Translated by Lester Somera
Ramen Guide: Types, Regional Varieties & Tokyo's Best Ramen Restaurants
Ramen is one of the most popular dishes in Japan. We'll introduce the best-known ramen types, and take a look at regional variations from across Japan. In this article you will also find ramen restaurants recommendations in Tokyo, and more!
Written by 神谷和紀
Ramen - One of the Most Popular Japanese Dishes
Soba, udon, and ramen are three quintessential Japanese noodle dishes.
The modern ramen scene has a wealth of serving variations, even if the dishes are all called ramen: cold or hot noodles eaten together with soup, noodles served without soup, and thin noodles eaten with a hot dipping sauce.
This article will provide some helpful insights into ramen for your trip to Japan: we’ll look at the kinds of different ramen, discuss how to eat them, and introduce some famous ramen shops in Tokyo.
1. Ramen Varieties
2. Typical Ramen Toppings
3. Health Information on Ramen
4. How To Order Ramen
5. How To Eat Ramen
6. A Fierce Battle For Noodle Supremacy: 10 Popular Ikebukuro Ramen Shops
7. 19 Regional Varieties of Ramen from All Over Japan
8. Where You Can Eat Regional Ramen
9. Michelin-Starred Ramen Restaurants
10. Five Halal And Vegan Ramen Shops
Shio (Salt) Ramen
This ramen has a light flavor. The standard broth is made by boiling down chicken bones and seafood products (such as dashi stock, dried sardines and bonito flakes), and it has a characteristic transparency.
Shoyu (Soy Sauce) Ramen
The most common kind of ramen, the broth has both the fragrance of soy sauce and a deep, rich flavor. Like shio ramen, the broth is made from chicken bones (“torigara”) and seafood products; some restaurants may also add other ingredients like pork bones ("tonkotsu”).
Restaurants that specialize in miso ramen use homemade miso to make their soup. These soup recipes feature different kinds of miso, like charred miso, white miso, red miso, soybean miso, barley miso and rice miso. The toppings are similarly abundant, including sweet corn, butter and sauteed vegetables.
Tonkotsu (Pork Broth) Ramen
Tonkotsu broth is made by boiling down pork bones. Tonkotsu ramen has a sharp odor compared to other ramen varieties, and people either love it or hate it. Tonkotsu broth takes many forms; it can be light and smooth, or thick and rich enough to stick to the spoon. There are also shoyu-tonkotsu and shio-tonkotsu soups.
The noodles are usually very thin, and the bowls are topped with onions, char siu pork, bamboo shoots, finely-chopped kikurage mushrooms and pickled ginger.
Tsukemen is a ramen dish similar to zaru-soba. The noodles are rinsed off and piled into a colander or bowl alongside a bowl of thick soup that can be either hot or cold. Take a mouthful-sized portion of the noodles with your chopsticks, dunk them into the soup and enjoy.
There is an abundant variety of tsukemen soups, each with their own particular emphasis: acidity, sweetness, rich seafood flavors and more. Tsukemen noodles are thick, and tend to be served in larger portions than regular ramen. You can also request “soup wari,” which is hot water for diluting the leftover soup. You can then drink it straight.
For more information, check out our tsukemen article.
Cup noodles, instant ramen - these are prepackaged types of ramen and other noodle dishes that can be easily picked up and made at home or on the go. Available in a wide variety of standard and seasonal flavors, cup noodles have been a staple of busy people in Japan since their debut in 1958. If you'd like to learn more about cup noodle in Japan, why not head to the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum in Osaka, or the Cup Noodle Museum in Yokohama?
And if you'd like to learn more about seasonal foods in Japan, take a look at A Taste Of Japan - Seasonality In The Snack Aisle.
Typical Ramen Toppings
Menma (Fermented Bamboo Shoots)
These are processed, fermented bamboo shoots. Their pleasant crunch provides an additional textural element when eating ramen. Some restaurants also make their own menma.
These slices of roasted or boiled pork are often flavored with soy sauce.
Naruto (Fish Cakes)
Naruto-maki are steamed cakes made of processed fish paste, with a whirlpool shape when sliced into cross-sections. It is said that they got their name from the whirlpools that form in the Naruto Strait, Tokushima prefecture.
Bowls of ramen in Kansai tend to feature green spring onions, while their Kanto counterparts are usually topped with leeks.
Boiled eggs for ramen toppings are typically flavored; it is common for restaurants to take soft-boiled eggs and marinate them in a special sauce. The taste of the rich, thick yolk is irresistible.
Moyashi (Bean Sprouts)
These edible pulses are artificially grown without exposing them to sunlight, creating vegetables that are rich in nutrients like vitamin C. The bean sprouts from western Japan are thin and long, while those in eastern and northern Japan are thick and crunchy. It’s interesting how bean sprouts vary from region to region.
Kernels of sweet corn are often used to top bowls of miso or shio ramen. The practice began at restaurants in Sapporo.
Usually, as a topping for miso and shio ramen, restaurants place a thick pat of butter on top of the noodles right before it’s time to dig in. It was originally known as a Sapporo ramen topping before it spread to the rest of Japan.
Nori are thin edible sheets of seaweed. Their crisp texture and aroma are also used in sushi. They provide high mineral and nutrient content, and a whiff of the sea.
A variety of seaweed, wakame is quickly boiled and used as a topping for ramen. With a firm texture, pleasant fragrance, and high nutritional value, wakame is a familiar foodstuff for Japanese people. There is also kuki wakame ramen, which uses wakame stalks as toppings for a delicious and unique texture.
Beni-shoga (Pickled Ginger)
Beni-shoga is indispensable to any bowl of tonkotsu ramen. Ginger is pickled in salt, or sun-dried then pickled in plum vinegar. This popular ingredient is also used in takoyaki, okonomiyaki and yakisoba.
Kikurage (Sliced Mushrooms)
These black mushrooms grow on fallen trees and dead branches from spring to autumn. They are mostly eaten in Eastern Asia.
For more information on popular ramen toppings, take a look at The Secret to Delicious Ramen - 7 Basic Toppings!
Is Ramen Healthy? Health Information
Although there are a great number of healthy Japanese foods to choose from, one in particular being sashimi, ramen unfortunately counts as more of a comfort food. An average bowl of ramen without any extra toppings or seasoning starts at about 500 kcal and can go up from there to well over 2500 kcal, depending on what it comes with. Standard bowls of ramen are typically high in fat (including saturated fats) and sodium, while instant ramen is quite high in sodium and low on other important vitamins and minerals. However, not all ramen is created equal, so if you are very calorie and sodium conscious, you may want to consider the vegetarian or even vegan ramen options mentioned later in this article instead.