When Westerners hear the word ramen, the first thing they think of might be those dried noodles in a packet that we eat when there’s no food left in the pantry. Those instant noodles we know and love were originally made and distributed from Japan to resemble the very popular noodle soup that dates back hundreds of years. There are many variations of ramen throughout the country of Japan but they all have a base of some sort of meat or fish broth, chinese wheat noodles, and toppings.
The broth flavors are traditionally split up into four categories Tonkotsu (“pork bone” broth), Shōyu (“soy sauce” in chicken and vegetable broth), Shio (“salt” with a combination of chicken, vegetable, and seaweed broth), Miso (large amount of miso in a chicken or fish broth, and Karē (“curry” in a pork and vegetable broth). First, choose your broth base. Then, choose the firmness of your noodles, and finish with toppings. Seaweed, green spring onion, chashu (braised pork), flavored soft boiled egg, bamboo shoots, pickled mustard leaves, red pickled ginger, and chili oil are some of the common toppings choices. You can even order a refill of noodles at most places.
Many restaurants, depending on which area of Japan you are visiting, will only offer the specialty ramen
for their prefecture. For example, in the Wakayama prefecture they call ramen chuka soba and what you will get is a bowl of tonkotsu-shoyu ramen, two popular ramen broth flavors combined together with very thin, straight noodles and topped with scallions and naruto fish cake.
Now, every ramen restaurant is different from each other but this general information will help you order a tasty soup on your travels. Some restaurants use vending machines for ordering but others have forms (that come in English as well) to help you in the ordering process.
Things to Note
Slurping is encouraged, it helps cool the noodles and allows you to experience the full taste of the ramen. Also, It is considered rude if you don’t finish your noodles so make sure you don’t order extra noodles if you aren’t hungry enough to finish!
Our ramen recommendations would firstly be Sapporo’s Ganso Ramen Yokocho (Japan’s original ramen alley). It is the birthplace of miso ramen and where you will find an alley lined with different delicious ramen restaurants. Another favorite that we bring some of our escorted tours on is Meno, located in the Tokushima Station, which is a real local favorite. A Tokyo favorite, close to the Nogata train station, is Nogata Hope. You won’t go wrong though, popping into any local ramen shop along your travels in Japan. It’s a must-try experience in our opinion!