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This history of ramen.

AUTHOR

Mackenzie Goodman

 

DATE

November 2019

AUTHOR:

Mackenzie Goodman

DATE:

November 2019

Chinese noodles + Japanese culture

To get the whole ramen story, we look back to the 1800s, which is when Chinese noodles made their way over to Japan and changed the food scene forever. You read that right – Japanese ramen started in China.  

It’s no surprise that the Chinese are noodle experts. The first traces of noodles were actually discovered over 4,000 years ago during an archaeological exploration near the Yellow River. And although noodles go that far back, the first written record of them doesn’t appear until much, much later, between 25 and 200 AD. We can only assume people were too busy enjoying their noodles to write down their recipes during this time, which is understandable considering Chinese noodles seemed to dominate the culinary landscape wherever they were introduced.  

From 200 AD on, Chinese noodles continued to make their way across Asia, winning over hearts and palates in Cambodia, Korea, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam. Finally, in 1859, Japan opens its ports to foreign trading.  

Japanese chefs were quick to experiment with Chinese noodles, introducing traditional Japanese ingredients like daishi (Japanese-style soup stock) and shoyu (soy sauce). The chefs realized how versatile this dish could be and how many variations could be created from just a few core elements.  

The first Japanese ramen shop opened in 1910 in Asakusa. The shop, called Rairaiken, employed 13 Chinese cooks, was open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and could attract up to 3,000 customers each day. The original recipe was made with a Japanese soy sauce base, pork and chicken bone broth, Chinese noodles, and topped with roast pork, bamboo shoots, and finely chopped scallions. It was a hit.  

So, how did ramen get its name? One theory is that the phrase hao ra men, meaning “the noodle dish is ready,” was said so frequently it was eventually shortened simply to "ramen." Another theory is that it was named after lamain, a stretchy Chinese noodle created by folding dough into long strands.  

Ramen has come a long way since that little shop in Asakusa. Today, there are four main varieties – Shio, Shoyu, Miso, and Tonkotsu – and nearly endless combinations of toppings. Discovering the perfect creation could take a lifetime, but it’s a challenge we’re willing to accept.  

New to the menu and inspired by our travels through Japan:

 
ramen-photo

Spicy Miso Ramen (left) and Tonkotsu Ramen (right)