Every single one of you has heard of ramen at one point in your lives. Most of you have had it in some form–whether instant, fried, or fresh–some of you had the luck of having some at an authentic Japanese restaurant, or noodle house. It has been praised as a staple in any student’s pantry, quick and easy (although lacking any real nutrition, let’s face it, guys), as well as a traditional and delectable all-in-one meal in Japanese and Korean households.
Although most of you are surely familiar with the instant noodles found in virtually any grocery store, ramen also comes in several other varieties–both Korean and Japanese. Not only will I show you the colourful and drool-inspiring world of ramen in its most authentic form, I’ll also provide some tips to bringing your instant ramen game to the next level! (So you can finally indulge in this midterm favorite at low cost and guilt-free!)
Korean Ramen (Ramyeon)
Although similar in the sense that they use the same noodles, there are subtle differences between Korean and Japanese ramen from the broth used, to the choice in toppings, and even in the way its prepared and cooked.
Koreans prefer eating ramen of the instant variety, and typically more as a snack than an actual meal. However, there are exceptions such as the budaejjigae shown below, a variety of meats, vegetables, and starches, all cooked together in a hodgepodge to either be eaten straight out of the pot or in a small side bowl of your own, served with a ladle.
Most notably, the broth used in Korean ramen is spicy, and not just because they add kimchi to their soup. The broth is seasoned with gochujang, a Korean hot chili paste, among other things.They also add celery, tofu, sausages, cabbage, rice cakes, mushrooms, onions, and even cheese. It’s usually served with a side of white rice.
And then of course, there’s the familiar ramyeon as well found in your local supermarket, which are usually spicy with some dried vegetables. (And if they’re not spicy, they’re simulating some other Korean dish, like bone broth soup.)
For a history of where the noodles come from, you can read this 240 page book by George Solt. However, I’m not interested in boring you with all that scholar talk. The only thing that’s noteworthy is that the dish is Japanese, but that the noodles are originally from China. So let’s just jump right into it and talk about food!
Japan undoubtedly takes ramen to the next level, making it one of its national dishes. There are 4 main types, depending on the soup’s base, and on top of that, there are regional variants as well! Each region has their own spin on this classic dish, which means that the bowl of ramen you get from the noodle shop in Sapporo may be very different from a bowl of ramen savoured in Nagasaki.
Shio ramen is a salt-based broth. (Yep, that’s all it takes.) Really, it just means that its broth is basic, and unflavoured.
Shoyu ramen has soy sauce added to the broth to give it a rich and salty flavour. You don’t want to add too much soy, or you’ll overwhelm the other ingredients of your dish.
As you might guess, miso ramen adds a small dab of Japanese fermented soybean paste to the broth to give it a milky, salty texture.
Tonkotsu ramen is made using pork bone broth–the result of simmering pork hocks or trotters with herbs for several hours. It tends to have a cloudier broth than shio or shoyu (similar to miso) and often has a spicy variation as well.
Stepping up your game!
The pictures in this article give you a pretty darn good idea of how you can make better ramen at home! Although restaurants go through the trouble of making their broth and base in house (which can take several hours, not gonna lie), there’s no reason why you can’t make amazing ramen at home!
Unless you’re getting the plain noodle packages in the pasta aisle of your grocery store, most instant noodle packages come with a small pouch of broth and seasonings. If you want to reduce the amount of salt in your final product, swap out the seasoning pouch for a tetra pack of broth. Either chicken or vegetable broth will work perfectly. Unless you’re using beef as your protein, I would avoid using beef broth. Finally, you can also include any of the following toppings:
- Boiled eggs (soft-, medium-, or hard-boiled, depending on your preference)
- Cooked pork belly (chashu)
- Thinly sliced beef or chicken (such as you would have in a fondue)
- Shrimp (I recommend removing the tails before cooking)
- Fish cake
- Hot dogs or sausages
- Bamboo shoots (you can buy these out of a can, just make sure to rinse before use!)
- Bok choy
- Cabbage (nappa is best, but green or red cabbage works too)
- Green onions or spring onions
- Mushrooms (shiitake mushrooms are most authentically Asian. You can buy them dried and hydrate them by letting them soak in water prior to cooking. Personally, I prefer enoki, which come fresh.)
- Shredded carrots
- Seaweed (again, you can buy them dried in most groceries)
- Bean sprouts
- Celery or celery leaves
- Soybean paste (miso or doenjang)
- Sriracha or gochujang
- Sesame oil
Naturally some of these are more affordable than others, but a carton of eggs is a fairly inexpensive and versatile protein, while cabbage, carrots, and spinach are affordable as well.
I recommend preparing your protein ahead as they take the longest to cook. Some of your veggies can be cooked in the broth while you prepare the noodles, such as bok choy, cabbage, or mushrooms. If you’re cooking with thinly sliced beef, chicken, or turkey, cook them in the broth (like in a fondue), but only once your noodles are ready!
Finally, I recommend boiling your noodles in water separate from the broth. This will ensure that any starchy residue will be boiled off and tossed aside instead clouding your broth with bland flavours. For extra flavour, you can add a small amount of soy sauce or soybean paste (whether Korean or Japanese, both are delicious) to your broth.
Combine your ingredients in your bowl in whichever order you like, once cooked. Generally, you want to have at least one protein, 1-2 veggies, and one flavour for your base.
Sources | Further reading