean sprouts).
I do not usually eat it since it can be a risky choice. If you studied before going to the ramen shop, that wouldn’t be a problem. But, if you were not sure then you’d better go with Shoyu or other types of ramen.
Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans, commonly used in Japanese dishes such as Miso Soup. Miso Ramen is a miso-based soup, typically made from chicken broth or pork stock, or seafood stock mixed with miso seasoning.
Miso Ramen has a distinctive umami flavor which you can feel the minute you put it in your mouth. This thick paste has a sweet but savory flavor which makes you come back for more!
Common toppings are Chashu, Corns, Butter, Moyashi, Nori, Wakame, and Green Onion.
I like Miso Ramen the most among the 4 types and usually go for the miso if there are only 4 types of ramen to pick from. It is more interesting than Shoyu and Shio for me and I have never met really bad miso ramen. Although my father is a big fan of Shoyu and Shio so, it really is your preference.
Tonkotsu means pork bones.
If you are a ramen lover, you must have tasted or at least heard of Tonkotsu ramen. It is, without doubt, the most popular flavor among all 4 ramen.
The main feature of Tonkotsu ramen is its very rich, thick, and cloudy soup due to how pork bones are cooked for very long hours (up to a few days) in super high heat until every part of pork bones are melted into the soup. Therefore, the soup has a lot of umami and creaminess which come from fat and gelatin melted from the bones.
Tonkotsu Ramen is especially popular in Hakata, Kyushu area since it is where Tonkotsu Ramen was born in the first place. There are many Hakata Ramen shops in Tokyo but people who come from the Kyushu area do not accept those in Tokyo. Although it is delicious to me, somehow it tastes less authentic to Kyushu people just like you complain about your food when you try them in a different country.
Some Ramen-Tsu (people who admire ramen) would fly to Hakata just for Tonkotsu Ramen and come back home on the same day.
There are many types of Tonkotsu Ramen depending on where they are made from. For example, Tonkotsu Ramen made in Kumamoto is called Kumamoto Ramen, and the ones made in Kurume are called Kurume Ramen. I guess you get the point
Hakata Ramen is very popular in Australia as well since Hakataya Ramen and Ippudo expanded their branches in Australia. You may have noticed that noodles used for Hakata ramen are very thin and you can choose the level of hardness of your noodle.
Common toppings are Chashu, Menma, Green Onions, Moyashi, Seaweed, and Ajitama (seasoned boiled egg). They also like to put Gari which is pink-colored pickled ginger.
Some people really like it but some don’t since Tonkotsu Ramen has a strong porky smell.
Regional Varieties of Ramen
Yokohama Iekei Ramen
I explained a little bit of my passion for Yokohama Iekei Ramen in the introduction that I love Yokohama Iekei Ramen.
Yokohama Iekei Ramen is ramen that originated from the Yokohama area and means Yokohama family-style. The reason why Yokohama Ramen is called Iekei is that the first one who made the ramen named his ramen shop Yoshimura-ya (ya means ie). Therefore, whoever opened their ramen shop in Yokohama must have learned from Yoshimura-san and their name became “Iekei”.
Iekei is a blend of two ramen genres; Tonkotsu and Shoyu. The main feature of its super thick, rich, and creamy pork bone soup is something that makes you want to finish the soup even though you know it’s not healthy.
Common toppings are Chashu, Nori, Spinach, Ajitama.
Especially, Nori and Spinach are the toppings that you should extra order with. They absorb the rich soup well that makes you go to heaven. I always get extra Nori and Spinach rather than Chashu. It is the fact that among all ramen, Iekei is the only ramen I completely drink soup. I say to my friends that “I put the last drop of the soup on my nose that I can enjoy it while I am going home”…
It is true, I do it all the time.
One of the ways you can enjoy Yokahama Iekei Ramen is to find your style from many options. Usually, Iekei Ramen shops ask you for the level of hardness of your noodles, the amount of oil, and the thickness of the soup. I ordinarily, order everything normal or extra oil. There are usually complementary minced garlic, ginger, chili oil, and sesame on the table but, I strongly suggest adding them after you’ve tasted your ramen.
Many shops also provide free rice which goes very well with the ramen. I like to soak Nori and Spinach in the soup, put them on the rice with Chashu and Ajitama, and make myself a little Donburi. Just the thought of it makes my mouth water…
My last meal before I left Japan was Iekei Ramen and when I came back to Japan from Cebu for the first time in 15 months, the first meal was also Iekei Ramen.
There are many great Yokohama Iekei Ramen shops in Tokyo and the other prefectures, you should try one if you visit Japan!
Sapporo Miso Ramen
Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido which is the northernmost prefecture in Japan. Hokkaido is a little island where more natures welcome you than buildings and crowded people like in Tokyo.
Hokkaido is known for its abundance of seafood because the cold sea surrounding Hokkaido attracts delicious high-quality fish and other seafood. Sadly, I cannot eat raw fish including sashimi and sushi, so that Sapporo Miso Ramen is the only thing I can enjoy in Hokkaido.
Miso Ramen is very popular in Hokkaido, especially, among locals. It is known that Miso Ramen was born due to its extremely cold and snowy winters. It tastes way better in the winter with thick wavy shaped noodles in a very rich creamy miso-base soup.
