Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Ramen (ラーメン Rāmen, actually should be written "rÔmen" or "raamen", if "ā" is not used; pronounced roughly ) is the Japanese version of the Chinese noodle soup dish lā miÓn (拉麵, lit. "pulled noodles"). The original Chinese la mian is believed to have resembled something closer to noodle and served with sauce. Ramen has been firmly integrated into the Japanese culinary landscape, and many regional variations exist.
Ramen is mostly sold in fast food-like shops with only a counter, or at food stalls in highly frequented areas (it is also common to make ramen at home, because it is such an inexpensive meal). Every prefecture in Japan is famous for its own special variation of ramen. It is also readily available as "instant ramen" in supermarkets and convenience shops; the two most famous brands are Maruchan and Nissin.
Despite health concerns, ramen is a popular food item among college students due to its ease of preparation and extremely low cost—as of 2004, one packet could be bought for about 10-15 cents. Ramen is also very resistant to spoilage and can be easily prepared with boiling water, making it a favorite of backpackers.
Types of ramen
There are countless varieties of ramen and they differ from store to store even when they are sold under the same name. They can be categorized by the type of ingredients: noodle, soup, and topping.
Most ramen noodle are made from four basic ingredients: wheat flour, salt, water, and Kansui (かんすい). Originally, Kansui was water from Lake Kan in Inner Mongolia that contains a high amount of potassium carbonate and sodium carbonate as well as a small amount of phosphoric acid. It gives ramen a yellowish color and a particular flavor to the noodle. For a brief time after World War II, low quality "Kansui" that was tainted or thinned with water was sold and kansui is now manufactured according to JAS standards. Ramen noodle may also be made without kansui and eggs are used instead of kansui. Some ramen noodles are made with neither eggs nor kansui.
Four different noodle types exist: dried ramen noodle (乾燥麺 kansōmen), fresh ramen noodle (生麺 namamen), steamed ramen noodle (蒸麺 mushimen), and instant ramen noodle (インスタントラーメン, insutanto rāmen). Dried ramen are often prepackaged and can be stored for a long time in a cool dry space. They can be used for ramen soup, fried yakisoba, hiyashisoba (cooled noodle), etc. Fresh ramen may be packaged and it should be stored in a refrigerator and eaten as quickly as possible. They are often used in a ramen restaurant delivered fresh every morning. Steamed ramen noodle should be stored in a refrigerator as well. They lack koshi or chewy flavor and should only be used for yakisoba.
Ramen noodles may come in any shape and length. It may be fat, thin, or even ribbon-like, as well as straight or wrinkled. Thin and straight noodles are used in a ramen with thick soup as it catches less soup and thus taste would not be too salty or fatty. Wrinkled ramen noodle are used in a ramen with thinner soup as it catches more soup and taste would be full and well.
According to Nissin, there are five types of noodles according to their traditional methods. They are "Handstretched noodle", "Oiled and stick stretched noodle", "Cut noodle", "Pushed noodle", and "Rice noodle".
Ramen soup are generally divided into four flavors: miso, Shio (salt), Shōyu (soy sauce), and tonkotsu (pork broth). The Shio or salt flavor is probably the oldest of four flavors and like Maotan (毛湯) of Chinese cuisine is a simple broth taken from chicken broth. The Tonkotsu flavor is similar to Paitan (白湯) of Chinese cuisine and thick broth taken from boiling crushed pig bones for hours. The shōyu flavor is similar to salt flavor but instead of broth of chicken, it may be made with broth from Konbu, Katsuobushi, and Niboshi. The miso flavor is similar to shōyu and uses similar broth.
These are basic flavors and they may be even mixed together to make another flavor. Some of the ingredients commonly added to a soup are black pepper, butter, Chilli pepper, Five-spice powder, garlic, Gochujang (from Korean cuisine), sake, vinegar, wine, etc. Ramen soup recipes are heavily guarded in many ramen restaurants.
A basic ramen can be topped with a boiled egg, Menma (pickled bamboo), Naruto kamaboko, Nori, spinach, and Chashū (叉焼 or 焼豚). Chashū is originally a Chinese recipe of roasted pork, but slices of boiled pork is used in ramen.
