Oct 1, 2013
Ramen may not be an indigenous Japanese dish, but the versatility of the dish has spawned many outstanding creations. We speak to three Ramen masters – Kenji Tsukada, Shigemi Kawahara and Keisuke Takeda – to find out the art behind their culinary innovations.
Believed to have originated from China, Ramen started making an appearance in Japanese eateries by the early 1900s. Restaurants serving Chinese cuisine offered a simple Ramen dish that consisted of noodles, a broth flavoured with salt and pork bones and a few toppings. However, the dish soon rose to prominence in the 1960s after the invention of instant Ramen by Momofuku Ando, founder and chairman of Nissin Foods. By the 1980s, Ramen had become a ubiquitous Japanese dish, enjoyed across the country in its many varying styles. In a few short decades, Ramen restaurants went from numbering a couple of hundreds to several thousands. What started as a casual dish of convenience for students and blue-collared workers has now evolved into a chic cultural icon that spans the globe and influences other cuisines.
In Japan, Ramen dishes are typically served in a meat- or fish-based broth, often flavoured with Shoyu or Miso. Some of the more common toppings include Chashu (sliced roasted pork), Negi (spring onions) and Ajitsuke Hanjuku Tamago (flavoured half-boiled eggs.) Because of the versatility of the dish, Ramen masters from the different regions in Japan have come up with many distinctively regional flavours. Sapporo and Hakata styles of Ramen are arguably two of the most prominent regional creations.
Sapporo Ramen is famous for its rich Miso broth that’s usually topped with sweet corn, butter and finely chopped pork and garlic. Because of its close proximity to the sea, local seafood like scallop, squid and crab are also often added to the mix.
Hakata Ramen originates from the city of Fukuoka in Kyushu. It’s known for its rich and milky Tonkotsu (pork-bone based) broth and thin, non-curly noodles. Popular toppings included Beni Shoga (pickled ginger), Karashi Takana (spicy picked mustard greens) and sesame seeds.
When it comes to Ramen, the possibilities are quite literally, endless. It’s little wonder then that Ramen masters approach their craft with the meticulous dedication of artisans.