Page 1

table of contents introduction




general overview


regional differences


interviews & conversations




The Ramen Reference | 5

introduction This book is not about instant ramen, those dehydrated noodles and powdered season packets that sell for twenty cents a piece. This book is about changing the idea and perception of ramen, shifting the American view from instant noodles to the labor-intensive soup which has been a staple of Japanese diets for decades. Its about an appreciation of comfort food turned art form.

6 | The Ramen Reference

Ramen-yas in Tokyo


uthentic ramen begins with a broth made of chicken or pork bones, boiled for hours on end, followed by wheat noodles, made of specific alkaline waters, and ending with an assortment of toppings. It is a fast, casual meal served in ramen-yas or ramen bars that is considered a kind of comfort food. Hearty, salty, and full of rich flavor, this ramen takes full days to prepare and takes a clear attention to craft.

Ramen is becoming something similar to coffee or wine, people are not just eating ramen they are observing and analyzing it. Every new twist or addition is judged and ultimately rolled into the changing styles of ramen, similar to the way that ramen evolved across the different regions of Japan years ago. Shops in New York City, Portland, and Oakland are ushering in an age of American Ramen, our own twist on this Japanese food.

As ramen spreads across the United States spurred on by chefs such as David Chang of Momofuku Noodle Bar and more recently Ivan Orkin of Ivan Ramen, it’s important to understand the difference between ramen and other Asian noodle dishes such as pho. While there are similarities, pho doesn’t command the same cultural following as ramen, and the spread hasn’t taken up the same artistry that ramen chefs in the United States have adopted. Both began as humble comfort foods in their countries of origin, but ramen in Japan rose as a counterculture movement transforming unhealthy junk food into something more. This phenomenon is now making waves in the culinary scenes of the biggest and smallest cities in the U.S.

This book should serve as a reference to understand ramen better, from its history, the way a bowl is composed, the regional differences found in Japan, interviews and conversations about ramen, and finally recipes to discover what it takes to create it.

Introduction | 7

history The following history is a brief retelling of George Solt’s The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze.

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the Yokohama version inspired Tokyo pushcart peddlers who started selling noodle soup in the old Ueno and Asakusa neighborhoods

lthough ramen is now an iconic Japanese dish, it’s actually an immigrant, and the names originally used for it made that perfectly clear. Chūka soba and Shina soba both basically mean “Chinese noodles” but have very different connotations. Chūka soba became the most-used term after World War II and is having something of a revival. It replaced shina soba as the political connotations of “shina” became controversial, since it was the word used for China when Japan was an imperialist power in Asia. But there’s no dish in China that closely resembles today’s Japanese ramen, so the story is much more complicated than a simple borrowing. Solt presents three main origin myths about ramen, and what he calls “The first and most imaginative” comes from a book published in 1987. It credits a legendary feudal lord, Tokugawa Mitsukuni, as the first to eat ramen in the 1660s. This is based on a historical record of a Chinese refugee giving him advice on what to add to his udon soup to make it tastier, including garlic, green onions, and ginger.

It’s unclear, to say the least, how much the modified udon soup resembled modern ramen, and in any case there’s no direct historical connection no one can argue that that soup gradually developed into the dish eaten today. However, the Ramen Museum of Yokohama popularized this story, and Solt attributes its appeal to the fact that it places the origin of ramen far back in Japanese history at a time when – as we’ll see later – ramen is acquiring its modern symbolism as a quintessentially Japanese food. The second and more plausible story associates ramen with the opening of Japan to the outside world in the late nineteenth century. Port cities like Yokohama and Kobe attracted Chinese as well as

westerners, who brought with them a noodle soup called laa-mien, handmade noodles in a light chicken broth. Japanese called the dish Nankin soba (Nanjing noodles) after the capitol of China. This soup didn’t have toppings and was eaten at the end of the meal instead of being a meal in itself, so again, it’s hardly identical to the ramen of today. But it does seem to have a far more legitimate claim to being a predecessor: the Yokohama version inspired Tokyo pushcart peddlers who started selling noodle soup in the old Ueno and Asakusa neighborhoods of Tokyo in the early twentieth century. The third tale is similar to the second, but attributes the invention to a single person, which always makes a more satisfying story. In 1910, a shop called Rai-Rai Ken opened in the Asakusa district of Tokyo. The owner, Ozaki Kenichi, had been a customs agent in Yokohama, but the soup he served wasn’t the unadorned nineteenth century version: it sounds like it would be familiar to anyone who’s eaten ramen lately: “Rai-Rai Ken incorporated a soy sauce–based seasoning sauce and served its noodle soup, referred to as Shina soba, with chāshū (roasted pork), naruto (fish-meal cake), boiled spinach, and nori (seaweed)— ingredients that together would form the model for authentic Tokyo-style ramen.”

History | 9

Ramen pushcart in Tokyo

10 | The Ramen Reference

Solt argues that it wasn’t enough to invent a recipe – the product had to have a customer base, basically, and in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was the right food at the right time, as Japan was becoming more industrialized and urbanized. Instead of living in rural areas where they grew and prepared their own food, more and more people had jobs in the cities and made money to eat in restaurants. Ramen wasn’t a hand-made artisanal delight in those days – the attraction was largely speed and calories:

That sounds crazy to us now, but remember that for most of history, people have had to worry less about being fat and more about starving to death. For workers who’d moved to the city from rural areas where they had to scrape as many calories as they could from the earth with their own two hands, the idea no doubt made perfect sense. So this period of ramen’s history is intimately tied up with Japan’s starting to develop into a modern, urbanized, industrial nation, turning away in some senses from its traditional past:

“When making Shina soba, cooks prepared a pot of soup base and a bowl of flavoring sauce to serve an entire day’s worth of customers, leaving only the boiling of the noodles and reconstituting of the soup to be left for when the orders were placed. The short amount of time necessary to prepare and consume the noodle soup, and its heartiness compared to Japanese soba (which did not include meat in the broth or as a topping), also fit the dietary needs and lifestyles of urban Japanese workers in the 1920s and 1930s.”

Ramen was also one of the first industrialized foods – a mechanical noodle-making machine was in general use by the late 1910s. At this point it was definitely still seen as foreign – it was largely eaten in cafes (kissaten) and Western-style eateries, as well as Chinese restaurants and street stands – and this was a point in its favor. Foreign food was regarded as more healthful and nourishing than traditional Japanese food, a theme that we’ll see recurring later on, because it had more meat, wheat, oils, and fats.

