What type of ramen are you eating? How to classify ramen

Do you love ramen? (If you're reading this article, we assume you do.) But even so, do you know what kind of ramen you like? What kinds of ramen are there in the first place? Tonkotsu ramen, shoyu ramen, miso ramen, shio ramen? Yes, but there are lesser known types of ramen as well. Tori-paitan ramen, seabura-niboshi ramen ... Tsukemen is ramen? Do you know the exact definitions of  each one is?

 

Originally, ramen was simply called "ramen" in most ramen shops.The ramen served reflected the particular style of  each region.  This is probably due to the peculiarity of the ramen dish and its relatively short culinary history. Ramen has only been around for 100 years or so and its evolution and development were specific to different parts of  Japan.  Eventually, as information about each region’s ramen spread, ramen began to be classified in different styles. A good example is Tonkotsu ramen. Tonkotsu ramen originated in the Kyushu region and only began to be called “ tonkotsu” after it got to Tokyo. Initially, it was called Kyushu ramen or Hakata ramen after its birthplace, but is now known as  tonkotsu ramen because of its distinctive broth. Up to that point, tonkotsu ramen was simply called "ramen" by the people of Kyushu. They simply didn’t know any other kind. 

 

Fast forward to today and you’ll find all sorts of new ramen recipes.  Basic classifications such as pork bone ramen, soy sauce ramen, miso ramen, and salt ramen can’t possibly describe all the new flavors that exist today.  To help you zero in on what kind of ramen you like, let's look at some basic classifications.

 

Ramen classification by tare (sauce)

 

Tare is essentially the seasoning for a ramen broth. Its main role is to add saltiness, but  also critical to umami and flavor. Sorting ramen by tare is the most orthodox way and is independent of  what kind of soup is used. For example, shio ramen- shio being the tare- appears to be a clear and light soup ramen. However, there is no rule that shio ramen always has to be that way. Shio ramen can be made with a thicker, richer soup as well. Though shio ramen doesn’t have to use a light soup, it often is. Again, there’s no hard and fast rule. Let’s look at some other tare types and their characteristics. 

 

Shoyu Ramen

 

 

This ramen uses a shoyu (soy sauce) tare. The ramen of "Rairaiken", which is said to be the origin of Japanese ramen, was soy sauce ramen.

 

Miso Ramen

 

 

This ramen uses miso tare. Miso has a very strong flavor, so ramen chefs must ensure the individuality of each dish comes through. 

 

Shio ramen

 

 

This ramen uses a shio (salt) tare. Since salt doesn’t have an aroma,  you can fully enjoy the actual flavor of the soup. 

 

Classification of ramen by soup

 

Ramen is also known by broth type- in particular, the ingredients used in it. These types of ramen tend to have richer soups like with tonkotsu and chicken tonkotsu ramen.They can use shoyu and shio tares like other ramen, but they’re still named for the soup itself. 

 

Tonkotsu ramen

 

 

Ramen with tonkotsu (pork bone) soup. Basically, tonkotsu ramen is made from tonkotsu soup that has been boiled until it becomes cloudy. There’re also some ramen which use clear tonkotsu soup, such as the ramen of "Rairaiken", which is said to be the origin of Japanese ramen, and the shio ramen of Hakodate, which is said to be the origin of shio ramen. However, these are rarely called tonkotsu ramen.

 

Gyokai tonkotsu ramen

 

 

Gyokai (seafood) tonkotsu ramen is a rich soup ramen made by adding ingredients such as niboshi (dried bonito) and katsuobushi (dried bonito) to tonkotsu soup.

 

Tori-paitan ramen

 

 

Ramen with tori-paitan soup. "Tori" means chicken, and "paitan" is a cloudy soup. They rarely smell like tonkotsu ramen.

Local ramen

 

Of course, there are all sorts of  local ramen throughout  Japan. In the past, there wasn’t the free flow of information and ideas like we have now, so each region had its own kind of ramen. Regional factors such as ingredients and climate may have also played a role. In any case, it evolved because it was accepted in the area and many still remain. Here are just a few examples of the countless regional kinds of ramen. 

