A hearty and wholesome noodle soup, ramen, is becoming quite a rage in India. It is also the ultimate one-bowl comfort food to perk you up on a day you are feeling low. Not many know but ramen became popular in Japan just over a century ago making it a relatively new entrant in the island nation’s foodscape.
The popularity is such that there are different styles of ramen as you travel across Japan. In a gist, ramen tends to be heavier in the north and becomes lighter as you go south. There are location based variations of ramen which tend to revolve around particular combination of broth, noodles and toppings. For instance, Tokyo ramen uses thin noodles with soy flavored broth topped with pork, egg, spinach amongst others. Sapporo ramen, is one of the most famous ramen variations hailing from Hokkaido in the north of Japan. The rich miso flavored soup is topped with corn, butter, pork, local seafood and garlic.
Ramen tends to be heavier in the north and becomes lighter as you travel south of Japan.
There are 3 basic components to ramen – broth, noodles and toppings. There is a lot of room to play around with just these 3 parts.
Japan maybe a small country, but regional variations are stark and they make their presence felt in different styles of ramen too. The base is a simple broth which is made from myriad ingredients; everything from pork bones to sea kelp can be used. For perfect broth, the soup needs to be slow cooked over number of hours for the flavors to be well integrated.
This base broth is then flavored with a salty substance known as tare. It is this tare which gives each of the ramen style its name. Shio ramen has salt, Shoyu is soy while Miso is the fermented bean paste.
It is only Tonkotsu ramen broth, made by slow cooking pork bones, which does not use any salt base flavoring. Use of pork bones makes the broth intense and additional flavoring will be an overkill. While the other broths tend to be light and clear, Tonkotsu has a creamy and milky texture.
Other seasoning used in these broths include black pepper, chilli pepper, butter, toasted sesame seeds and crushed garlic.
Ramen noodles are quite different from other Japanese noodle varieties like Soba or Udon. They are wheat based but it is the use of seawater or alkaline water which makes the difference. It is often used to cook noodles to resist limpness and add more flavor to the them. The Italian al-dente rule is an imperative for noodles in a ramen. It needs to hold not just its structure but also be springy.
Now this is where you can really get creative. Toppings traditionally include, nori, tomago or egg which could be hard or soft boiled soaked in soy or not, depending on your preference, leek, chasu or braised pork belly, sprouted mung beans amongst others. You can add, corn, fish or any other topping that catches you fancy.
One bite of the tare infused warm broth with chewy noodles with toppings becomes more than just comfort food.
You ladle in the broth in a deep bowl, plonk in a portion of noodles into the broth, and then go about arranging the toppings with as much care or lack of it, you feel like. As you dig into the bowl slurping the noodle and gulping spoonfuls of soup spruced with your favorite bits from the toppings the complexity of a simple dish becomes evident. That one bite of the tare infused warm broth with chewy noodles with toppings becomes more than just comfort food.
If this has you craving for a bowl of ramen head to any of the following restaurants:
Mumbai – Kofuku, Bandra
The Fatty Bao, Bandra
Asian Street Kitchen, Girgaum
Yuuka, St Regis Mumbai, Lower Parel
Wasabi by Morimoto, Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Colaba
You can get ramen home delivered via Boxd by Trekurious and The Ramen Girl.
Bangalore – Harima, Residency Road
The Fatty Bao, Indiranagar
Edo, ITC Gardenia, Residency Road
OJ, Hotel Evoma, KR Puram
Delhi NCR – Guppy by Ai, Lodhi Colony
Yum Yum Cha, Saket
The Fatty Bao, R K Puram
The Yum Yum Tree, New Friends Colony
Chi Kitchen and Bar, opposite IIT Main Gate
T.K’s Oriental Grill, Hyatt Regency, Bhikaji Cama Place
Pan Asian, Sheraton New Delhi, Saket