Anything can be put on top of ramen, and the name of a ramen is often determined by toppings. In most ramen, these toppings are added after boiling or frying so as to not change the flavor of the soup. Toppings include beef, cabbage, chicken, corn, negi (green onion), shiitake, and wakame.
Many ramen restaurants also serve gyōza, fried rice, shumai , and similar Chinese-derived dishes. Customers frequently order one or another of these specialties together with ramen. Combinations such as ramen-rice (with white rice) are popular, too.
Related, although distinctly different, noodle dishes include Nagasaki champon and Okinawa soba. Both are made with a wheat flour noodle resembling ramen. Champon has a variety of food on top, with seafood being predominant. Okinawa soba typically has chunks of pork, in some cases marinated in awamori.
History of ramen
Ramen is a newcomer in Japanese cuisine; while Tokugawa Mitsukuni had reportedly eaten ramen in late 17th century, it was only in Meiji period that ramen became widely known -- perhaps because that, for most of the history, the Japanese diet did not include terrestrial meat; their diet was mostly based in vegetables and meat from aquatic animals. Udon and soba popular since their introduction in Heian period are served with fish-based broth. The introduction of American and European cuisine that demanded increased production of meat products and change in Japanese food culture had a great importance in ramen becoming popular.
Even though it is a newcomer, it is unclear by whom, when or where "ramen" was introduced to Japan. The name "Ramen" itself is a topic of debate. The most traditional hypothesis, one in an encyclopedia, claims that "Ramen" came from "拉麺" (la mian) and means "hand stretched noodle". A second hypothesis claims that "老麺" (lao mian) was the proper Chinese character. A third hypothesis from Sapporo claims that it was only called "Mian" (麺). A Chinese cook who made Mian answered "La." (了) (literally okay) to an order and it was written down as "Ramen" in the menu. Some claim that ramen was really "Liu mian" (柳麺) (literally Mr. Liu's noodle) and the name was taken from a cook named Liu in Tokyo. A fifth version claims that it was "鹵麺" (Lumian) and a Lumian is a noodle with a thick starchy sauce. Since the name "Ramen" became popular only in the 1960s when instant ramen was invented, it is also claimed that the name "Ramen" was popularized by the "instant ramen".
In the early Meiji period, "Ramen" was called shina-soba (支那そば) (literally "Chinese soba"); while this is now archaic, the alternative term chūka-soba (中華そば, also meaning "Chinese soba") remains relatively common. It was a popular dish in Yokohama's Chinatown. In 1900, restaurants that served Chinese from Canton and Shanghai sold ramen. This ramen was a simple dish with salt flavored broth taken from pig bones using few toppings. The noodle was cut instead of hand stretched. In 1899, Japan and China signed a new treaty that let both citizens move freely in each countries. Many Chinese pulled portable food stalls and sold ramen and gyoza dumplings, then called shina manju (支那饅頭), to workers. By the mid 1900s, these Chinese food stalls started using a type of a musical horn called Charumera (チャルメラ) to advertise their presence. "Charumera" was often used to mean a ramen food stall. Ramen became a popular dish when going out to eat by the early Showa period.
After World War II, cheap imported flour from the US swept the market and millions of Japanese pulled out of China. Many of these Japanese learned Chinese cuisine, and set up Chinese restaurants all across Japan. Eating ramen, while popular, was still a special occasion that required going out. In 1958, instant noodles was invented. Credited to be the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th century in a Japanese poll, this let anyone, even the least-skilled, make a ramen by simply boiling for measured amount of time. Starting in the 1980s, ramen became a cultural icon of modern Japan and it was studied from many perspectives. At the same time, many local varieties of ramen hit the national market, many ramen could be ordered by their local names.
During the 2004 U.S. presidential election campaign, filmmaker Michael Moore visited colleges on his "Slacker Uprising Tour" and gave instant ramen and clean underwear to students who promised to vote. This resulted in a short-lived controversy, with some Republican politicians accusing him of trying to buy votes.
Being a popular dish, ramen has often been criticized for its potential health risks. Some of these claims are justified, while others could be made against any diet which contains too much of a particular food.