 

Sapporo ramen

 

 

Ramen originated in Sapporo, Hokkaido. It is said that the origin of the current Sapporo ramen is the ramen shop "Ryuho". The distinctive feature is the lard added to the rich pork bone soup. The impression of miso ramen is strong, but this region originally was known for its shoyu ramen.

 

Hakata Ramen

 

 

Ramen originated in Hakata, Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu. It features a cloudy tonkotsu soup and very fine noodles with very little water added. There are various theories about its origin. The addition of Kaedama (extra noodles) is also a characteristic of Hakata ramen, but that idea originated in Nagahama near Hakata.

 

Kitakata ramen

Ramen originated in Kitakata, Fukushima Prefecture. Originated from "Genraiken" ramen shop. It features flat, high water added noodles and clear tonkotsu soup. Niboshi may be added to the soup.

 

Ramen shops and their influence

 

In some cases, the distinction between different types of  local ramen is ambiguous. This may be a result of the sharing of information and ramen ideas via the internet which spread over a wide area before it solidly took root in one region. In these cases, amen with a short history is classified by the shop in which it was created. .

 

Ie-kei Ramen

 

This ramen originated from the “Yoshimura-ya” in Yokohama. This ramen is a combination of shoyu tare and soup made from pork and chicken bones characterized by high-water flat noodles plus chashu, spinach and seaweed toppings. When ordering this ramen, you can choose the amount of tare, oil and the noodle hardness. The ramen chef who trained at the Yoshimura-ya became popular by opening a shop named "〇〇家", so it came to be called 家系(ie-kei) ramen. "家" is also pronounced as "ya" and "ie". "系" means like system.

 

Jiro-kei ramen

 

 

This ramen originated from “Ramen Jiro”  in Mita, Tokyo. Known for thick noodles in pork bone and pork-based soup, plenty of bean sprouts,  cabbage and a large chashu called buta (means pork). Famous for its overwhelming size, this ramen is also popular because you can choose the amount of garlic, vegetables (bean sprouts and cabbage), fat and tare used. 

 

Tanmen

 

The origin of Tanmen is “Ippinko” in Yokohama. Tanmen is cooked by stir-frying vegetables like bean sprouts and cabbage and adding pork and soup- and best enjoyed the soup with vegetable and pork flavors. Tanmen is more common at popular Chinese restaurants than at ramen specialty shops.

 

Dishes derived from ramen

 

Ramen basically consists of five elements: soup, tare, oil, noodles and toppings. Tsukemen and maze soba are made by disassembling and reconstructing these elements.

 

Tsukemen

 

 

The noodles and soup are served separately, and you dip the noodles into the soup and eat. The soup has less volume than the ramen with a high salt concentration, and the noodles are often washed with water and cooled. The originator is mori soba from Taishoken. Originally, it was a meal for the employees of Taishoken. In the past, tsukemen was usually made  by adding vinegar and sugar to the soup to make it sweet and sour and very refreshing to slurp. Nowadays, thick soup with strong seafood flavor and thick noodles with strong texture is more popular. Tsukemen has a stronger presence of noodles than typical  ramen-it tastes like noodles more than soup. However, many shops do "soup-wari"  in which you can enjoy drinking soup by adding unseasoned soup after you finish eating the noodles.

 

Maze soba, abura soba

 

 

This is ramen with no or very little soup. "Maze" means mixing, "abura" means oil or fat. One mixes the tare, oil and toppings with noodles before eating. It’s believed to have originated from "Chinchintei" in Musashisakai, a suburb of Tokyo.

 

The great ramen unknown...

 

The basic ramen classifications are listed here, but there are so many more that exist today. Even within shoyu ramen, there are many variations of soup, and the shoyu tare itself varies depending on each ramen shop. Not only soup and tare, but also the types of oil, noodles and toppings are endless. Even so, if you can analyze ramen based on the basic classifications mentioned here, you can understand what kind of ramen you like and what you are looking for, and can share your knowledge with others.

But don't let all these classifications limit your thinking. Every day new types of ramen are being created. To truly enjoy the creativity of today’s ramen chefs, don’t let any preconception get in the way. It’s sometimes difficult to evaluate food you’ve never experienced before, not just ramen. That is why experiencing and getting to know each type of ramen will help you fine tune your taste buds even further. The more you know about what goes into every bowl, the more you can taste, enjoy and understand what makes every ramen special.