Ramen, one of the basic Japanese staple that is widely popular in Singapore. This simple, yet flavourful, dish is synonymous with Japanese culture, and both skill and experience are needed to produce its rich ramen broth. With a plethora of ramen restaurants in our food haven, we Singaporeans are no strangers to this Japanese dish. But just how many types of ramen are there? Variations of ramen are aplenty, so let’s start from the basic four!
Shio mean salt in Japanese; ramen noodles of this style are normally a little salty in flavour, and comes with a clear yellow broth made from fish, chicken, vegetables, or seaweed. Shio ramen can be served with a healthy serving of chashu (roast pork), seaweed nori sheet, scallion, and sliced ajitsuke tamago.
Shoyu is basically soy sauce in Japanese. But make no mistake; despite the name in the dish, shoyu is not the only ingredient used in the ramen broth. Soy sauce is added as flavouring, instead of salt, to the stock to make the soup base for the ramen dish. Shoyu ramen mainly has a dark clear soup with a slightly sweet taste to it.
Miso, also known as soybean paste, is also an ingredient for ramen broth. While shoyu or shio tends to lend a light, clear taste to the soup base, miso gives a thicker and richer mouth-feel. Since miso paste has a unique taste of its own, adding it to the soup broth creates a clash of flavours that creates a complex overall taste to the soup.
Tonkutsu, or pork, technically isn’t an additive flavouring unlike the first three. Instead it refers to the common integral ingredient that is used to make the broth – grounded pork bones. Left to boil in a pot for 12- 15 hours, the collagen in the bone dissolves into the soup as gelatine and gives the soup a whitish look and its distinct taste.
These are the four basic ramen types found in Japan; each essential ingredient lends itself to the soup to give a distinct flavour on its own, hence the division. Due to difference in taste and culture, each region of Japan has utilised either one of the four styles to come up with their own unique version of ramen. Let’s take a look at what each region has to offer!
Hailing from the capital of Japan, this particular ramen uses a pork and chicken broth, and is flavoured with shoyu. Besides the ramen, a bowl of Tokyo ramen is also garnished with chashu, nori, scallion and bamboo shoots to give it that unique Tokyo taste.
Located in Fukuoka prefecture, Hakata is located in the southern island of Kyushu. Unlike Tokyo ramen, Hakata ramen uses tonkotsu as its main flavouring in the soup base. Unlike traditional methods that calls for slow simmering of the broth, Hakata’s soup base is left to boil violently till the bones dissolve, giving Hakata ramen its particular thick, rich body. Crushed garlic and sesame seeds are added into the broth to bring out its strong taste even further.
Located in Hokkaido, the city of Sapporo is known as the birthplace of miso ramen; legend goes that the dish was created when a customer asked the chef to place noodles into his miso soup. Nevertheless, its rich complex taste quickly gained popularity within Japan. Slurp it down piping hot with a hearty heaping of cabbage, sweet corn, and pork.
Coming from the same region as the Sapporo ramen, the noodle dish comes from the city of Asahikawa found at the base of Mount Asahi. Made with shoyu instead of miso, the broth is noticeably more oily and the noodles thinner and wavier. If you are looking to explore more of the city’s ramen offerings, then the Asahikawa Ramen Village on the outskirts of the city is a must- visit!
Home to Shingon Buddhsim, Wakayama Prefecture is well known to pilgrims who makes the trip through the Kumano Sanzan trail. Here you’ll also find the area’s ramen specialty – Wakayama ramen. Prepared in a similar fashion to Yokohama ramen, roast pork, scallion, fish cakes and bamboo shoots are added to the tonkotsu-shoyu broth. If you fancy a dish to go with your ramen, the shops also offer hayazushi, which is vinegared mackeral pressed onto rice, to match with your meal.
Saying hello from the other side (pun intended), Tokushima ramen is also prepared in a similar style to Wakayama ramen. What makes the ramen here different is that the soup broth is divided into three different types – from black to yellow to white – an indication of the soup’s strength. Furthermore, stewed pork ribs known as baraniku is added to the dish instead of the usual chashu meat. Crack a raw egg into the steaming bowl of ramen and you’ve got the iconic Tokushima ramen.
With a strong ramen culture, it isn’t surprising that there is a third ramen contender in Hokkaido! Hakodate ramen uses shio flavouring as its base, but you’ll notice that the taste is thinner and lighter than that of Tokyo or Yokohama ramen. Due to its Chinese origins, Hakodate ramen is more reminiscent of wonton noodles than the typical Japanese ramen we see in shops.
