Ramen Goes International
27. February 2023
Ramen arrived in Europe a long time ago and has been enjoying popularity ever since. For many, it is the Japanese food. More and more restaurants are offering new variations of ramen that deviate from the Japanese original. But is ramen a Japanese dish at all? And what about the rest of the world; how is ramen made in other cultures? Dive into the wide world of ramen with us and discover your new favorite ramen with our exclusive recipes.
What exactly is ramen anyway?
If you are not yet familiar with ramen, you may be wondering what is so special about the hype around the noodle soups that you can order everywhere or buy ready-made in supermarkets. The special thing about this type of noodle soup is, on one hand, the special broths, which are essential flavor carriers for the noodles. Four typical broths are:
- Shoyu: A broth based on soy sauce
- Shio: Mainly salt based, usually made with a hearty fish soup base
- Miso: Fermented soybeans in the form of a paste provide the basis here
- Tonkotsu: Boiled pork bones that become a milky-white broth
Of course there are many other variations, which often consist of a mixture of shoyu and, for example, a spicy kimchi sauce or other sauces.
There are also a variety of topping options. Coupled with the individual taste of the broths, they create very special flavor combinations, which make each ramen soup unique. Commonly found in typical Japanese ramen is nori (dried seaweed), menma (bamboo shoots), chashu (braised pork belly), moyashi (soybean sprouts) or tamago (soft-boiled egg in soy sauce) — to name a few.
The History of Ramen
Since ramen has gained international fame, most people associate it with Japan. The original ramen actually comes from China. Ramen, as we enjoy it in Japanese restaurants today, did not exist in this form at the time. The idea of putting noodles in a soup was handed down from China in the 19th century. At that time, many travelers or immigrants came to Japan and brought things like clothing or food from their cultures to trade. China Town in Yokohama, near Tokyo, was where noodle soups spread to Japan, as Yokohama had a large trading port. The first ramen restaurant in Japan opened in 1910 in Asakusa, Tokyo. One of the most popular ramen variations, the Fukuoka ramen, didn't come about until around 1950. Fun fact: This happened by accident, because a chef let the soup cook for far too long until the broth turned white and milky - which, to his surprise, turned out perfect and so, this way of cooking ramen still continues today.
In the post-war period, wheat consumption started to increase again, which enabled people to make ramen noodles. Many outdoor food stands ensued. Ramen was and still is fast food. The invention of instant noodles, which made it possible for people to prepare ramen at home quickly and easily, was also formative at this time. Today, instant noodle soups are a whole food category and the boom doesn't seem to stop.
In Japan alone there are now over 24,000 ramen restaurants, 5,000 of them in the metropolis of Tokyo alone.
Ramen in Europe
Ramen has been booming in Europe for a decade or two, and the trend is rising. More and more Japanese or Japanese-inspired restaurants are opening. In London, for example, tonkotsu ramen has become popular, while in Germany shoyu is the pioneer. But let's take a closer look.
In Germany, in the city of Düsseldorf, there is the famous Immermannstrasse. On this street, there are numerous Japanese restaurants and grocery stores because the Japanese community there is the largest in Europe. As a result, it has developed into a cult area that also attracts people who live further away. There are numerous ramen restaurants and supermarkets selling instant variations of ramen on this street alone. But not only in Germany — noodle soups are trending all over Europe. Metropolitan cities offer countless possibilities to enjoy the noodle soup, Japanese- style or in a modified way. The vegan variety of ramen is clearly most remarkable in Europe. Veganism or vegetarianism is not a particularly big issue in Japan, in contrast to Europe. Shoyu is often used as the basis for vegan soups.
Ramen in Asia
A lot of the modern variations of ramen actually come from the surrounding Asian countries. In South Korea, for example, kimchi ramen is a very popular dish. Depending on the amount, the reddish kimchi sauce adds either a subtle or a more intense spiciness to the broth. A popular topping in Korea is melted cheese, which liquefies in the sauce and adds a very special flavor.
Thailand is famous for its peanut noodle soup with coconut milk. Here, tofu is often used instead of meat, which is a great alternative for vegetarians and vegans. In Asia there are also many other variations with, for example, rice noodles instead of wheat noodles. Technically, these shouldn't really be called ramen. But if we remember that ramen as we know it today is simply the result of noodles in a soup — no matter what kind of noodles — the name is justified. The Vietnamese noodle soup Pho, consisting of rice noodles, rice flour and water, can also be found on many European menus that offer vegan or typical Japanese ramen.
The story goes on
All in all, it can be said that the variations of ramen in general were strongly influenced by the Asian countries and this influence is brought to us in Europe. Who knows, maybe one day you will find typical European dishes merged into ramen soup on the menu. In any case, it is certain that ramen is a very big and popular topic globally, which is constantly evolving and reinventing itself.
In Japan, pretty much every ramen restaurant has its unique broth to make it stand out. Since it is difficult to prepare the broth at home, we at Kikkoman created a soup base that can be easily made by just adding boiling water.
Are you hungry already? Discover our numerous new ramen recipes. In addition to traditional Japanese ramen, we offer vegetarian and vegan alternatives, as well as recipes with a European touch.