Ten Types Of Ramen To Try On Your Next Japan Visit

24.September 2012

Japan

When visiting a place I never try to find the ‘best of’ food.

I don’t need to find the best sushi in all of Tokyo; it’s likely that any sushi I have here will be better than any I have ever tasted. No need to battle the crowds, pay the ‘best of’ prices, or spend tons of time searching out the teeny, tiny, joint; I can just go downstairs from our apartment and walk into any place to get the best Japanese food I know.

What I do like to do is find a representative food and try it over and over and over again. Is it the same everywhere or are there regional differences in flavouring, spicing, and technique? Does it make a difference if I have it as ‘street food’ or in a restaurant? How does it differ from the version I can find at home?

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In Greece we sampled calamari across the many different islands we visited. In Germany of course it was the beer and pretzels. Nepalese eat dal baat every day; it may be the same basic ingredients every day but there were small differences in flavour from region to region. Kebap in Turkey seemed to be the same everywhere, and ceviche in Peru depended on what seafood was available.

Here in Japan we knew it would be ramen; we even practiced our slurping at home to get ready!  Simple ingredients (broth, noodles, pork, bean sprouts, corn, bamboo shoots, green onions and sometimes egg) are combined in a variety of ways that keep us coming back for more. We’ve found at least 10 types!

  1. Simple Pork Ramen. This was the very first bowl of ramen on our very first day in Japan. We stopped in a small, family run, shop while meandering through a neighbourhood in Tokyo. The pork broth was nice and light, the chashu (roasted pork) wasn’t too fatty, and the noodles were nicely cooked. We were hooked! Ramen
  2. Wonton Ramen. I didn’t know that wontons could be part of ramen but I guess seeing as the whole dish is from China originally I shouldn’t have been surprised. This was one of our favorites – the broth was light and a touch salty and the chashu was the best we’ve had; it was like the rich end of  a pork roast.Ramen
  3. Rich Pork Ramen. I separate this one out because it was completely different than the earlier pork versions we’d had. Mike, who pointed us to this joint, described the broth as being made from a whole pig being cooked for hours and hours. It was rich beyond belief – thick and fatty and porky. So good that I forgot to take a picture before it was gone.Ramen
  4. Fast Food Ramen. This was the most disappointing of them all. There must have been 10 ramen places on this department store floor; all of the type where you choose and pay through a vending machine before heading inside. We thought that ‘King of Ramen’ must be the best so we fumbled through the vending machine process and went inside. The place was okay but the ramen sucked. The ‘broth’ was more like a gravy and was too salty for me – I don’t even remember the chashu – just that I couldn’t drink enough beer to finish the bowl. Our only ramen fail.Ramen
  5. Miso Ramen. I really like this one – it is, as the name suggests, made with a miso broth rather than pork broth. This in no way means it is vegetarian though as I’m pretty sure it’s a pork based broth with miso in it for flavouring – plus there was still some healthy chunks of chashu in there. It was slightly salty and had great unami, or mouth feel.Ramen
  6. Fish Broth Ramen. Another one I was not expecting and had never heard of. This small shop in Hiroshima served only fish based broth, either with soy added or not. Everything else about it was familiar; noodles, chashu, bamboo shoots, nori. The plain fish broth one was a little too ‘fishy’ but when combined with light soy sauce it was an interesting twist.
    Ramen
  7. White Leek Ramen. A pared down, lighter,  version with shaved white leek on top. The leeks add a great onion flavour to the broth and help to cut the richness of the chashu. One of my favorites.Ramen
  8. Garlic Ramen. At this small shop in Takayama there was a bowl of peeled garlic on the table along with a grater; a do-it-yourself seasoning kit.Ramen
  9. Ham and Egg Ramen? Perhaps our lack of language means that we actually ordered this version, or maybe this is just how this railway station makes their ramen, but ham (although a laudable pork product) is no substitute for chashu in ramen. It was not a memorable version other than for this oversight.Ramen
  10. Shio Ramen. I wasn’t sure we were going to see this version and then today, on almost our last day, it appeared on the English menu we were given. Shio means salt; it was a very lightly salted broth with a pork back flavor – the shio broth completely enhanced the flavours of everything else in the soup and ended up being Jason’s favorite ramen.Ramen

Who knew there could be so many different varieties of a basic noodle soup? I think this is one dish that I would never get tired of.

What about you? Do you try the same food over and over again to see how it changes?

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21 Responses to “Ten Types Of Ramen To Try On Your Next Japan Visit”

  1. Andrew Says:

    I quite like raman noodles, even the 22cent packages from college. Now I put either chicken or ground beef in it and just drain out as much of the water as possible.

    I didn’t expect Japan to be so pork heavy. I thin of fish and chicken and even beef, but not pig.
    Andrew recently posted..Breisach, Germany

  2. Sherry Ott Says:

    Now I’m so hungry for ramen…damn. The ham and egg looks delish!
    Sherry Ott recently posted..Istanbul Photography

  3. Carmel Says:

    This sounds silly in comparison, but I always like to try a pizza place’s cheese pizza before anything else. It’s my favorite, but in my opinion, if they can’t make a great cheese pizza, I’m not wasting my money on other choices.
    Carmel recently posted..Quinoa & Black Bean Salad

  4. Hogga Says:

    I miss Matsuya… love the beef bowls.
    Hogga recently posted..Get Off Your Fucking Phone, Stop Taking Pictures and Enjoy Life

  5. Mike Says:

    I love Ramen and Udon noodle dishes and Yakisoba. Arigato!!!