A serving of ramen noodle is high in carbohydrates and low in vitamins and minerals, so eating instant ramen with only an egg as topping or eating a cup of instant ramen for every meal is not a wise choice. Adding a serving of boiled spinach or cabbage on ramen improves its nutritional value.
Ramen soup, especially the instant variety, contains a high amount of sodium. Many Japanese also believe that ramen soup contains a high amount of fat and also that pre-fried fat from the noodles seeps into the soup. Ramen noodles themselves contain very little sodium so one can avoid drinking the soup if a low-sodium diet is recommended for health reasons. A typical serving of ramen, even when drinking all of the soup, has less food energy than a fast-food menu consisting of a hamburger, soda, and fries.
Some brands of instant ramen use hydrogenated vegetable fat (ie. trans fat), which is known to be harmful to the body, and so these brands are best avoided.
The most recent controversy surrounds dioxin and other hormone-like substances that could theoretically be extracted from the packaging and glues used to pack the instant noodles. As hot water is added, it was reasoned that harmful substances could seep into the soup. After a series of studies were conducted, this concern was found to be baseless, unless the packaging was cooked in a pressure cooker for an extended period of time.
Ramen has become a popular food in many parts of the world, though it has undergone changes in flavor to fit local tastes. In many countries, "Ramen" always refers to "instant ramen" and not fresh ramen noodle popular in Japan. China is the largest consumer outside Japan and Indonesia ranks second.
In South Korea
South Korean ramen typically has only a single flavor, hot red pepper, and only instant ramen is known. "Sin" (辛) (literally, "hot") is one of the most popular brands in Korea. The leading manufacturer of ramen in Korea is the Nong Shim company. They export many of their products to countries including the United States In 1960s, instant ramen was introduced from Japan to South Korea and its quick and easy preparation as well as cheap price caught on. Most South Korean food stalls make instant ramen and add toppings for their customers. Instant ramen is often added to Tchigae (stew) to make them more filling.
In the United States
"American" ramen comes in a variety of flavors and is usually very mild, as opposed to traditional, Asian ramen, which is generally spicy and flavored with e.g. vegetables. Examples of more Asian-exclusive flavors include nori, miso and bean-curd, although larger, more diverse markets in the US may have these flavors as well.
American ramen often contains an unusually high amount of MSG, and the noodles are often pre-fried in fat. An additional health concern is the amount of sodium in the flavoring—one packet usually contains in excess of 60% of the US Recommended Daily Allowance. The noodles themselves are not particularly high in sodium, so health-conscious individuals can simply avoid drinking the packet-made broth, or make a more diluted version by using less of the flavoring packet's contents.
Ramen in fiction
Ramen appears so frequently in Japanese fiction that it would be pointless and quite impossible to list examples. Many famous characters like ramen to the point that almost all food they eat are ramen noodles. Japanese writers often hatch a comedy or horror subplots where their main characters go out to eat or cook ramen. Ramen is also used as the object of comedy in many anime and manga eg. Naruto, with characters typically getting splashed over the head by a bowl of ramen, or stepping on a bowl of ramen and falling, often taking down another hapless person.
Competition in the ramen restaurant business is parodied in the film Tampopo by director Juzo Itami, in which the protagonists are in search of the perfect ramen recipe. Although they continuously bicker over what constitutes the perfect ramen, they all agree people should want to eat it every day.
In the American gothic comic Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vasquez, the protagonist, Nny, is the creator of a comic-within-a-comic called Happy Noodle Boy. Happy Noodle Boy likes to eat Ramen.
- Ramen museum
- Japanese cuisine
- Chinese cuisine
- Hawaiian saimin
- Pot Noodle
- International Ramen Manufactureres Association
- World Ramen.net
- The Official Ramen Homepage
- Straight Dope Staff Report: What's the deal with ramen noodles?
-  (ordinary style ramen; soup of pig's marrow, chicken, and fish)
-  (old style ordinary marrow-soy sauce-ramen)
-  (old style ordinary marrow-ramen)
-  (ordinary style marrow-ramen)
-  (mini cup instant-ramen. click photo)
-  (many photos. making soup)
-  (ordinary noodle for home cooking)
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