I have been to Sapporo twice and had Miso Ramen almost every day. Well, I basically had either ramen or tendon (tempura rice bowl) while my friends and family were enjoying sushi and stuff.
Sapporo is not the most popular destination when you travel to Japan. However, you can enjoy Sapporo Miso Ramen everywhere in Japan. If you love skiing or snowboarding, it would taste 10 times better after a few rides and you were starving. I would choose Sapporo Miso Ramen and Japanese Curry Rice.
Now let’s go to the other side of Japan. Unlike Hokkaido, Okinawa is a tropical island, located in the southwestern tip of Japan, and has a mild climate all year long.
Okinawa is like Hawaii in the USA!!! I have been there only a few times but loved how peaceful people are and the relaxing environments.
Okinawa Soba (although it is called soba, it is more like ramen noodles) is very different from what you imagine when you hear the word “ramen”.
The soup is made with dashi and it tastes closer to a typical udon soup. As you could imagine from the image above that the Okinawa Soba is very simple and has a taste of home that can bring back memories. Even though most of you who read this article are not Japanese, you can relate to us by feeling the taste of home.
Because the soup is less flavored, the common toppings will shine when you eat them together. Okinawa Soba is often called Soki Soba. Soki is pork spare ribs that are cooked in Okinawan rice brandy, Awamori until Soki is very tender. The combination of Soki and the Japanese dashi-based soup is just perfect. You can enjoy it pretty much everywhere in Tokyo if you like to explore more ramen.
Nagasaki is a city in the Kyushu area in Japan. You probably have heard of the Nagasaki story of World War Ⅱ.
Nagasaki Champon is not so much like ramen but, very traditional Japanese noodle dish in Nagasaki and has been enjoyed all over Japan. Champon means “put everything together” and therefore, Nagasaki Champon was made for poor students to fill their stomachs.
I have never been to Nagasaki however, I have been to Ringer Hut (a very famous Nagasaki Champon chain ramen shop) so many times. Especially, my mom loves Ringer Hut because she believes Nagasaki Champon is healthy. Although it is ramen, they put a lot of vegetables as one of the toppings and they claim “you can consume half the amount of recommended intake of vegetables for a day”.
The soup is very rich and thick, and a variety of toppings option is fun such as pork, seafood, and loads of veggies. If you come across a yellow signboard with R in the middle, you better just get inside and try one.
Tsukemen is not ramen but, it is my favorite Japanese dish and kind of ramen family. The Tsukemen soup and noodles are served in separate bowls.
Typically, the soup is thicker and richer than the ramen soup since you will have to dip the noodle into the soup, and eventually, the soup will taste weaker. The noodles are usually served cold and the soup is very hot and therefore, you will find the taste of the soup is a bit strong at first but will be well balanced as you go. That is why you may want to avoid dipping too much of the noodles into the soup at the beginning. Dipping the noodles halfway into the soup is recommendedand eat it as quickly as possible.
The main difference between Tsukemen and Ramen is that the noodles are served separately so the texture of the noodles will not change. After eating the noodles you can ask the chef to get you a dashi soup. Add the dashi soup to the Tsukemen soup to be more drinkable so you can thoroughly enjoy Tsukemen.
The picture above is one of my favorite Tsukemen shops called Kaminari. Whenever I come home, my friends would drive me for hours to get the Kaminari.
Mazesoba ( Abura Soba)
Mazesoba means mixed noodles in Japanese. It has been popular these days that ramen soup is replaced with a tare. Mazesoba is alternatively called Abura Soba and abura means oil in Japanese. So, Mazesoba is ramen without the soup. This soupless ramen got popular among university students due to its affordability and a quick and easy recipe.
Mazesoba is way easier to cook compared to the process of making a bowl of Tonkotsu ramen. It only requires mixing the right ingredients into a bowl and gently tossing the thick noodles on the sauce. As long as the recipe is great and the noodles are well prepared, anybody can make it even at home.
Common toppings are Chashu, Egg Yolk, Moyashi, and Fried Garlic. However, there are no rules, so get everything available and enjoy it!
Although Champon and Mazesoba technically have the same meaning in Japanese (Champon is a Nagasaki dialect), they are completely different things. When Mazesoba is served the sauce is underneath the noodles and the toppings, so you will have to make a big mess by flipping everything over to mix it all well. So, do not wear a white shirt!
I hope you liked my post. I think you noticed how much I love ramen especially, Yokohama Iekei Ramen! Unfortunately, there is no Iekei Ramen on Gold Coast… So I haven’t had it since I left Sydney. Hopefully, there is in Brisbane. If you know good ramen shops in QLD, please let me know!!!
Obviously, there is so much more about ramen you should know but I hope you can explore it by yourself in Japan. We have 47 prefectures in Japan and each prefecture with their small towns have its own ramen, we call it Gotochi Ramen.
There are well over 100 of them in Japan! For example, Sapporo city in Hokkaido’s gotochi ramen is obviously Sapporo Miso Ramen. Kitakata Ramen is Kitakata city’s gotochi ramen in Fukushima prefecture. It is so much fun to explore when I visit those local areas.
I will probably get Hakataya Ramen tomorrow.
If you have friends who love ramen like me, please take a moment and share this post with them. That means a lot to me!
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