  6. Japan Australia Says:

    I love my ramen and it is a great quick meal. Hard to choose a favourite but Tonkotsu and Miso ramen are hard to beat for me.
    Japan Australia recently posted..The Premium KURO Burger

  7. David @ Ogijima Says:

    Gosh, I haven’t had ramen in about a month (I blame summer heat). Now you make me want ramen today!!!

    Also, concerning sushi, I think it’s a common misconception that the best sushi in the world is in Tokyo, but I think (and it has been my experience so far) that you can find much better sushi in small fishing towns for obvious reasons.
    David @ Ogijima recently posted..Hiroshi Fuji on Teshima

  8. Leigh Says:

    I think the post should have been called ramen and beers. There’s a beer in most photos. The one with extra leek sounds good to me.
    Leigh recently posted..Calgary Day Trip – Cycling the Sheep River Valley

  9. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) Says:

    Yum, these all look so good! While we were in Japan, I think we wound up becoming yakitori and tonkatsu experts in much the same way you did with ramen, while we only ate ramen once! That said, we had a really yummy iteration on it at an underground food mall in Kyoto: Tony ordered a bowl that had yuba-wrapped prawns and a yuzu broth that was stunning!

    We also had ramen while in Hong Kong – Japanese food is really popular there and we came down with a cold our last few days… we were too sick to really go far from our hostel, but right behind it was one of the best ramen shops in the district! I ordered a “black ramen”, which had broth flavored with squid ink and black sesame that was phenomenal… If you guys want to continue your ramen quest, you need to hit up Hong Kong next!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Melting Down in Matsumoto

  10. Kate Says:

    These look awesome. Sadly I’m a vegetarian, ever run into a vegetarian ramen on your travels?
    Kate recently posted..Calling All Bloggers: Be part of my Favorite Places e-book series

  11. Wouter Says:

    I love ra-men myself too, and my favorite is tonkotsu. Shio comes on the second place, and there are also ra-men shops which have their own special broth. There are good ra-men chains such as Ippuudou with their fantastic tonkotsu, but I also recommend trying out the privately operated ra-men houses – they usually have something special. As Japanese friends say “When a ra-men house looks new and modern, their ra-men suck. Go for the old, boro-boro (crumbled, worn out) shops, they have the best ra-men!”
    Wouter recently posted..Android development with Eclipse

  12. Stephanie - The Travel Chica Says:

    I lived off of ramen my first two years of college. Obviously, it was crappy stuff from a packet, and I didn’t dress it up with anything extra. It would be really interesting to try a lot of different varieties of this dish.

  13. Vicky Says:

    We just finished a two week trip to Japan (the very beginning of our backpacking adventure) and absolutely love love loved the ramen there! So many different types and all so slurp worthy and delicious. Not sure that we got to try the shio ramen, though it’s hard to tell since most places we went didn’t have an english menu so we just ordered from pictures and hoped for the best!
    Vicky recently posted..A Couple Travelers By The Numbers – September ’12

  14. Ken Says:

    The farther you take distance from Tokyo, the tastier Ramen becomes.
    If you would like to have the best miso, you should go to Sapporo, the best shouyu to Asahikawa and the best shio to Hakodate, all in Hokkaido, norther most island.
    If you would like to the best tonkotsu, you should go to Kyuushuu, southern most island.
    If you would like to save time and money, Ramen museum in Yokohama near Tokyo has the most popular ramen restaurant in each area.

  15. hide Says:

    If you visit in Tokyo, I recommend Ramen-Jiro to you.
    This ramen is like traditional and unique. and it drug hundred thousands people.

    any way have agood trip :)

  16. Reena @ Wanderplex Says:

    I think it’s amazing what the Japanese have managed to do with the humble ramen noodle and all those variations you’ve listed sound delish! I don’t always chase the same foods at each restaurant… although I’m not sure if trying every gelato stand in Italy counts..!
    Reena @ Wanderplex recently posted..Road test your clothes before you travel

  17. Ali Says:

    I would like to try the garlic one. I love garlic! Also, anything other than junk food snacks and sodas shouldn’t be purchased from a vending machine. The Basel, Switzerland airport has a vending machine near where we get the bus back to Freiburg, and it sells pizza. That CAN’T be good!
    Ali recently posted..Disadvantages of Taking a Tour

  18. Arti Says:

    Did not have any of these. Dont think any are vegetarian!!
    Arti recently posted..Meiji Jingu Shrine In Tokyo: A Walk In Peace

  19. Kieu ~ GQ trippin Says:

    YUM! You’re making me miss Japan so much. Although we didn’t try as many ramen as you did. I did LOVE the miso ramen in Takayama when we were there. We’re just starting to recap our time in Japan except we went back in May! Lol.. ahh memories of great food!
    Kieu ~ GQ trippin recently posted..India: Travel Costs & Highlights

  20. Franca Says:

    Japanese food is still my favorite and ramen was often our choice while in Japan. I loved the miso one, the one with pork and egg, but I can eat them all, so tasty and healthy!
    You are correct, it’s difficult to get tired of this delicious noodle soup especially when there are so many kinds to try.
    I’d love to learn how to make ramen, one day maybe… :)
    Franca recently posted..6 Months Travel Anniversary – Now What?