Ramen wasn’t a hand-made artisanal delight in those days – the attraction was largely speed and calories History | 11

“As Japan became industrialized and more urbanized in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Chinese restaurants and movie theaters gradually replaced the buckwheat noodle (soba) stands and comical storytelling (rakugo) performances that had previously dominated the cityscape. In this manner, ramen production and consumption became an integral component of modern urban life.”

In the 1940s, the war changed everything. At first ramen essentially disappeared, a victim of rationing and of the idea that this was no time for frivolous luxuries like eating out. Food shortages persisted after the war ended in 1945, and Solt says that the years between 1944 and 1947 were the worst period of hunger in Japan’s modern history. He quotes a scholar of Japanese food born in 1937 writing of his memories of that period: “From 1944 on, even in the countryside, the athletic grounds of local schools were converted into sweet potato fields. And we ate every part of the sweet potato plant, from the leaf to the tip of the root. We also ate every part of the kabocha we grew, including the seeds and skin. For protein, we ate beetles, beetle larvae, and other insects that we found at the roots of the plants we picked, which we roasted or mashed. Even in the countryside, food was scarce.”


12 | The Ramen Reference

After the war ended, thousands of black markets including food stands sprang up, despite being technically illegal (the US occupation authorities continued both food rationing and a ban on outdoor food sellers). Because rice was hard to come by and wheat was being imported from the US, many foods based on wheat were popular – ramen, as well as yakisoba, gyōza, and okonomiyaki. Also heavy with garlic and oil, these were referred to as “stamina” foods, a term still in use today. The dependence on U.S.-imported wheat flour as a substitute for rice during and after the American occupation set the stage for a couple of changes. One was that a generation grew up eating foods like bread, with the result that these are now a standard part of the Japanese diet. The other is that ramen took on an almost mythic status as the food that nourished people in a time of great hunger and despair. Solt says that nowadays in retrospect that memory contributes to ramen’s positive image, but at the actual time people felt rather differently. Popular culture such as radio and film used ramen as a symbol of the still-desperate times – an indication that a character can’t afford to eat anything more expensive – and to highlight class differences and the growing generation gap in dining habits, since

as Japan’s economy boomed in the period from 1955 – 73, ramen boomed as well.

History | 13

for older people the association with hearty food for laborers still clung to the dish. As Japan’s economy boomed in the period from 1955–73, ramen boomed as well. Tokyo in the early 1960s was building venues for the 1964 Olympics as well as development inspired by it, including major transportation projects like new subways, the shinkansen, and five new expressways. Vast construction projects required vast numbers of construction workers who ate vast numbers of bowls of ramen, and it also became a staple for students and young people who had grown up eating more wheat and meat. During this time instant ramen was invented, but that merits a history of its own. However the idea that Western foods – including wheat in particular – were healthier continued to develop. The Ministry of Health and Welfare

Cup ramen is one form of instant ramen

14 | The Ramen Reference

actively promoted this idea and nutrition scientists happily jumped on the bandwagon. Some of this promotion and “science” took the rather odd form of attributing cultural differences and Western superiority – which apparently went without saying – to the difference in diet. While the government and scientists were pushing a wheat-based diet, ramen in particular was still associated with poverty and struggle in popular culture, but things were beginning to change. With more money around to be spent, ramen developed from a cheap pushcart product into something you ate at a moderately priced restaurant. And at the same time that instant ramen – the most industrialized food possible – was becoming popular, we see what could be considered the first hints of the modern hand-crafted ramen movement. In the 1970s, something that was all the rage – at least

This romanticization of the ramen maker is the start of an entirely new symbolism around ramen. according to the media at the time – was the datsu-sara, “salaryman escapee.” These were men who left successful careers to become self-employed – farmers, say, or ramen cooks. As someone who has written for newspapers, I can tell you that the general rule is that you only need to find three of something for an editor to call it a trend. But one newspaper even ran a weekly “Datsu-sara Report,” so if they could find enough material for that, maybe it really was a thing. In any case, in this context, running a ramen shop was seen as the kind of work that provided a degree of independence and creativity that wasn’t possible in a corporate environment. This romanticization of the ramen maker is the start of an entirely new symbolism around ramen. In the 1980s, ramen started to become almost as much a fashion item as a food. The traditional

pushcarts were disappearing and the Chinese restaurants and diners that used to sell it were declining, replaced by the specialty ramen shop with a more limited menu and a higher price. The manual workers who were its old customer base were also declining, and now the stereotypical ramen eater started to be the young urban consumer who was labeled with the term Shinjinrui, “new breed.” Rather than fuel for hard physical work, for many ramen starts to become basically a hobby. The phenomenon of waiting in line for hours at a special ramen shop became common enough that people who did it were given a name, “rāmen gyōretsu.” The 80s also saw the start of the obsession with special regional varieties of ramen and fans who would travel to far-away places especially to taste a new kind they’d read about. And by the 1990s, Solt says: “ramen chefs were appearing on television, writing philosophical treatises, and achieving celebrity status in Japanese popular culture, while their fans were building museums and Internet forums.”

Given its birth as a foreign import, and the central role that foreign wheat plays in the dish, it’s odd that ramen would become a symbol of traditional Japan, but that’s exactly what happened. The new customers had been born after the period of war and post-war hardship, so its older associations were purely nostalgic – a comfort food that seemed native in contrast to elegant European gourmet cuisine. Shops stopped having names and decor with Chinese associations – no more red and white norens – and the chefs began to dress differently: Rāmen gyōretsu line up outside of a ramenya

History | 15

“In the late 1990s and 2000s, however, younger ramen chefs, inspired primarily by Kawahara Shigemi, founder of the ramen shop Ippūdō, started to wear Japanese Buddhist work clothing, known as samue. Usually worn by Japanese potters and other practitioners of traditional arts, the samue, usually in purple or black, was worn by craftsmen in eighteenth-century Japan… The new clothing suggested that the ramen maker was now considered a Japanese craftsman with a Zen Buddhist sensibility rather than a Chinese food chef.”

