I’ve spent several months researching for my ramen guide. I’ve boiled pig bones for 12 hours, made noodles by hand, even pickled my own fish. Most people are familiar with the 4 styles: miso, shio, shoyu, and tonkotsu, but there are countless sub varieties within these. Let’s check them out!
Tonkotsu ramen was invented on Kyushu Island, the southernmost island of Japan. Translated, it literally means “pork bone”. It is made by boiling pork bones in a pot of water on high heat for approximately 8 to 12 hours. The effort is well worth it. Tonkotsu is the most popular variety of ramen in Japan, as well as the world (why it dominates my ramen guide too).
This one is from Yokohama, the 2nd largest city in Japan. What makes the Iekei style unique is that it was one of the first ramens to blend styles. They mixed soy sauce (shoyu) into the tonkotsu broth! It’s a practice more commonplace today, tares are usually added to most broths. I also go into how to make chashu pork completely on the stove top, as ovens are not common in Japanese households. I also have a video recipe for this one!
Hakata is a downtown district of the city Fukuoka, and claims to have invented tonkotsu ramen. Legend has it, a cook once boiled his pork bones for too long and too hot, creating a broth that was way too rich. So, he cut it with seafood stock and his customers loved it. I used clam juice, and I love the flavors happening here. I also walk you through making chashu pork belly in the oven.
Kurume is the other town that claims the invention of tonkotsu ramen, at a small shop called Nankin Senryo in 1937. You can still eat there, but hopefully my recipe can tide you over in the meantime. The broth itself uses few ingredients, no tares are added. Some shops have optional toppings you can add, my inspiration for adding chili oil.
The broth for Kagoshima ramen is a mild fusion of tonkotsu and chicken stock. The beauty of having a mild broth is it allows for more powerful toppings. You can probably guess the theme here is scorched. Seared chashu, stir fried shiitake mushrooms, and scorched scallions. The bean sprouts add a little bit of freshness.
It’s tradition in Wakayama to get some seafood on the side. Since I’m going all out for this ramen guide, I even pickled my own fish. In the olden days, they preserved fish by packing it in containers with rice, which would ferment and pickle the fish (I didn’t do that). Now, you will frequently find sashimi and sushi instead. The ramen itself has a tonkotsu broth with a shoyu tare.
Soy sauce is prevalent in many different kinds of ramen, and not all might be classified as shoyu. I’ve found that if you want to really let the soy flavor shine, add it to the broth before you’ve added any salt, then taste and add salt to finish. Otherwise, shoyu broths can taste very salty.
Nagoya “Taiwan” Ramen
The most well known ramen in Nagoya was made by a Taiwanese chef, who was trying to adapt the spicy Szechuan dan dan noodles to fit Japanese tastes. Spicy food wasn’t very popular at the time in Japan, but it is so popular today they named it after that unnamed Taiwanese chef. Mandatory toppings are the minced pork and Chinese chives. I also show you how to make handmade ramen noodles!
This one is unique in my ramen guide, as the broth is made exclusively with seafood ingredients (and pork fat but we won’t count that). Mussels form the base, with niboshi, wakame, and bonito flakes all adding extra flavor. The taste is really unique, and was enjoyable even after eating ramen every day for the past 3 days.
Kitakata has the highest number of ramen shops per capita in all of Japan. A city of only 50,000 people with 120 ramen stalls! The broth is pork based, with soy sauce and niboshi (dried sardines) added for flavor. Kitakata has been producing both of these in high quality for centuries. Another feature is the thick and flat noodles. It is considered one of the 3 great ramens of Japan as well.
Chicken and pork broths can both be found in Shirakawa. So, I went with a fusion for the ramen guide. Add some soy sauce, spinach, and narutomaki (the little pink swirly fish cakes, also the Hokage). The noodles used are usually thin and curly, but you can use what you got.
This recipe is inspired by Santouka, a famous international ramen shop chain that was founded in Asahikawa. You can find “The Ramen Village” here as well. It’s a tourist attraction that features 8 different ramen shops in the same building! The key topping is the umeboshi, or pickled plums. These are the most sour things known to mankind, tread carefully.
Not exactly traditional, but this is my answer to leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Or, in my case, buying a 20 lb turkey just to make the Disneyland turkey legs. They don’t eat turkey really in Japan, but if they did, I think this is what it would look like.
Shio (salt) is the original ramen. This was before miso paste, soy sauce, and even boiling pork bones was thought of. People mostly prefer the 3 other more flavorful styles today. However, a mellow shio ramen sometimes just hits the spot in a way the richer ones on my ramen guide can’t.
Hakodate Shio Ramen
Hakodate, the 3rd largest city on the island of Hokkaido, is the center of shio ramen today. While the rest of Hokkaido has moved on to the more trendy miso, you can find traditional shio bowls aplenty here. You can boil a chicken carcass to start the broth, or use premade and add layers of flavor into it. I used bonito flakes, nori, sake, sesame oil, garlic, and pork fat.
Miso ramen was invented in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. It’s fair to say this style dominates the city of Sapporo. However, it has become widely popular all over Japan as well as internationally. It is made with miso paste, which is created from fermented soy beans.
Sapporo Tonkotsu Ramen
It’s hard to classify this ramen. It has a tonkotsu broth, but it also has miso in it. Shows you how much they love miso in Hokkaido! I used a couple unique ingredients here as well. Minced pork instead of the more prevalent chashu, as well as enoki mushrooms, which look cuter than most mushrooms.
Sapporo Seafood Ramen
Being a coastal city, Sapporo loves seafood. You can find squid, scallops, octopus, even every type of shellfish and mollusk, depending on the ramen shop you go to. This ramen recipe also features the combination of butter and corn, a topping that originated in Sapporo as well.
Original Miso Ramen
Forgive my food photography skills here. This is a basic miso ramen you can find in Hokkaido. The broth doesn’t take long to make. It’s a combination of chicken broth, miso paste, sake, mirin, bonitio flakes, and other more common ingredients. I used pork shoulder for the chashu, super meaty and ultra flavorful.
I’ll be adding more recipes to the guide as time goes on. Comment below if you have any recommendations, or if you just enjoyed the article! 🙂
Are there any traditional vegetarian ramens?
I’m not sure if any traditional ones exist, but they are prevalent today for sure. You could try substituting vegetable stock for chicken. Also, shiitake mushrooms can provide that deeper flavor to broths that meat usually provides. A little bit of oil on top provides the fat that makes it more satisfying as well.