NOODLES are the basis of the world’s most loved comfort foods. Soups, stir-fr, pasta, dumplings – the variations, varieties and forms of noodles found all over the world are endless, and the way they are used is only limited by the imagination of the cook handling them. From time-to-time I will be adding to this page tidbits of my encounters with the humble noodle – the dishes and the experiences – that make the noodle the undisputed king of international cuisine. And, from you noodle devotee, I welcome your experiences, contributions and recommendations. Long live the noodle!
RAMEN:Japan’s working class hero, a social equalizer and the staple of Japanese trucker (remember Tampopo?). Funnily enough, ramen isn’t even Japanese as these thin, yellow egg noodles (that just ask to be slurped!) were imported from China. Ramen is an amalgam of the Chinese “ra” (to stretch) and the Japanese suffix “men” (for noodles). Ramen-ya (ramen cafes) are hugely popular in Japan and despite its proletarian image ramen connoisseurs include anyone from truck drivers to Harajuku Girls and Japanese steel magnates. It’s also big business – ramen is exported all over the world (usually the packaged dried (‘fried’) instant noodle variety which was invented by Taiwan’s Momofuku Ando in 1958), and is a staple in the diet of university students globally. Ramen is so popular in Japan that there is even a ramen museum in Yokohama which traces its history and rise as a culinary icon and includes a replica 1950s Tokyo suburb where devotees can saviour local regional specialties of ramen soup.
Economists also use the noodle has a tool as there is an economic index based on salesof instant ramen – the Mama Noodles Index
(Mama is Thailand’s biggest instant noodle maker), which is used to reflect economic times in the Kingdom – the theory is that increased sales of instant noodles, which are usually cheap, occurs because people can not afford more expensive foods.
Good Japanese-style ramen uses fresh eggs noodles (sometimes handmade) with the broth made with dashi (a basic stock) and chicken or pork bones (sometimes including a pig’s head), vegetables and soy or miso (ramen chefs can spend a couple of years just learning to perfect their broth).
There are four distinct styles of ramen: shoyu-ramen (soy ramen) from Tokyo; shio-ramen (salt ramen) and miso-ramen (ramen in a miso-based broth) and both from Sapporo; and tonkotsu-ramen (ramen in a white pork broth) from Kyushu. Fresh ramen noodles are cooked until katame (‘al-dente’) and served in the hot broth usually with toppings like sliced pork, bean sprouts, spring onion, naruto-maki (the thinly-sliced white fish cake with a pink swirl), nori and boiled egg. Depending on the style (or the chef), it isn’t unusual to also find sweet corn, spring onion, strips of pickled bamboo, cloud-ear fungus and other delights.
There is an excellent blog devoted to savoring ramen around Japan written by an expat living there called Ramen Adventures.
Coming soon – rice noodles.