And now, instead of western food being argued to produce superior people, apparently some started using ramen to argue it was the other way around, to the extent that it caused a backlash in some quarters: one newspaper article headlined a section on the ramen boom, “The Frightening Situation Where Plain Old Ramen Becomes the Basis for ‘Theories of Japanese Superiority.”

And this brings us to where we are today, where ramen shops are now appearing in fashionable cities all over the world, presenting what’s seen as a quintessentially Japanese dish: “Ramen has gained a reputation as a relatively affordable, youthful, and fashionable representation of Japanese food culture, unlike sushi, which has very different symbolic baggage. Ramen is now an important component of both official and unofficial attempts at remaking ‘Japan’ as a consumer brand for foreigners.”

The artisanal hand-made type of ramen and its cultural baggage fits perfectly into modern culinary obsessions – an earthy, authentic, hand-made comfort food.

An example from Ichicoro a new ramen shop in Tampa Bay

16 | The Ramen Reference

Some shops put the creation in the hands of its customers

History | 17

general overview Ramen as a soup has many variants and bases. This section discusses the defining characteristics of ramen, how a bowl is assembled and classified, and tips for enjoying and appreciating authentic ramen. A bowl of ramen usually consists of four different components: the tare, the broth, the noodles and the toppings.



bowl of ramen begins with small amount of tare, about two tablespoons, placed at the bottom of the bowl. The tare, or flavoring oils/seasoning, is a small mixture of seasonings and soup stocks that give ramen its depth and complexity. Different shops have different recipes and they are usually guided pretty closely as the tare is one of the most important components of a bowl. There are three different kinds of tare and this is usually how bowls of ramen are classified on a menu. If you ever seen shio ramen or miso ramen this is referring to the kind of tare being used in the bowl. The three types of tare refer to shio, shoyu, or miso. Shio tare is salt based, usually utilizing a combination of different kinds of salt from across the country, as well mirin, sake, and kombu(dried kelp). Shio tare is usually paired with lighter broths, such as chicken and fish based stocks to amplify the more subtle flavors of these refreshing soups. If you’re looking for something a little salty with lighter body, shio ramen is what you’re looking for.

Shoyu tare is based on different soy sauces, as well as kombu and other dried seafoods to add a slight taste of umami to the soup. This kind of tare is used throughout all different kinds of ramen, from the lighter chicken and seafood stocks to the heavier and richer pork-based variants. Shoyu ramen is the perfect choice if you want a warmer more complicated ramen variant as the soy sauce gives both sweet, salty, and umami flavors to the soup. Miso tare is based on miso, or fermented bean paste, usually found with garlic and sesame oils. Miso tare adds a layer of heartiness to ramen, bringing warmth and a little spice to the boil and will most likely be paired up with the thicker pork based broths. On a cold day miso will warm you to the core, which is why miso ramen originated in colder northern regions of japan. Tare is the first component of a bowl and while it’s used to classify a ramen, the broth also plays a role, and such broths as Tonkotsu are generally classified as their own.

General Overview | 19



he broth is the next part of a bowl of ramen, poured into the bowl after the tare is added. Like the tare ramen broth is a complex mixture of flavors usually consisting of two parts, a stock made of boiled bones, usually pork or chicken, and dashi(seafood stock). The bones used for ramen are usually the parts not used for other things such as pigs feet and chicken backs, which traces back to the early days of ramen when it was street food made of whatever sellers could find. These bones are boiled upwards of twenty-four hours to release all the flavors into the stock, and the make up varies based on the desired heaviness. For shio ramens the broth is usually comprised of more chicken bones and less fat than the tonkotsu variants. This leads to a lighter, clearer soup better for warm climates or summer days. Meanwhile, tonkotsu, one of the most popular broths, is made of mostly pork bones and fat which gives it a milky, golden color and makes it much thicker than other broths. The pork flavor in tonkotsu is forward and unapologetic.

These bones are boiled upwards of twenty-four hours to release all the flavors into the stock Dashi is added to these stocks to balance them, and is important because it usually combines kombu, which adds the slight brininess to ramen, and katsuobushi(dried bonito). The inclusion of these ingredients differentiates ramen broth from other similar soups such as Pho or Chinese variants.

20 | The Ramen Reference



aid into the bowl after the broth are the noodles, which are another distinction between ramen and other Asian soups. Ramen noodles are a blend of wheat flour, salt, water, and a blend of kansui(alkaline waters). The kansui is what gives ramen noodles their biggest distinction from other noodles. It changes the texture, making them firmer and springier so they hold up better in the steaming hot broth. Ramen noodles also tend to be thinner than other Japanese noodles such as Udon, although they vary widely from region to region. Chef ’s usually look for a few specific qualities in the noodles they choose for their soup: springiness, how the noodles cling

to the broth, and the texture. For a lighter soup you usually want something that holds more of the flavor where as in a tonkostu soup that might be overpowering. When noodles are made there is a lot of attention paid to how they are placed in the bowl and how they are strained. One of the most animated portions of a kitchen is when the chef strains the noodles, usually strongly throwing his arms out to get rid of all the water in every directions. They are then carefully laid into the bowl folding over themselves to prevent them from clumping in the bottom of the bowl.

Homemade ramen noodles

General Overview | 21



o soup would be complete without toppings and the two most common toppings are chāshū(braised pork belly) and ajitsuke tamago(soy marinated eggs). Chāshū should be soft and easy to tear, while also usually being marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, and sake to give a slight sweetness. Ajitsuke tamago is also marinated in a similar mixture and is soft boiled, so the whites are firm and the yolk is runny. In the top ramen shops in the world these toppings are usually warmed right before being placed in the bowl and then they continue to warm in the soup. Other common toppings are scallions, corn, mushrooms, garlic, menma(fermented bamboo shoots), nori(dried seaweed), bean sprouts, carrots, and naruto(fish cakes). These toppings are usually chosen by the chef but can also be added if desired. On the table there is usually a wide selection of peppers, powders, and oils to add to the flavor the most common of which are chili powder and sesame oil.

Nori Dried Seaweed Naruto Fish Cake Moyashi Bean sprouts Kinoko Mushroom

Chāshū Roast Pork

Wakegi Scallion

Tamago Egg

Menma Bamboo

22 | The Ramen Reference

Tips Below are some tips to getting the most flavor out of your ramen where ever you are. However, if there’s one rule of thumb, its slurp and slurp loud. In ramen culture it’s a great sign of enjoyment.

