Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Culture of Ramen: Instant Ramen to Ramen Shops

Instant noodles or instant ramen.  This is a food item that is comfort food to untold millions of Asians. Nissin even invented Space Ramen for its Japanese astronauts.  Ramen soup is an ancient dish that traces its roots back to China, but it was handily adopted and localized into Japanese cuisine post WWII.  It is a cheap filling food that could be customized with your available ingredients, something the Japanese did very nicely.  Then, Momofuku Ando, invented instant ramen in 1958 as a food that could be stored at room temperature and prepared quickly.  This instant chicken ramen he invented had a rocky start but won over the masses and was soon copied by many other manufacturers.
Instant ramen has now been a staple in many Asian nations like China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea for decades now.  I grew up on the stuff myself too in Canada, and the Hong Kong style of ramen has you add in some choy, often a spam-like slice of meat, and a pan-fried egg.  Doll Brand Ramen is popular in Hong Kong.  In 1970, Nissin introduced instant ramen into the United States, and it took off from there.  In North America it is often thought of as starving student food, but there is a cult status around it as there are thousands of individual recipes to make it better.  Just Google instant ramen recipes - there are plenty involving weiners and many other exotic ingredients :)
A selection of Nissin Instant Ramen.  The original Japanese Chicken Ramen in the top left, Japanese Shoyu Ramen in the top right, Hong Kong Nissin Tonkotsu Flavour botton left, and Hong Kong Nissin Shoyu bottom right.
Ramen can also be found frozen in asian supermarkets with fresh noodles, not deep fried.
Instant ramen localized for Eeast Indian tastes.
Mama noodles from Thailand.  Quite tasty and very good when doing hot pot as they cook quickly in the broth.
Ramen shops have now sprung up in many cities in the USA and Canada, making ramen a restaurant specialty food.  In Japan, there have been ramen shops for a long time and I know that I wanted to taste authentic Tonkotsu (pork bone) and Shoyu ramen the first time I landed in Tokyo.  Even in my home town of Edmonton, there are couple of ramen shops (Nomiya) and even a popup ramen (Prairie Noodle Shop) restaurant that I hope becomes a permanent fixture.  Meanwhile, if you don't have a noodle shop handy, you can always make your own and eat them at home while watching the movie Tampopo or the Ramen Girl!
Shio Ramen from Nomiya
Simple home style ramen with green onion and spam.
There is also a great deal of real research on ramen and ramen history.  See below if you want to keep reading!

Taking Ramen Seriously: Food, Labor, and Everyday Life in Modern Japan

Japanese Food Culture from Web Japan

Hello Kitty and Ramen Culture in the 21st Century

Ramen Noodles and Spam: Popular Foods, Significant Tastes

Oodles of Instant Noodles

More Ramen Posts and more on my Japanese Pop Culture Page
More Tokyo Highlights

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