Located in Yamagata Prefecture, the sleepy town of Akayu has its own little gem that it’s proud of – the Akayu ramen. Made with a miso base, Akayu ramen sets itself from Sapporo ramen with the addition of a spicy red ball of miso. Let the ball of miso, chili, and garlic dissolve into your soup before slurping it up, but do remember to prepare a cold glass of kirin beer beforehand!
Made with a shoyu base, the noodles in Kitakata ramen are traditionally made with water from Mount Iide, giving the noodles their toothsome and chewy texture. The locals in the town are known to order a bowl of the light, clean ramen dish every morning without fail for breakfast. Due to its proximity to the Fukushima plant, we hope that the community is still able to produce this significant dish.
Similar in flavour to Kitakata ramen, Shirakawa’s ramen is noted for its chewy noodles and shoyu-flavoured soup. What’s different is that Shirakawa ramen has a darker soup broth, and its helpings more significant; this distinguishes the dish from its lighter Kitakata cousin.
Tsubame, home to the great monk Ryokan who was famous for his calligraphy works and poems, is also known for its silverware industries. The job in these factories demands high-energy input from its workers; Tsubame ramen was created to remedy that. Perhaps one of the most high-caloric dish you’ll ever see, the broth of pork bones, chicken, and sardine is topped up with a sinful serving of pork back-fat, lard, and raw white onions. This makes the shoyu dish super-rich in taste, mouth-feel, and fat content.
Yokohama Ie-kei Ramen
Due to its longstanding status as a trade port, it is said that Yokohama was the birthplace of ramen. Nowadays, the area is famous for its Ie-kei ramen. Made with tonkotsu and shoyu, the dish is characterised by its rich broth, thick noodles and large servings of chashu. Don’t forget to stop by the Ramen Museum in the area after having a bowl of ramen!
Also known as Taiwan ramen, this dish is made with a shoyu broth and is heaped with spicy pork, green onion, chives, and sometimes hot peppers. Apparently a Taiwanese chef created this ramen dish in the 70’s; thus he whipped up this fiery dish to share the taste of Taiwan with the locals, and the public went crazy over it. It is still a popular dish in the area today!
Kyoto is home to not one, but two types of ramen dish! One is made with a dark shoyu broth of pork and chicken, and the other has a thick viscous soup which makes it look something like our lor mee here in Singapore. The ramen is normally accompanied by a large helping of pork slices, chopped scallion, minced garlic, and chili bean paste.
If you are travelling around the Honshu region by train, do yourself a favour and get off at Onomichi. Yes, we’re telling you to get off your comfy ride just for a bowl of ramen! Located in a quaint small town along the Seto Inland sea, Onomichi ramen is perhaps one of the oldest ramen style in Japan, emerging after World War II as a simple and easy-to-make dish. Made with shoyu and chicken, fat is melted into the soup and mixed with dashi to give the dish its iconic taste.
Descending from the famous Kurume ramen, Kumamoto ramen began distinguishing itself when a generous amount of garlic was added to the tonkotsu-flavoured soup. Laden with fried garlic and mayu (sesame oil), this dish is served with a generous heaping of scallions and wood-ear mushrooms.
It is said that Kurume is where the original tonkotsu flavour in ramen originated, while Hakata ramen is the modernised version. The broth used in Kurume ramen has a stronger pork taste than Hakata’s version, and it comes topped with crispy pig lard, roast pork, scallions, and nori seaweed.
Located in Kyushu’s southernmost point, Kagoshima is famed for its active volcano nearby known as Sakurajima. While it sometimes spews ash about the area, it doesn’t dampen the local’s mood for a piping hot bowl of Kagoshima ramen! Similar to Wakayama and Yokohama ramen, the noodles in this particular region also use a tonkotsu-shoyu combination for the soup base. Home to the well-known Kurobuta pork, you can definitely expect the roast pork n your bowl to taste more succulent and tender.
As you can see, the culture and flavours that arose out of this simple noodle dish is indeed astounding! Of course, this list isn’t comprehensive; with the creative ingenuity of the Japanese chefs, the world of ramen is always expanding to accommodate all kinds of flavours. Got a ramen you wanna tell us about? Don’t forget to send in your comments!
Top Image Credit: Flickr – Fox Wu