1 2

Don’t wait, ramen is cooked and served at very specific temperatures and the noodles are designed to be eaten straight away waiting changes the texture and consistency. It is not considered impolite to begin eating as soon as your food is served and is expected in ramenya’s in Japan. Taste the broth without any toppings or mixing of the soup. This demonstrates the flavors and effort put into the broth’s preparation.

3 4 5

Gently stir together the soup, the goal here is to mix and release the tare and aroma oils into the broth. The noodles should be slurped while eating ramen. It is actually the opposite of being rude, not slurping your noodles can be considered offensive while eating ramen. It is both a show of respect and necessity. While slurping take air into your mouth to cool down the noodles while you’re eating. Similar to other cultures it is also customary to never leave food behind while eating ramen. Including the leftover broth.

Fresh Tokyo style shoyu ramen

General Overview | 23

regional differences Ramen varies by region for a few reasons: locally available ingredients, climate, and historical tradition. In Japan each region has very distinct kinds of ramen, while the United States is slowly beginning to follow this tradition. To read more about this change and what that means head to Interviews and Conversations (Pgs 40 - 49). The following section discusses the regional differences across Japan.

Asahikawa, 24

Sapporo, 24

Tsubame-Sanjo, 32

Hakata, 37

Shirakawa, 28

Hakodate, 26 Akayu, 27

Onomichi, 35 Tokushima, 34

Kitakata, 27

Yokohama Ie kei, 33 Wakayama, 34 Kyoto, 33 Kumamoto, 38

Tokyo, 28 & 30

Kurume, 37 Kagoshima, 39

Regional Differences | 25



ocated at the base of the mountains smack in the middle of Japan’s northernmost island, Asahikawa is Hokkaido’s second-largest city, and is best known for its zoo and a rich ramen tradition. Asahikawa ramen is a blend of pork and chicken stocks and a seafood broth, making for a rich and complex soup with a shoyu base. The bowl is topped off with an insulating layer of lip-scalding melted lard to prevent the soup from losing heat in the frigid winter months. The current nationwide trend of blended “double” soup traces its roots to the Asahikawa ramen tradition, which is celebrated with an annual summer ramen festival.

Style Shoyu


Toppings roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots



he northern city of Sapporo is one of Japan’s most famous ramen destinations, best known as the birthplace of miso ramen. Although Sapporo had its share of noodle shops before World War II, it cemented its place in ramen lore in 1955, when a customer at the noodle house Aji no Sanpei asked the chef to dump some noodles in his miso and pork soup. A new classic was born, and Sapporo ramen has since evolved into a rich and fatty soup accented with minced pork, ginger, and garlic. (Traditionally the miso base, broth, and vegetables are cooked together in a larded wok before being transferred to the bowl.) Sapporo miso ramen was the first regional style to take off nationally in the 1960s, and the city remains a ramen mecca, boasting a “Ramen Alley” with over a dozen shops.

26 | The Ramen Reference

Style Miso


Toppings roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, ginger, garlic, butter, corn

Sapporo miso ramen

Regional Differences | 27



amen came to Hakodate the same way it came to the rest of Japan—via the slow boat from China. For reasons lost to history, the standard soup served by the Chinese community in Hakodate had a thinner and lighter broth than the soy-based soup that took hold in Yokohama and Tokyo. As a result, this bustling maritime town is home to a mild, yellow chicken-and-pork broth boiled long and slow. Hakodate is the only city in Japan to claim shio ramen as its own creation, and the style is dominant within the town’s precincts. Toppings tend toward the standards, and noodles are cooked to be quite soft—comfort food on a cold winter day.

Hakodate shio ramen

28 | The Ramen Reference

Style Shio


Toppings roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, nori, spinach, naruto



ne day in 1960, Sato Kazumi, the founder of ramen shop Ryushanhai, dropped a dollop of miso paste into the leftover soup and noodles he had taken home to eat with his family. After a bit of tweaking, Sato developed one of Japan’s most unusual ramen styles—sweet and mild ramen topped with an angry red ball of blended miso, chili, and garlic that slowly dissolves into the soup. Pop it in your mouth all at once and you’ll breathe fire like the Dragon of Shanghai that gives his shop its name. Thick, wavy, and chewy noodles topped with a dusting of powdered aonori seaweed swim below.

Style Miso


Toppings roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, naruto, miso-chili-garlic paste, aonori



he small town of Kitakata boasts the highest ramen-to-resident ratio in the country, clocking in at roughly one shop for every 300 inhabitants. Kitakatans are known to eat their light, clean, shoyu-based soup for breakfast. In the bowl, Kitakata keeps it simple, with a no-frills soup and minimal toppings. Noodles are hand-cut to be flat, wide, and curly; high water content makes them toothsome and chewy.

Style Shoyu


Toppings roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots,

Regional Differences | 29



s in most cities in Japan, ramen in Shirakawa dates back to the prewar period, when it was served in Chinese restaurants and street-side stalls. Takei Toraji learned to sling noodles at those stalls before opening up his own shop, Tora Shokudo, where Shirakawa ramen proper took shape. Despite idolizing the bumbling postwar comedic folk hero Tora-san to the point of cooking with a bottle in one hand, Takei managed to develop a refined ramen characterized by light, simple soup and hand-kneaded noodles. Like most local styles across northeastern Japan, Shirakawa ramen features an unadorned shoyu broth that draws its taste from an abundance of local mineral ­ water, which also makes for springy noodles with lots of give in the chew.

Style Shoyu


Toppings roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, naruto, nori, spinach

Tokyo Ramen


rawing from the soy-based broth brought to Japan by Chinese immigrants more than 100 years ago, Tokyo’s shoyu ramen is made from pork, chicken, veggies, kombu, katsuobushi, and other dried fish. The standard bowl contains nori, scallions, roast pork, and bamboo shoots set atop curly noodles, and nowhere in the metropolis is very far from a neighborhood shop or late-night pushcart slinging this nostalgic standard. This simple-seeming yet subtly complex style is probably the most recognizable image of ramen for millions of hungry slurpers around the world.

