Sunday, May 13, 2018 | 2 a.m.
It’s been a staple in American life since Japan exported Nissin Chicken Ramen in 1958. It greeted you when the school bus dropped you off to an empty house, and it nourished you throughout college. The warm, rich broth, long wheat noodles, soft-boiled egg, green onions and tender, pork belly were there for you, serving you comfort without judgment.
There are myriad versions of ramen and price points to suit everyone’s taste buds, ranging from a 29-cent Cup O’ Noodles to a $180 bowl of Manhattan noodles. Additionally, there are more than 30 types of ramen unique to different regions. Even though there are options, all ramen consists of three main ingredients: noodles, stock and the flavoring sauce.
Did you know?
Many chefs serve the noodles undercooked because they continue to soften in the broth. This is why the noodles are on the side when you order ramen takeout.
1. Noodles [Men]
Traditional ramen noodles are made from wheat flour, salt, water, sometimes eggs and baking soda-infused water called kansui, which tints the noodles yellow and creates their slippery, chewy texture. According to Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, noodles are categorized based on five criteria: thickness; percent of water used to make; the wave, shape or chijire; and color.
• Thin: Often used in lighter stocks.
• Thick: Often used in hearty stock.
• Wrinkled: Similar to those found in maruchan ramen and better suited for lighter stocks.
• Hirauchi: Wide, flat noodles often used in hearty stocks.
2. Stock [Shiru]
A Brief History of Ramen
• 1880s: Ramen begin its life in Japan after Chinese migrants from the Guangdong region worked in restaurants along the port city of Yokohama. These Chinese migrants served their noodle soup, la-mien, according to The Untold History of Ramen.
• 1910s: Japanese restaurants hired Chinese chefs, and their noodles became the basis for the hearty Japanese ramen made for blue-collar workers. It was sold as a popular street cart item.
• 1958: Instant ramen was invented and exported by Momofuku Ando after witnessing the famine of the 1940s. The first flavor was chicken. Initially, instant ramen cost more to buy than the street cart bowl of noodles and was considered a luxury item.
• 1971: Ando invented CupNoodles after seeing Americans crush his noodles in styrofoam cups at gas stations to heat them up.
The shiru, or broth, can be clear or cloudy, light or hearty. The shiru is made by simmering a combination of meat, seafood and vegetables. A shiru can be either kotteri [rich] or assari [light].
• Tonkotsu: A clear, light pork broth. It’s found at many restaurants and comes from ramen shops on Kyushu, a Japanese Island.
• Shio: A clear, thin chicken broth with extra salt. Traditional shops in Tokyo only use chicken in their shiru.
• Dashi: A seafood broth, the simplest using konbu [kelp] and katsuobushi [fish flakes] that are shaved from the body of a smoked and sun-dried bonito fish.
3. Flavoring sauce [Tare]
The most basic purpose of tare is to bring concentrated flavoring to the ramen. Often the concentrated flavor is saltiness, but other tares can bring umami, a savory taste, to the food. While there are some ramen shops that refrain from tare, many chefs make their own and keep the recipe guarded as a secret, according to NYU professor George Solt’s The Untold History of Ramen.
Below are the three main tares. Chefs often use these as a base and add more complex ingredients like sake, oils, garlic and spices.
• Salt [shio]: A salt-based tare. It’s the simplest one used and does not add umami.
• Soy sauce [shoyu]: Soy sauce tare is saltier than miso, but unlike shio, it adds umami to the dish.
• Fermented soybean paste [miso]: It’s less salty than shio or shoyu tares but adds umami.
The toppings vary as much as the millions of people who eat it. The most common options include:
Protein—fish cakes [naruto] or pork belly [chashu]; bamboo shoots; soft-boiled egg [ajitsuke tamago]; oils such as black garlic, spicy chili oils, butter, sesame; scallions; corn; seaweed; bean sprouts; and mushrooms.
How to make the perfect Ajitsuke Tamago
Ajitsuke tamago, or marinated, soft-boiled eggs, often top a steamy bowl of ramen, but they can be eaten as a snack as well.
Did you know?
Japan has three main museums dedicated to ramen: Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, the Cup Noodles Museum, and Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum.
• 6 to 8 eggs
• 1/2 cup soy sauce
• 1/2 cup mirin [rice wine]
• 1 cup water
Optional: 1/4 cup sugar; 1/2 cup sake
1. Mix the soy sauce, mirin and water.
2. Bring a pot of water to boil. Make sure there will be one inch of water above the eggs.
3. Turn the temperature to a simmer and submerge the eggs.
4. Cook the eggs for exactly seven minutes.
5. Give the eggs an ice bath for three minutes.
6. Peel the eggs and let them marinate in the soy sauce, mirin and water mixture overnight.