Ramen – the popular Japanese dish
Like so many dishes that have gained worldwide popularity – the most famous example being pizza – ramen was originally a meal eaten by the working class in Japan. Hearty, fresh toppings are added to a steaming bowl of broth, including the iconic ramen noodles, of course. This simple Japanese meal is now probably the country’s second most well-known dish after sushi and can now be found on menus at the hippest spots in cosmopolitan cities across the world. And it’s not hard to see why – the hot broth is packed with flavour, the toppings are fresh and healthy, and the noodles are filling and fortifying.
Besides the noodles, there are hardly any restrictions on what you can have as a topping as long as it’s fresh. Spinach, pak choi, meat, egg, leek, spring onions, mushrooms – anything you like can be added to the broth. Making the broth from scratch is tricky and takes more time and effort than the toppings. There are four types of soup base: shoyu‑ramen, miso‑ramen, shio‑ramen and tonkotsu‑ramen. Shoyu‑ramen is a broth made from beef or chicken stock flavoured with a seasoning mix made from ginger and soy sauce. It is arguably the most popular and easiest ramen broth to make. Miso‑ramen broth uses a simple vegetable stock with miso paste added in, which is made from fermented soya beans. Shio and tonkotsu‑ramen broths are a little more involved as the fish and seafood or the pork bones are boiled for a long time.
What’s great about ramen is the degree to which you can customise the dish – add a hearty meat topping, or lots of vegetables and egg, or make it vegan with tofu. If you’re making a vegetable-based broth, it’s easy to make the stock in advance using vegetable peelings and cut-offs, such as a broccoli stalk, carrot peelings and spinach stems. To do so, put the vegetable scraps in a pan of water (1–2 litres based on the amount of scraps), add a pinch of salt, and cook on low to medium heat for an hour. Sauté in a little olive oil or blanch vegetables of your choosing, such as pak choi, a few spring onions and a handful of shiitake mushrooms. Cook the ramen noodles in water. If you can’t find ramen noodles in your local supermarket, they can be easily ordered online. Now it’s time to prepare the seasoning sauce before everything is put in a bowl. For one litre of broth, add in a mixture of 20 g grated ginger, 10 ml sweet soy sauce, 50 ml dark soy sauce and 1 tbsp mirin, a sweet rice wine from Japan. Bring the broth mixture to a boil before adding the vegetables. If you’re making vegan ramen, tofu works great as a topping. A good sprinkling of fresh coriander and some lime juice put the finishing touches on the dish.
If you’d rather go on the hunt for the top ramen spots in Europe instead of making it at home, you’re in luck – there are a whole host of excellent ramen restaurants in London, as you’d expect, but Berlin and the beautiful Tuscany city of Florence are home to great ramen spots, too. You should be able to satisfy your craving for this delicious Japanese dish in almost any city.