30 | The Ramen Reference

Style Shoyu


Toppings roast pork, bamboo shoots, naruto, nori, spinach

Tokyo shoyu ramen

Regional Differences | 31

Tokyo Tsukemen


amen’s popularity has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade, and one of the most notable trends has been the rise of tsukemen. As much a different concept of ramen as a regional style, undressed tsukemen noodles are dipped into an accompanying bowl of fishy, barely diluted broth before slurping. Though tsukemen has taken the ramen world by storm of late, it traces its history to the early postwar era, when the now-legendary “God of ­Ramen,” Kazuo Yamagishi of T ­ okyo’s Taishoken, ­decided to offer his customers soup and noodles separately. The sweet, spicy, vinegary broth clinging to extra-fat noodles has spawned literally thousands of imitators—tsukemen has staked its claim in the noodle p ­ antheon.

Style Shoyu


Toppings roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, naruto

Tokyo Abura Soba


iterally meaning “oily noodles,” abura soba is ramen sans soup. Instead of sitting in broth, freshly boiled noodles are placed atop a thin layer of concentrated flavor essence (tare) and mixed by diners, who add vinegar, chili oil, and other toppings before stirring and slurping. This seemingly postmodern snack actually dates back to the mid-’50s, when a series of shops located in the suburbs west of Tokyo began serving soupless bowls.

32 | The Ramen Reference

Style Shoyu


Toppings roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, raw egg, garlic

tsukemen has staked its claim in the noodle pantheon

Regional Differences | 33

Tokyo abura soba shoyu ramen



hat’s the cure for living in a part of the country known mostly for freezing temperatures and silverware factories? Lard, lard, and more lard. The twin cities of Tsubame and Sanjo lay claim to one of the most unusual and unhealthy ramen variants anywhere in ­Japan—an already rich broth made of pork bones, chicken, and sardines is topped with an almost obscene amount of suspended pork fat. There’s enough lard and raw white onion shaken on top that it’s almost impossible to make out the extra-thick, linguine-like noodles hidden below.

34 | The Ramen Reference

Style Shoyu


Toppings roast pork, bamboo shoots, chopped white onions

Yokohama Ie-kei


ost ramen histories trace the introduction of ramen to Japan to Yokohama, where it arrived with Chinese traders in the late nineteenth century. These days, Yokohama is better known for ie-kei ramen, a viscous, salty, and fatty tonkotsushoyu style pioneered at Yoshimuraya in 1974. The shop’s many imitators add the character ie(家, meaning “home”) to their names in tribute to the founder of this open-source ramen. When ordering, diners can calibrate the firmness of the noodles, the amount of suspended fat, and the saltiness of the soup to the delight of their tongue and the detriment of their arteries. Yokohama is also home to the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, a must-visit for any noodle aficionado.

Style Tonkotsu


Toppings three sheets of nori, spinach, garlic, ginger



iven Kyoto’s cultural reputation, you might expect its ramen to be a rarefied and refined reworking of the humble noodle soup. But the old capital is home to two distinct types of down-home ramen: the thinner assari-kei shoyu ramen, and a thick, gritty chicken-soup kotteri-keiramen, both of which are referred to as “Kyoto ramen.” The former is a blend of pork and chicken broth, with a dark soy base; the latter is a rich porridge-like soup culled mostly from chicken, topped with spicy bean paste, chives, garlic, and pungent local kujnoegi onions—it’s quite popular with the town’s large student population.

Style Shoyu


Toppings Assari-kei roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, nori,butter Kotteri-kei roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, garlic, chili bean paste

Regional Differences | 35



hereas eastern Japan is dominated by thinner shoyu ramen, western Japan is the kingdom of rich, porky tonkotsu soup—and Wakayama is the happy medium where the two meet. Known by locals as chuka soba (“Chinese noodles”), Wakayama ramen is based on a strong soy sauce tare and a heap of long-simmered pork bones. The noodles resemble the long, thin, firm threads of Hakata ramen, but you won’t fail to find a pink-and-white fish cake of the kind that pop up often in Tokyo.

Style Tonkotsu


Toppings roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, naruto



he smallest of Japan’s four main islands, Shikoku is not known as a ramen hot spot. As the story goes, resourceful Tokushimans made broth out of the leftover pork bones from the many ham factories located nearby, and mixed in some extra-strong aged soy sauce to craft a tasty bowl not far removed from its cross-strait kissin’ cousin, Wakayama ramen. Add a few strips of thinly sliced pork belly, then break a raw egg on top of it all, and you’ve got a delicious dish. Tokushima ramen is sometimes divided into “black,” “yellow,” and “white” styles, in descending order of the strength of the soup served at a given shop.

36 | The Ramen Reference

Style Tonkotsu


Toppings roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, raw egg

Onomichi shoyu ramen



nomichi ramen emerged as a distinct style in the years after World War II. It’s a relatively straightforward formula: take a lot of chicken, a little bit of pork, and add some local seafood—but it isn’t Onomichi ramen without a big helping of cooked lard and suspended pork fat on top. A shoyu base and homemade flat-wavy-chewy noodles round out the bowl. Onomichi got its own stop on the bullet train in 1988, and passengers have been known to get off the train just to grab a bowl.

Style Shoyu


Toppings roast pork, scallions, bamboo shoots,

Regional Differences | 37

Hakata tonkotsu ramen

38 | The Ramen Reference



roken pork bones are cooked over a high flame for days at a time here until the marrow seeps out, giving off a rancid odor that belies the smooth and creamy broth. While eating at street-side stalls along Fukuoka’s Nakasu River, drunken diners can order unlimited extra servings (kaedama) of the thin, unrisen noodles to dump in their soup. The final component of Hakata ramen are the tableside toppings, including sesame seeds, garlic, pink pickled ginger, spicy mustard greens, and soy base to strengthen the soup.

Style Tonkotsu


Toppings roast pork, scallions, nori, pickled ginger, garlic



ew towns have exerted as great an influence on ramen history as Kurume. In 1937, Miyamoto Tokyo’s street-side stand Nankin Senryo started serving porky tonkotsu ramen; ten years later, a pot of bones left simmering too hot for too long at the nearby shop Sankyu proved to be a happy accident when the chef found the stinky and milky-white marrow-infused soup to be highly delicious. The broth with the beastly stench quickly earned devotees, and Kurume ramen spread across Kyushu, giving the southern island its distinctive style. Bits of fried lard, lots of melted marrow, and tableside offerings of sesame, pickled ginger, and garlic give Kurume ramen a pungent punch.

