Citizens – This recipe will test your ultimate limits as a chef, for it IS The ULTIMATE Ramen!
Ramen is a Japanese dish with a translation of “pulled noodles”. It consists of Chinese wheat noodles served in a meat or (occasionally) fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork (叉焼 chāshū), nori (dried seaweed), menma, and scallions.
Nearly every region in Japan has its own variation of ramen, such as the tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen of Kyushu and the miso ramen of Hokkaido. Mazemen is the name of a Ramen dish that is not served in a soup, but rather with a sauce (such as tare), rather like noodles that is served with a sweet and sour sauce.
Ramen is a Japanese adaptation of Chinese wheat noodles. One theory says that ramen was first introduced to Japan during the 1660s by the Chinese neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Shunsui who served as an advisor to Tokugawa Mitsukuni after he became a refugee in Japan to escape Manchu rule and Mitsukuni became the first Japanese person to eat ramen, although most historians reject this theory as a myth created by the Japanese to embellish the origins of ramen.
The more plausible theory is that ramen was introduced by Chinese immigrants in the late 19th or early 20th century at Yokohama Chinatown. According to the record of the Yokohama Ramen Museum, ramen originated in China and made its way over to Japan in 1859. Early versions were wheat noodles in broth topped with Chinese-style roast pork.
The word ramen is a Japanese transcription of the Chinese lamian (拉麵). In 1910, the first ramen shop named RAIRAIKEN (来々軒) opened at Asakusa, Tokyo, where the Japanese owner employed 12 Cantonese cooks from Yokohama’s Chinatown and served the ramen arranged for Japanese customers.
Until the 1950s, ramen was called shina soba (支那そば, literally “Chinese soba”) but today chūka soba (中華そば, also meaning “Chinese soba”) or just ramen (ラーメン) are more common, as the word “支那” (shina, meaning “China”) has acquired a pejorative connotation. By 1900, restaurants serving Chinese cuisine from Canton and Shanghai offered a simple dish of noodles (cut rather than hand-pulled), a few toppings, and a broth flavored with salt and pork bones.
Many Chinese living in Japan also pulled portable food stalls, selling ramen and gyōza dumplings to workers. By the mid-1900s, these stalls used a type of a musical horn called a charumera (チャルメラ, from the Portuguese charamela) to advertise their presence, a practice some vendors still retain via a loudspeaker and a looped recording. By the early Shōwa period, ramen had become a popular dish when eating out.
According to ramen expert Hiroshi Osaki, the first specialized ramen shop opened in Yokohama in 1910.
After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the American military occupied the country from 1945 to 1952. In December 1945, Japan recorded its worst rice harvest in 42 years, which caused food shortages as Japan had drastically reduced rice production during the war as production shifted to colonies in China and Taiwan.
The US flooded the market with cheap wheat flour to deal with food shortages. From 1948 to 1951, bread consumption in Japan increased from 262,121 tons to 611,784 tons, but wheat also found its way into ramen, which most Japanese ate at black market food vendors to survive as the government food distribution system ran about 20 days behind schedule.
Although the Americans maintained Japan’s wartime ban on outdoor food vending, flour was secretly diverted from commercial mills into the black markets, where nearly 90 percent of stalls were under the control of gangsters locally referred to as yakuza who extorted vendors for protection money. Thousands of ramen vendors were arrested during the occupation.
In the same period, millions of Japanese troops returned from China and continental East Asia from their posts in the Second Sino-Japanese War. Some of them would have been familiar with wheat noodles.
By 1950, wheat flour exchange controls were removed and restrictions on food vending loosened, which further boosted the number of ramen vendors: private companies even rented out yatai starter kits consisting of noodles, toppings, bowls, and chopsticks.
Ramen yatai provided a rare opportunity for small scale postwar entrepreneurship. The Americans also aggressively advertised the nutritional benefits of wheat and animal protein. The combination of these factors caused wheat noodles to gain prominence in Japan’s rice-based culture. Gradually, ramen became associated with urban life.
Despite the garbage you’ve assuredly seen in an instant noodle cup, true Japanese ramen is transcendently flavorful and anything but instant. You’ll literally be working all day on this, multitasking more pots and pans than you think you probably own. Get help in the kitchen – you’ll need it!
Have I frightened you?
I know you are still with me, brave citizens – gird your loins and do battle with this recipe just once and know the TRUE meaning of flavor!
Your reward is the ultimate bowl of noodle soup, and the knowledge you have made something previously found only in the finest ramen shops of Japan! A milky broth of pure flavor, the most toothsome of noodles, garnished with fatty pork belly, spicy condiments, a soft-boiled egg like you’ve never had and so many other items that I grow faint from hunger just describing them to you!
There are several recipes that follow – take a deep breath, caffeinate yourself heavily, and BEGIN YOUR TRUE PATH TO CULINARY GLORY!!! Know that I salute both your courage and tenacity in attempting this most formidable set of recipes!
Battle on – The Generalissimo