by Brandon Bell
My love affair with Japanese Ramen started almost 5 years ago in Downtown Los Angeles. A delicious fatty bowl of Noodles and Pork, Ramen has been easily elevated to my favorite dish. Now typically I’m sworn against pork, exceptions being Ramen, or Bacon, or BBQ Char-Siu Bao or….ok so maybe I haven’t sworn against pork, but for religious purposes I’m working on it. In any case Ramen for me has always been a delicious case study in the various complex levels of flavor that pork as an ingredient provides.
Spanning from food to entertainment, As a child I’d grown up loving everything [Japan] so naturally ramen was an easy add to that list. Growing up in Sub-Urban Baltimore (a region not known to have a strong Japanese population if any), access to anything authentically Japanese was and still is limited. It wasn’t until my arrival to Los Angeles that my education in Ramen begin.
Like most Americans, Ramen to me was first represented by the 25 cent bags of Maruchan instant noodles, and Cup Noodle’s ubiquitous in nearly every US grocery store, and considered gourmet dorm room faire for college students. This
type of Instant Ramen that we are most familiar with is merely a stripped down derivative of the genuine article.
To understand the beginnings of Gourmet Japanese Ramen we must first venture to the Meiji era in Japan during the late 1800’s and then fast forward to the Cold War during the 1940’s. During the Meiji era in Japan a Westernization initiative was introduced by Prince Yorihito Higashifushimi with the goal of obtaining modernization in step with the contemporary world. With it came a change in a wide range of historic traditions, from abolishment of Japans ancient military Class of Noble’s [Samurai], to the integration of various type of meats like beef, chicken and pork into traditional Japanese cui
sine. Japanese cuisine had been primarily a seafood centered cuisine up to that point but the inclusion of Pork would go on to become an important part of the main ingredients in Ramen.
Pork Bones cracked open and then cooked for an ensuing 12hr breakdown of the rich marrow are one of the most common traditional base’s for the soup, with varying other broths such as a miso based broth, soy broth and a particular favorite of mine Tan Tan Men broth which infuses the traditional pork bone broth with a thick sesame paste. Fresh egg noodles are then made by hand, boiled to desired texture and added into the soup.
Generally toppings and soup base vary by region. The Hakata style from the Hakata region in Kyushu Japan is considered the most traditional and is
normally topped with thin sliced roasted pork belly, green onion, dried seaweed marinated soft boiled egg and marinated bamboo in a rich pork bone broth.
Some regions like Hokkaido (famous within Japan for its snow crab and other seafoo
ds) opt to add its own spin to the traditional favorite which may include a miso broth in place of the bone broth, and topped with various types of fish roe, seaweed, sweet corn and snow crab legs.
The beginnings of Ramen are commonly thought to be Chinese in origin and is said to have been introduced to mainland Japan in the late 1940’s during the Post-Cold war era by Chinese tradesmen.
From this point on Ramen grew in popularity in Japan, and during those next 40 years becoming nearly as iconic as sushi.
Gourmet Ramen is currently having a ‘moment’ and is being recognized and acclaimed by the culinary community in the United States and worldwide.
Be sure to keep in mind slurpping is considered good manners and compliments to the chef, and remember Real Men (or Women) always order Kaedama (extra noodle).