Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Birth of Ramen Noodles

The birth of ramen noodles was over 4000 years ago in China, where all noodles seem to originate from. Even their name is of Chinese origin. "lo-mein" in Chinese, meaning boiled noodles, was borrowed into Japanese where "l" and "r" have no distiction, and thus, "ra-men" as the West has come to know it was born. Here's a further transliteration of the meaning of lo-mein and ramen to justify why it could be so easily borrowed from one culture to another:

Lamian :
la (Chinese) = pulling and stretching
mian (Chinese) = noodles
Ramen :
men (Japanese) = all kind of noodles made of cereal flour

Ramen in China was originally called nabmen ‘납면(拉麵)’ or nomen ‘노면(老麵)’ or yumen ‘유면(柳麵)’, and when it was introduced to Japan by Chinese living in the Hokkaido region, these noodles came to be known as gina-soba ‘지나(支那)소바’ or namkyung-soba ‘남경(南京)소바. They became so popular in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, that now the dish is considered to be their regional dish. Perhaps part of their popularity is linked to satisfying hunger when Japan had an intense food shortage at the end and after World War II.

In 1958 Ando Momofuku, founder of Nissin Foods in Japan, invented instant ramen, which has been named the greatest "made in Japan" invention in the 20th century, in front of the karaoke and headphone stereos according to a Japanese poll. Instant ramen became a Japanese cultural icon! Pictured is Ando Momofuku and the first Nising Ramen marketed.

Variations exist among the countries where ramen in now marketed.
"Each country's Ramen noodles reflect their own particular flavor preferences. Korean Ramen is highly spiced and often contains packets of black bean sauce. China makes Ramen in Szechuan flavors. Thailand makes very thin, delicate noodles with very hotly spiced packets. Japan prefers the flavor of seafood and mild spices. In the U.S. they are usually available with meat flavors, mushroom flavors or mild spices often referred to as “Oriental flavor”."

More precisely the variation between Japanese ramen is based on regional variations - different meat or seafood broths and even different thicknesses and ingredients for the noodles. The largest regional variations are those of Sapporo, Kitakata, Tokyo, Yokohama and Hakata.

In Korea the noodles are called ramyeon (라면) and are usually instant, whereas Japanese ramen noodles can be instant but more frequently are freshly made in restaurants. In Korea ramyeon is a popular instant meal for students between classes, people on vacations and just for the quick "meal". In fact, at 75 meals per year Koreans lead the world per capita in ramen/ramyeon consumption. Korean ramyeon is hot and spicy as it is highly flavored with chili peppers. Many varieties of ramyeon exist: kimchi-flavored, seafood-flavored and beef-flavored are among the most popular. Some restaurants serve variations of ramyeon containing additional ingredients such as dumplings, ddeok, and even sliced cheese! If ordering ramyeon in a restaurant, some chopped green onions and carrot shreads with a raw egg to be cooked by the hot soup are frequently added.

My students Chae Min-ah and Seo Jun-ho along with extra resources from The History of Ramen, The Origin of Ramen , and Ramen in Wikipedia are the references for this material.

1 comment:

  1. this posting was very helpful in my research about Ramen noodles. thanks