Ramen is becoming ever more popular, it is a real foodie trend at the moment and showing no signs of slowing down. The rise of this Japanese street food and favorite of late night Tokyo office workers, is evident with the dedicated ramen restaurants that you can see opening around London and worldwide.
In the last couple of years, I have been involved in helping Japanese restaurants with a menu based around ramen in some way, get off the ground and with menu development in London, Portugal and Belgium. I have also been teaching ramen classes for 3 years now, and it remains the most popular class. I would never would have thought about teaching ramen 10 years ago.
Of course, the real Japanese staple food is rice, but noodles are a vital part of the diet for Japanese people. They are a perfect fit when looking for a quick and light lunch. Japan has many different types of noodles, that vary according to region, available ingredients or the chefs that specialise in making them.
I grew up in Yamanashi and the prefecture is renowned for its Soba (Buckwheat) noodles. When visiting Tokyo, I’d enjoy the amazing flavours of Shoyu ramen (soy sauced based), Miso ramen and Tan Tan men, all of which I now teach at my ramen class.
So what is ramen?
First and foremost, I would say it is all about creating a rich, flavoursome broth.
You’ll no doubt have heard much about umami recently. It can take days and days to create the powerful, depth of flavour found in a well made ramen broth. You might have already heard about Ivan Ramen or Ivan Chef. If you haven’t watched the Netflix documentary about him, I highly recommend it, and you can enjoy his dedication and Otaku approach to the world of ramen.
Students who have been to a ramen class with me, will remember that I talk about how important the use of umami ingredients is in inducing depth of flavour. Of course it is important to have a good quality ramen noodles as well, but there is no need to hand-make them, as with udon or soba.
If you are looking for hand-made noodles, then come along to an udon noodle making class, where you’ll make the dough from scratch. Making soba noodles is a really, high skill and best left to the Master chefs who have years of training.
For ramen, I normally suggest to students that the focus is on making the broth and buying in the best noodles available.
Which noodles are best for making ramen?” What type of noodles should you buy?
Ramen noodles are normally wheat flour based “Kansui Noodles”, made using a type of alkaline mineral water which contains sodium carbonate and usually potassium carbonate, as well as sometimes a small amount of phosphoric acid.
This mix makes noodles with a strong texture, that are far less soggy when the noodles are mixed with the broth. Lots of people think they are egg noodles.
It is good to have kansui noodles when you make ramen, if at all possible. You can find these in good Japanese food stores such as the Japan Centre and some oriental grocery shops like SeeWoo or Wing Yip. all of which sell authentic kansui noodles. However, if you are not able to get hold of these, then egg noodles from the local supermarket are a good substitute.
Here is my Otaku research, in the hunt for the best egg noodles:
Best Fresh Noodles
Fresh Egg Noodles from M&S : I find these are so much stronger than other supermarket’s fresh versions, they also have a much better taste.
You can use these noodles for making Yakisoba ( pan-fried noodles). They will not fall apart and become soggy. They’re are a great option if you’ve had a busy day and are available in several different flavours.
Best Dried Noodles
Dried Egg Noodles : M&S and Waitrose – You can use any Egg noodles from Waitrose and M&S, stock up as they are great to keep in the cupboard.
Gluten Free and Healthy Noodles
Of course you can use rice noodles or buckwheat noodles if you are looking for a gluten free option. Some buckwheat (Soba) has got some gluten so please be careful! The Clearspring range will also be great quality, as they are dedicated to using the best ingredients
M&S Fresh Rice Noodles
Clearspring 100% Dried Buckwheat Soba Noodles
Best Kansui Noodles
If you can find kansui noodles, they are the best choice for home-made ramen! Kindly, my brother sends me these by the box load and I use them for my classes. They are also available from some on-line shops:
Hakubaku Japanese Ramen Noodles Organic 270 g (Pack of 4)
Try the suggestions for yourself and please report back if you find any not mentioned,
Enjoy Japanese Cooking!