Style Tonkotsu


Toppings roast pork, scallions, nori, pickled ginger, garlic

Regional Differences | 39

Kumamoto tonkotsu ramen



onkotsu ramen spread from its birthplace in Kurume to take root in Kumamoto prefecture, where locals started cutting it with a little chicken broth. Like all Kyushu prefectures, Kumamoto serves straight noodles, though they’re a bit thicker and softer than those to the north. In addition to the standard toppings, most bowls of Kumamoto also feature pickled mustard greens, sliced wood-ear mushrooms (kikurage), bean sprouts, and cabbage. What sets Kumamoto ramen apart, and keeps its fans devoted, is a heavy hand with the garlic, laid on as both fried garlic chips and the black liquid known as mayu, made from garlic burned in sesame oil. 40 | The Ramen Reference

Style Tonkotsu


Toppings roast pork, scallions, nori, mushrooms, garlic



nown for its strong liquor, incomprehensible dialect, rebellious spirit, and mutton-chopped elders, Kagoshima is Japan’s Deep South. These ramen cooks have been using their local brand of black pig (known stateside as Berkshire pork) since way before it was cool. The only ramen in Kyushu that doesn’t trace its origins back to Kurume, Kagoshima ramen features a surprisingly mild broth of pork, chicken, and veggie stock finished with burnt onions. Noodles are cooked quite a bit past al dente, and can be either quite thin or quite thick, reflecting influences from both Okinawa and Taiwan.

Style Tonkotsu


Toppings roast pork, scallions, bean sprouts, mushrooms

Kagoshima tonkotsu ramen

Regional Differences | 41

interviews & conversations The following interviews give two different perspectives on ramen. The first is between Hiroshi Osaki, the most highly regarded ramen critic of Japan, and Ivan Orkin, one of the most acclaimed chefs. The second is from three chefs in Oakland, California, who are creating what they call “California Ramen.�

Hiroshi Osaki, Ramen Critic


iroshi Osaki and Ivan Orkin are two of the biggest names in ramen today. The first created RamenBank, an online resource cataloging and rating ramen shops across Japan, and the second is a New York born chef making waves in the Japanese and now American ramen scenes. This interview was originally published in Ivan Orkin’s book Ivan Ramen, and takes a look at Osaki-san’s history, the importance of ramen and his impression of Ivan’s store in Tokyo. Osaki-san eats roughly eight hundred bowls of ramen a year, and his word is valued above all else in the world of

ramenyas; he can make or break a restaurant with a single review. As a foreigner to Japan, Ivan Orkin was under intense scrutiny and has finally broken his way into the elite ramen makers of Tokyo, through his years of dedication to the traditional Japanese craft of ramen.

Interviews & Conversation | 43

Ivan Orkin Why did you start eating ramen, and when did ramen eating become the project that it is for you now?

noodles. Now people can distinguish ramen as ramen, and like sushi, it is its own unique cuisine. Ivan Orkin Can

was born in Fukushima Prefecture, a place famous for Kitakata ramen. When I was young, I would always eat Kitakata ramen and figured that that was what ramen was. But then I moved to Tokyo, and found tonkotsu soup and miso soup, and noodles that could be thick or thin. This piqued my curiosity. Each ramen shop had a different style, so I just started eating. If you ask a mountain climber why he climbs mountains, he’ll say, “The mountain was there.” I decided to eat ramen because there was a ramen shop in front of me.

you explain the idea of kodawari?

Osaki-san I

Ivan Orkin What’s your mountain?

What’s your goal in eating so much ramen?

When I was young, I’d eat two hundred or three hundred bowls of ramen in one year — a very slow pace...Now I eat around eight hundred bowls each year.

Osaki-san My purpose is to try every ramen shop. But every month sixty new ramen shops open in Tokyo alone. Each new ramen shop has a new style and a new type of ramen, and I want to eat everything. It’s an endless goal, endless eating. This year beef ramen appeared. Last year, there was none. Ten years ago, there was no cold ramen. Ramen history only started a hundred years ago. If sushi is an adult, then one-hundred-year-old ramen is just a child, a junior-high-school student. If it studies and grows, it will become an adult.

Ivan Orkin Where does ramen exist in the pantheon of Japanese cuisine? Osaki-san I don’t think of ramen as Japanese cuisine. Ramen has become a world cuisine. Ramen is popular in New York, in France, in Germany. Everybody knows sushi as sushi. Until recently, everybody thought of ramen as just

44 | The Ramen Reference

Osaki-san A long time ago, we only had imported American cars. Then we began to look closely and change small things, developing something new. The same thing began in ramen in 1996.

Ivan Orkin Why 1996? Was there an event that changed things? Osaki-san There was. The Internet started. Customers began putting images of ramen on the Internet. Before that, a ramen maker could visit different ramen shops and just steal their techniques. After 1996, you could see if one ramen shop was a copy of another. Ramen shops had to start developing original styles. Ramen history is one hundred years old now. For ninety years, it was the same, but since 1996, the number of types of ramen has doubled. The difference before and after 1996 is like BC and AD. Ivan Orkin Is that when you began seriously eating ramen?

Osaki-san I began eating ramen 45 years ago. I’m fifty-three years old now. When I was young, I’d eat two hundred or three hundred bowls of ramen in one year—a very slow pace. But after the Internet, after 1996, I could get more information about new shops. Now I eat around eight hundred bowls each year. Ivan Orkin Jesus—do

you eat anything else?

Osaki-san I love Italian and French food. But even after eating a full meal, I can still eat three bowls of ramen. I used to go to ramen shops and I’d eat a rice bowl on the side, but now I just stick to the ramen. The first time I came to Ivan Ramen I ate two bowls: the shio and the shoyu. Ivan Orkin What was your first impression of Ivan Ramen? Be honest. Osaki-san Ramen is a very sensitive food, and I had never seen a foreigner make delicious ramen. As I walked here from the train station, I thought maybe I’d find something simple, but not delicious. I was skeptical. When I arrived, I saw the kitchen and what you were doing. I saw that you were warming up the chashu before serving it; the chashu is usually just sliced and then placed cold on the ramen. That was the first thing that impressed me. Even Japanese ramen makers don’t make their own noodles, but you make everything—noodles, soup, chashu, everything. When I ate the ramen, I realized it was not a halfway bowl, it was perfect. I saw that ramen’s history had changed here. You were a chef before; your skill as a chef improved the ramen. Sometimes an Italian chef or a French chef may open a ramen shop, but they’ll make Western-style ramen. You still have traces of a Western style, but your ramen really is Japanese.

