The Cultural Significance of Ramen

The Cultural Significance of Ramen

Ramen has been elevated to fine cuisine in Japan with a bowl of noodles, sliced meat, and vegetables – all served in a steaming hot broth as a national favorite. Ramen styles also vary based on how the dish is prepared and the region it originates from. There are various blogs, catalogs, and magazines devoted to ramen. Here are some historical and cultural points about ramen that might be helpful for our readers.

History of Ramen

Despite what most people believe, Ramen is originally from China and arrived in Japan during the nineteenth century, according to The New Yorker.

There are at least two theories explaining where ramen originates. The first theory is that a scholar named Shu Shunsui brought a ramen recipe with him when he escaped Manchu rule in China and moved to Japan. The second theory suggests Chinese cooks opened a noodle shop in Tokyo during the early 20th century and created noodles called “Shina Soba,” which later evolved to ramen.

After World War II, ramen became internationally recognized when Japan increased their imports of U.S. wheat, contributing to Japan’s ramen industry and growth.

Types of Ramen Noodle Broths

There are three common types of broths in the Japanese ramen: TonkotsuShoyu, and Miso.

  1. Tonkotsu is a popular type of ramen made by boiling pork leg bones, trotters, garlic, and ginger. The caramelized ginger, garlic, and onions flavor the white and creamy soup base. The tonkotsu ramen normally has a mild, rich flavor, often recommended to beginners interested in exploring the ramen world.
  2. Shoyu ramen, on the other hand, is made from a soy sauce base, tasting a bit salty, but savory. U.S. Americans often prefer tonkotsu ramen, while the Japanese enjoy the shoyu ramen.
  3. Miso ramen originates from Northern Hokkaido, a colder region in Japan. It has a distinct, strong flavor. It’s often paired with toppings such as sweet corn, stir-fried pork belly, or bean sprouts. It’s the youngest type of ramen and gained popularity during the 1960s.

Types of Ramen Noodle Shapes

Ramen noodles are often made with wheat, flour, salt, water, and a little ingredient called kansui, an alkaline water that gives noodles the chewy texture. Noodles are  categorized as: fresh, dried, and instant.

  • Fresh noodles: Used in high-end ramen shops, they are made from scratch and taste more chewy with a more authentic taste compared to other types of noodles. Tonkotsu ramen is usually paired with straight noodles while the miso ramen is usually paired with wavy noodles. Shoyu ramen is paired with any noodle based on the region.
  • Dried noodles: These are excellent for homestyle cooking to make ramen on-the-go. Sometimes they’re used in Japanese restaurants, but it’s normally found in ramen packets at a grocery store. These have a bit more oily texture and taste when compared to fresh noodles; this can be good or bad depending on personal preference.
  • Instant noodles: These were invented by Momofuku Ando in 1958. This one is tried by many students try during their college career. It’s easy to make, with little time and effort.

Ramen has a deep-rooted cultural significance, which adds to its delicious taste as a fulfilling meal. Visit a nearby ramen shop or restaurant to fully appreciate the historical and cultural significance behind every bite.


Sharon Schweitzer and Sunny Kim co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is an award-winning entrepreneur, cross-cultural trainer, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, and Fortune. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business,  Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, (3rd printing), was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

Sunny Kim is a Fall 2017 Cross-Cultural Communication intern with Access to Culture. She is currently a junior journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin with a minor in Korean language and certificate in business. She is also the founder and president of UT Asian American Journalists Association. Her main focus is storytelling people’s diverse experiences relating to race and culture. Connect with her on Linkedin

Photo by Pxhere

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