Every culture has its carb-based comfort food and in Japan, the original go-to meal is ramen. Of Chinese origin, this salty dish comprises hand-pulled wheat noodles in broth, plus a wide array of extras and condiments. There are myriad permutations of ramen though the broth styles boil down to a handful of time-honored favorites: tonkastu (thick pig’s marrow), shio (salt), miso (miso combined with chicken, fish or pork broth) and shouyu (soy sauce). There’s also tsukemen ramen – ‘dipping’ noodles served separately from the broth. You take two or three noodles out of one bowl, dip them in the broth, then eat them.
In your ramen you can enjoy practically any combination of the following: char siu (fatty sliced pork), nori (seaweed), a boiled egg (still gooey in the middle), bean sprouts, scallions, corn, kamaboko (processed fish stick), bamboo shoots and kakuni (braised cubes of pork belly). A thick and fragrant tonkatsu with char siu, egg, and kakuni is the ultimate in rich ramen indulgence. Pickled ginger, available in the condiments tray, helps you digest this fatty dish.
Different types of ramen hail from different areas of Japan. The best way to sample them is to take a Japan-wide culinary tour, sampling all sorts of traditional Japanese cuisine in their place of origin. Or, if you only have time in Tokyo, you can head to Ramen Street beneath Tokyo Station, where you can pay for your ramen – via ticket machine – with your train fare card. There are also very famous outlets, such as Rokurinsha and the Ramen Jiro chain, which serves up huge bowls of its own unique style of ramen.
The trick to eating ramen is to do it quickly, before the noodles get too soft and the broth congeals. Put your face close to the bowl to minimize splash-back, separate a few noodles with chopsticks, insert one end into your mouth and inhale the strands whole. Never bite off the noodles in mid-flow. Slurp in air to cool them down. Afterwards, say “gochiso-sama deshita” – kind of like “thanks for the great meal!”
For more information on tours in Japan, or for places to eat great ramen wherever you’re headed, contact one of Backyard Travel’s local Travel Specialists to find out more.