Rich—poor, everyone can eat ramen.

Ivan Ramen +, Ivan’s second storefront in Tokyo

Interviews & Conversation | 45

Ivan Orkin How often do you go into a shop and see something new, something that changes the history of ramen?

Twenty or thirty percent show me something new. But each time I come to Ivan Ramen, I don’t see the same thing as other ramen shops. Osaki-san

Ivan Orkin Do

you generally revisit ramen shops?

Osaki-san There are two types of ramen junkies: the repeater and the collector. I’m a collector—I try to eat as many different bowls as I can. There are probably many hundreds of people who eat five hundred bowls of ramen in a year. Then there’s those who have maybe one bowl a day— there are probably about five thousand of those people in Japan. I eat about eight hundred bowls each year.

Ivan Orkin What

is your idea of a perfect bowl

of ramen? Osaki-san I’ve never met the perfect bowl of ramen. In general, I like shoyu ramen, because it reminds me of the ramen I ate when I was a child—it’s nostalgic ramen. Ivan Orkin Is there an objective model—should the noodles be one way and the soup one way? Osaki-san I can’t say that the noodles or soup should be one way or another. If that were the case, ramen would stop evolving. I want ramen to keep improving. Sushi and soba are very traditional, so it’s hard to introduce a new style. Ramen can change. Plus, not everyone can afford to eat expensive sushi at places like Jiro. Rich, poor—everyone can eat ramen.

Shoyu ramen, Osaki-sans’ nostalgic favorite

46 | The Ramen Reference

Ramen Shop, Oakland California


he following interview was conducted between Rachel Kong and two of the chefs of Ramen Shop: Sam White and Rayneil de Guzman who had both previously worked at Chez Passine. They’ve brought with them the ideas and food sourcing and the concepts they learned at Chez Panisse and have been applying it to the world of Ramen.

growth of not only copying but creating a new tradition of ramen, one that could not be found anywhere else, and do so with a wonderful nod to the Japanese traditions.

Ramen Shop in Oakland has been striving to create their own idea of California ramen and carry the torch of what ramen can become in the United States. They are the beginning to the Interviews & Conversation | 47

Rayneil Those places, they’re good, but at the same time, you wonder about the sourcing—where the ingredients come from. Sam Some

of those places are great. But since we all go to Japan a lot, the experience there becomes what we’re measuring ourselves against. It doesn’t matter what else is happening in California.

Rayneil One specific trip was when we went to Afuri, in Ebisu. That beautiful balance of acidity—it just opened our eyes to a different style of ramen. We wanted to reinterpret it through a Northern California lens. There, it’s yuzukosho. For us, the citrus that’s most defining about the Bay Area are Meyer lemons. Everybody has them, and they’re so plentiful. Sam We have a good network of

Mendocino harvesting nori) about the hows and whys of Ramen Shop.

people who just bring us shopping bags of Meyer lemons from their trees. If someone comes in and brings twenty pounds of mushrooms—great, we’re going to play with mushrooms. One of the things that makes what we do different from a lot of ramen places is we’re changing our menu every day. We’re changing what the toppings are, we’re adjusting what the broth is, what the tare is. It’s a reflection of what’s available.

Sam We


At Ramen Shop local ingredients play a large role in the menu

Rachel Kong I talked to Sam and Rayneil (JJ was in

all had separately gone to Japan; JJ lived in Japan for six years, up in Hokkaido. We’d hang out and wonder, How come nothing like that exists here? There’s gotta be something that exists around here. And so we’d do these drives to San Jose and San Mateo. Some of those places are good, but we hit that moment of: We live in Oakland and there’s no good ramen in Oakland? That seems totally crazy.

Someone just came in and dropped off some chanterelles from Canyon, right over the hill. That’s something we drew from at Chez: the mushroom foragers would always just come in this time of year. It changes your menu. We had an idea for the menu tomorrow, but now we have great mushrooms and those beautiful blood oranges.

If someone comes in and brings twenty pounds of mushrooms—great, we’re going to play with mushrooms 48 | The Ramen Reference

We’re specific in that same way. People are not using all this awesome seaweed from California. We have this incredibly long coast with so much beautiful stuff

Sam It goes back to what ramen is in Japan—each style is a reflection of that region and what’s available. There’s a reason butter corn comes from Hokkaido and not from Koshu. We’re trying to create the Northern California style of ramen. We’re trying to represent our area and what is available to us, and really the best of what is available to us. When you talk to those really, really good ramen chefs in Japan, they are very particular about where their eggs and flour are coming from. We’re specific in that same way. People are not using all this awesome seaweed from California. We have this incredibly long coast with so much beautiful stuff, and when you taste that real nori it blows every other kind of over-produced, over-processed nori out of the water.

But we’re not fixed to one style. That’s one of the things about Chez Panisse and why it’s been successful for forty-plus years. It’s a constant evolution, and it’s a constant conversation with people who are bringing in produce. Five years ago it was almost impossible to get yuzu anywhere— and now when it’s in season, we get this awesome rush of it. In ten years, I can’t really speak to what it’s gonna be, but I’m definitely excited. Rayneil Every

time we go back to Japan we draw inspiration. For a period of time we really loved tonkotsu, and it was our goal to develop our style. I really like our niboshi, the light shoyu style we’ve had in Tokyo. The veggie—our shoyu Meyer lemon one—has become a staple. I didn’t think we could do a veggie stock, because to me, the pork- or meat-based stock is one of the defining characteristics of ramen. But it happened, and I think and it’s as good as our pork ramen. What’s seasonal definitely dictates the menu, and there’s also our mood. Sometimes we want that

heavy, rich ramen. Right now, tonight, we’re going to do the gyokai tonkotsu with really beautiful mushrooms and green garlic, which is in season now. In the summer, when corn is in season, we do the Hokkaido butter corn miso and it’s so good. One beautiful thing is talking to customers. We have so many regulars and they get the different nuances of the bowls—particularly the shoyu, because it’s one of the more delicate bowls. The toppings really come through. In the summer we’ll do a tomato confit that brings in a little richness and a little acidity. Right now we have a butternut squash that we roast. The different parts of the bowls really pick up the flavors of the different ingredients. Rachel Kong And it’s true: the broth in the Veggie Shoyu somehow tastes different from quadrant to quadrant. Under the shiitake and oyster mushrooms, the broth is deep and earthy; near the squash and cauliflower, it’s sweeter, almost caramelized. The vegetables in the Veggie Shoyu are grown super locally; the pork in the tonkotsu is from Llano Seco in Chico. But Ramen Shop doesn’t shy from using ingredients flown in from Japan, either.

