Ramen is Japanese noodle soup dish particularly popular in Sapporo, on Hokkaido Island in the north of Japan.
The noodles used are fresh egg noodles (not dried) usually made from wheat, but sometimes made from buckwheat or brown rice flour. Often a dough conditioner known as "kansui" is added, too, which gives the noodles their off-white colour and characteristic flavour.
Most of the taste of the dish comes from the broth, though. The broths are usually based on chicken, pork, niboshi (dried sardines) or kombu (seaweed.)
There are four different kinds of broth, categorized by flavour:
- Salt (shio ramen) -- clear, based on salt;
- Soy (shoyu ramen) -- clear brown, based on soy sauce;
- Pork bone (tonkotsu ramen) -- creamy white, based on pork;
- Miso (miso ramen) -- opaque brown, based on miso.
Finely sliced vegetables, including ginger, leek, garlic and mushrooms, might also be cooked in the broth. The soup is served garnished with finely shredded or chopped toppings such as leek, bamboo shoots, nori, pork, boiled egg, etc.
Instant Ramen NoodlesThis is the version better known outside Japan. A student staple in North America, it is extremely fast to prepare (3 minutes), and extremely cheap: in 2006, prices in America were as low as 12 cents a package.
They are usually sold in plastic packaging accompanied by a packet of powder to make a broth from.
The noodles in the package are curly dried noodles, They are cooked first before packaging, either by being deep-fried to preserve them, then dried, or steamed then baked.
The noodles come tangled together in a square block 4 inches by 4 inches (10 x 10 cm), and 1 inch (2 1/2 cm) thick. Each noodle strand is about 1/16th of an inch (2mm) in diameter and 16 inches (40 cm) long, though not all manufacturers make their Ramen Noodles of such even proportions.
There are about 80 noodles in each block, making about 105 feet (32 metres) of noodle in total in each package. Some brands, such as Sapporo brand, put about 150 noodles in a block, with lengths averaging about 13 inches (33 cm) and a total length up to 170 feet.
They are usually sold in a square of cellophane plastic wrapping. You open the package, empty the noodles into a noodle, open the packet of flavouring powder and sprinkle it over, douse with hot water, and let soak for 3 minutes, then eat.
The dish is also sold in Styrofoam cups. You peel the plastic covering off, and make them and eat them right out of the cup.
In Korea, you can get flavours such as Kimchi and black bean.
Cook fresh ones in water that is already boiling. Stir when you add them to the water, and stir until the water returns to a boil. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain. Add to a soup, or serve as they are topped with vegetables, either stir-fried or steamed.
The flavour of the first dish offered was chicken. The instant dried noodle mix cost 6 times the price of fresh noodles. Others in the Japanese noodle industry thought the idea had no future. But by the end of 1958, it had been such a wild success that at least 10 other companies were trying to copy Ando, and over the next several years, the prices began to fall.
The original brand is known in English as "Top Ramen" by Nissin. It was introduced into America in 1972.
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-- Jane Grigson (English food writer. 13 March 1928 - 12 March 1990)