23 Jan 2008

Japanese: The Story Of Ramen

While I was in India a few years ago I found this clip from The Ramen Girl (links below) that inspires me to arrange a Ramen Tasting event (don’t ask me why I was looking at a Ramen clip in India). I think I was homesick, miss my dog, and I was hungry.

We often neglected Ramen because it seems simple, humble, and we associate it with cheap instant packaged food. But there are many more attributes and history to Ramen. Ramen possesses a subtle elegance and a mysterious aura among the wide range of Japanese cuisine. When one is exhausted, Ramen brings sparks of life. When one is in pain, Ramen soothes the wound. The steam brushes your face, the hot liquid glides through your lips and runs through your veins, the warmth goes from your fingertips when you touch the bowl straight to your heart and makes you feel home. Ramen is seductive. It arouses your senses and sensibility. It makes you human again. Ramen is the soul temptress, it awakens passion for life.

The story of Ramen started from the noodles origin from China over 4000 years ago and reached the Japanese culture much later. While Tokugawa Mitsukuni reportedly ate ramen in the late 17th century, it was only during the Meiji Period in the 19th century that the dish became well known in Japan. It was originally called “Lamen”, but will be later referred to as “Ramen”, since there is no distinction between the ‘L’ and ‘R’ sounds in the Japanese language and it was a more popular way to express the word.

After WW II Japan went through an intense food shortage, and this was the turning point in the history of Ramen. It was a perfect solution, Ramen were cheap and a great source of needed calories and nutrition. Some years later the founder and chairman of Nissin Foods, Momofuku Ando, invented the instant noodles. The year was 1958. Named the greatest “Made in Japan” invention of the 20th century, surpassing karaoke and headphone stereos in a Japanese poll made by the The Fuji Research Institute Corporation, instant Ramen instantly became a Japanese cultural icon. Today, 4000 years later since the origin of the first noodles, Ramen are eaten worldwide and part of 85 billions meals every year.

In Japan, varieties of restaurants like izakayas, karaoke halls and amusement parks offer Ramen, but the best quality Ramen are only to be found in Ramen-ya establishments. These restaurants generally boast 10 to 20 seats at a bar and three or four tables. Almost every prefecture in Japan has its own variation of Ramen, from the Tonkotsu Ramen of Kyushu to the Miso Ramen of Hokkaido. If you ever make a trip to Yokohama, there is a Ramen Museum that was opened in 1994.

Japanese instant noodles were imported to North America in the 1970s known as “Ramen”. Until today the term Ramen is often used to refer to instant noodles. Ramen gained popularity and were sold so well to tight-income buyers in the United States that by mid 80’s imports from Japan were supplanted by American manufacturers. I bet every single one of us has eaten a pack of ramen in our college days when our income was only a mere 3-digits per week.

I set up the Ramen tasting just like a wine tasting. We started from the lightest broth that has the most subtle sweetness, progressively to the darker broths that have more vivid and expressive flavors. We typically taste six different broth flavors that represent different prefectures in Japan. It’s always interesting to discover how vastly different they taste, and in a way, you feel that bit of pride for being able to recognize that.

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One Response to Japanese: The Story Of Ramen

  1. admin May 13, 2014 at 10:51 am #

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