Almost everything is local. The only exception is the shoyu. We used to dry some of our own fish, because we have the anchovies and sardines that are essential to making the dashi— but from our trips to Japan we’ve seen their whole


Interviews & Conversation | 49

process, and we just can’t touch what they make. The dried fish is from Japan. But the miso is from California. Sam There

are some ingredients that have no equivalent in California. That being said, so much of our menu is our appetizers, fried rice, and other non-ramen food, which is really about highlighting local stuff. Fried rice with squid is all Monterey Bay squid, super beautiful, straight out of the water that morning. We do a lot of tartare with local fish from right outside the Golden Gate. Obviously all of the greens and all of the produce are from here. The flour from Hokkaido is very special, but we wanted to get organic flour from the United States. So we use Central Milling; flour+water and Pizzaiolo uses it for their pizza, too.


to run a business while still getting the best produce possible and experimenting. Rayneil At the farmers’ market, we see people from Chez, from flour+water, from Pizzaiolo, the State Bird people. It’s your chance to talk about what you’re doing, what looks good. Sam That’s

the big thing about sourcing. If you’re connected to good farms and farmers, that becomes your community. For us, it’s so exciting when farmers come in here. Those are the people we appreciate the most—especially this younger generation of farmers. Kids in their late teens, early twenties, who obviously want to hang out and party and be part of a cool scene, but are also the ones who are taking on the idea of growing organic produce for the next twenty years. Watching that community grow is really exciting to me.

California cuisine is really changing from this kind of Mediterranean flavor profile toa much more Pacific flavor profile Rachel Kong Ramen Shop strikes me as a place that

could not exist anywhere but Oakland. And it’s also a part of the Bay Area restaurant community— chefs who care about sourcing, and who are learning from one another. Sam I

used to say it more—I feel it less and less— but I feel like Oakland is a blank canvas, there’s a lot of space to fill in and you have a lot of room to be creative and try things. Our rent isn’t crazy crazy cheap, but it’s much cheaper than San Francisco or New York. We can get a liquor license for relatively cheap and we can afford

50 | The Ramen Reference

Rayneil When I started at Chez, the organic farms up at Yolo or down in Santa Cruz, no one was doing any bok choy, nobody was doing any daikon. Now those are staples. Sam California cuisine is really changing

from this kind of Mediterranean flavor profile to a much more Pacific flavor profile—and because it’s California, there are fewer rules. A lot of our Japanese friends come here and they try the fried rice are like, Well, this is not Japanese, but it’s awesome. The same thing happens with our ramen. Some people have called it not authentic or traditional—but at the same time, it’s good. We’re not trying to replicate somebody else’s style of ramen, we’re really trying to create our own.

Veggie ramen from the Ramen Shop in Oakland

Interviews & Conversation | 51

glossary Many of the items throughout this book are refered to by their japanese names. This index provides direct translations for easier reading.

Ajitsuke Tamago


Marinatred Egg

Fermented Soybean Paste



Powdered Seaweed

Bean Sprouts



Fermented Tuna Shavings (replace bonito flakes)

Fish Cakes



Roast Pork

Dried Seaweed



Fish Stock

Rice wine (there is a difference between cooking sake and other forms)

Ichimi Dried Red Chili Peppers

Shio Salt

Iriko Niboshi Dried baby Anchovies/Sardines

Shoyu Soy Sauce

Kinoko Mushrooms

Tonkotsu Pork Bone

Kombu Kelp


Wakegi Scallions

Alkaline Water

Menma Fermented Bamboo Shoots

Mirin Lower alcohol rice wine, usually sweeter than sake.

Glossary | 53

sources This book was made using sourced content and photography from many different fields, authors, and photographers. Anything not attributed in the following section was written by myself.

Content History

Regional Differences

“The Social History of Ramen” written by Linda Lombardi for

“A guide to the Regional Ramen of Japan” written by Nate Shockey for

General Overview

Interviews & Conversation

“Ramen Anatomy: The Four Parts of a Bowl of Ramen That You Need to Know” written by Dwight Co for

“Hiroshi Osaki, Ramen Critic” is an interview published in Ivan Orkin’s book Ivan Ramen “Ramen Shop, Oakland California” is an interview conducted by Rachel Kong for

Photography Introduction

Regional Differences

Pinterest(5) Esra Crabbe/ Reddit user “Ramen_Lord”(29) Anakjajan.wordpress(32) Tokyofox.wordpress(35) Nihonehime.blogspot(39)

History Elliegoeseast.wordpress(8) Samira Bouaou for the Epoch Times(9) Keystone/Getty Images(11) The New York Post(12) Japan Today(13) Jason Behnken/The Tampa Tribune(14) Tania Savayan/Journal News(15)

General Overview Zagat(18) Christine Elise McCarthy(19) Reddit user “Ramen_Lord”(21)

Interviews & Conversation Ivan Ramen(41) Imgur(44) Shespoised.wordpress(45) Erin Kunkel/Kinfolk(46)

Sources | 55

colophon This book was compiled, designed, and illustrated by Nikolai Laba for the Spring 2016 Capstone project at the Washington University in St. Louis Sam Fox School of Visual Arts & Design. It was printed at Marvel Printing, on Mohawk Superfine smooth ultrawhite 100 lb text using Tabac Sans and Baskerville.

The Ramen Reference  

The Ramen reference is a reference guide to traditional Japanese ramen. It is the front of a do-si-do book with The Recipe Reference.

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