Japan’s famous noodle soup first appeared in 1910 and was a dish originally imported from China. The etymology of ramen comes from the Chinese word lamian (拉麺), meaning ‘hand-pulled noodles’.
The first specialised ramen shop, Rai-Rai Ken, opened in Tokyo in 1910. They employed Chinese cooks and popularised the shina soba: ‘shina’ meant China and ‘soba’ was the noodle dish from Japanese cuisine. A Chinese-food craze during the 1920s helped popularise the Chinese-style soup. Shina soba later caught on with blue-collar workers in Japan because it was affordable and filling.
Ramen came to symbolise Japan’s desire to conquer or even ‘consume’ China in the first half of the 20th century. After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the term shina became an ethnic slur, and the dish was renamed chuka soba, for ‘Chinese-style noodle.’ In response to Japan’s postwar food shortages, the United States supplied wheat to Japan, encouraging the production of wheat noodles.
Later, Nissan Food Corporation produced the first packet of instant Chikin ramen in 1958, making ramen one of the first industrialised foods. In Japan, instant ramen is widely regarded as a practical emergency food in times of natural disaster.
Ramen has since become a Japanese cultural icon. Today there are over 35,000 ramen noodle restaurants in Japan, with each priding itself on its own unique blend of noodle and broth. Different regions of Japan also have their own distinct take on the dish.
The broth for the Shoyu Ramen has a soya sauce base with clear, brown colour. The noodles used are curly. The Tonkotsu Ramen has a thick and cloudy white coloured broth from boiling pork bones and fat. Shio Ramen’s broth is made with chicken or pork base, identifiable by its salty flavour. The soup base for the Miso Ramen is nutty and sweet. The noodles used a thick, curly and chewy. With the Tsukemen Ramen, noodles are separated from the broth and meant to be dipped. The broth here is thick and robust.