Ramen noodles have been a popular dish for centuries, allowing the development of endless variations throughout regions of Japan, and even other parts of Asia. Most of the noodles are made from the same four basic ingredients: wheat, flour, water, salt, and kansui (an alkaline mineral water).
Adding the kansui to the ingredients gives the noodles their yellowish tint and firm texture. Different recipes substitute eggs for the kansui. Despite the similarities in ingredients, the noodles can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes - some may be fat or thin, straight or wrinkled, or even ribbon-like. The broth generally calls for ingredients such as niboshi (dried baby sardines), onions, beef bones, kelp, also called kombu, and katsuobushi (tuna flakes). The flavors that are then added to the soup are what creates the different variations. There are four main variations to ramen noodles.
The first, and most likely oldest, is Shio, salt flavored ramen. It consists of a pale, clear broth made with chicken, vegetables, fish, seaweed and then flavored with salt. Pickled plums, chicken meatballs, and kamaboko are also popular toppings for this kind of ramen. Occasionally pork bones are used, but they are never boiled to ensure the soup keeps its pale color.
The second variation is tonkotsu, or pork bone ramen. This soup has a cloudy, white colored broth. The broth is thicker than other types of ramen. Its thick broth, due to boiling pork bones, fat, and collagen for hours over high heat, rivals milk or gravy. This ramen is served with pickled ginger (been shoga), crushed garlic, and sesame seeds. Often times, small amounts of chicken and vegetable stock are blended into the pork broth.
Shoyu, the third variation of ramen, is soy sauce ramen. The broth of this soup is typically a clear brown. Chicken and vegetables are added, sometimes beef or fish as well. Bamboo shoots, green onions, boiled eggs, bean sprouts, and sometimes Chinese spices make up Shoyu ramen- and of course soy sauce. Plenty of soy sauce is added to give the soup its tangy, salty taste.
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The fourth type of ramen, Miso, is a relatively new recipe. This Miso is unique because it is the only type of ramen out of the four that is strictly Japanese. This soup features a broth that combines chicken broth with miso. The addition of lard to the list of ingredients makes the soup very hearty and thick. Spicy bean paste, bean sprouts, onions, ground pork, cabbage, sesame seeds, white pepper, and chopped garlic are all added to give Miso its tangy flavor. The noodles are most often thick and chewy.