The essence of ramen and the history of ramen – solutions to problems even ramen shop owners don’t know about, based on 17 years of accumulation since the establishment of the Yamato Ramen School: chapter 2

This report analyses the Japanese market.

Chapter 1: Why are so many new shops closing? This is a continuation of the following section.

There are famous ramen freaks, ramen critics and ramen researchers in the world, and a wide range of information about ramen continues to be published every day.
Nowadays, the world is flooded with information about ramen, and this information is growing by the day.
Most of this information is from the customer’s point of view, or focuses on ramen from the front, but in my case, as the head of a ramen school, I would like to take a slightly different perspective.

I teach students at three ramen schools every month (Kagawa head office, Tokyo branch and Singapore) how to survive in the ramen industry.
I would also like to pursue my own unique perspective on the essence of ramen, as seen from my position as the founder of a noodle-making machine manufacturer, a genuine engineer and the head of a ramen school, who has been watching the industry for more than 40 years.

Why has Chinese Lanzhou ramen, which has a history of 4,000 years, not spread around the world, while Japanese ramen, which has a history of only 100 years at best, has spread around the world?

I am very interested not only in ramen, but also in food in general, and I always have the habit of pursuing any question I have in depth with great interest.

One time I was given a history book about Lanzhou ramen by a friend from Lanzhou.
In it, it was stated that Lanzhou Ramen had already been found as a dish in an old archaeological site 4,000 years ago.

I was so interested in Lanzhou Ramen that I took my friend’s invitation and went to Lanzhou in July 2012 to join the Lanzhou Ramen School and learn how to make Lanzhou Ramen.
In the 1,000 or so Lanzhou ramen shops in Lanzhou, which has a population of just over three million people, the noodles are still made using a completely hand-pulled technique, with artisans in the shop demonstrating how they are pulled and stretched by hand and the fully stretched, thin noodles are thrown into a large boiling pot of boiling water.
Boiling time is very short, around 20 seconds, and the cooked noodles are then served to customers one portion at a time in a soup made from beef.
This soup is basically made by cooking a block of beef, and after it is finished in the morning, it is seasoned with salt and used all the way until the end of the business in the late afternoon.
There are about 1,000 Lanzhou Ramen shops in Lanzhou, and the shop with the most customers had about 5,000 visitors per day.

As mentioned above, Lanzhou Ramen has a history of 4,000 years, but the noodle-making and soup-making processes have kept the old traditions alive, and all noodle-making is done by hand by artisans, so all shops do almost the same thing and there are no differences.

Essential differences between Chinese and Japanese ramen

Japanese ramen was started by the Chinese who came to Japan from China after the Sino-Japanese War, and has blossomed in different regions of Japan, each with its own local specialities. This is why there is so much variety in ramen from one region to another.
The decisive difference between Chinese and Japanese ramen is the presence or absence of the original sauce, which is not used in Chinese ramen at all.

Motodare in Japanese ramen is a variant of kaesashi, a Japanese buckwheat noodle soup, which is a soup-based monotonous flavour extracted from strong umami ingredients as a seasoning, and is responsible for defining the flavour direction of the ramen.
The seasonings used to flavour Lanzhou ramen soup are basically salt or salt and spices, whereas the seasonings used in Japanese ramen are much broader and more complex, ranging from salt to soy sauce and miso.
In China, ramen soup is seasoned at once in the morning when it is finished and used until the evening, whereas in Japan, the soup is seasoned one cup at a time, according to the customer’s order, with the original sauce and spicy oil.
Therefore, Japanese ramen is characterised as a food that enjoys the intense taste of the moment when the original sauce and soup are combined.
Therefore, it is also a food where you can enjoy the ever-changing flavours as time goes by.

What has caused only Japanese ramen to successfully globalise?

Famous foods that have succeeded in globalising and spreading around the world include hamburgers and pizza at the top of the list, but in Japanese food, sushi has already become a global food.

The reason why sushi has become a global food is that it has been introduced to the USA and the California roll was created on the West Coast.
If we had said that sushi was only nigirizushi and nori makizushi, and that anything else could not be called sushi, it would not have become globalised.

In the same way, we can say that ramen has already become globalised because there is no binding rule that says this is what ramen is and that anything else is not ramen.
In short, I think it would be easier for ramen to spread around the world and become a global food if it were to innovate and go to a world where anything goes, rather than just stubbornly sticking to tradition.

Among similar traditional Japanese noodles, I think the reason why udon and soba have not yet gone global is because they are too focused on tradition.

Evolutionary history of ramen in Japan

Various ramen cultures spread throughout Japan, mainly after World War II.
In the early days, Japanese ramen was similar to today’s kake-udon, with a bowl of ramen noodles filled with hot soup, freshly boiled noodles and toppings.

Next came the dipping noodles with less broth and thicker broth (zaru soba in Japanese soba noodles, or zaru udon or kamaage udon in udon noodles), and then the mixed noodles without broth (abura soba).
In this way, the world of ramen has evolved one after another, with soups becoming increasingly dense and flavoured with a strong, full-bodied taste.

As described above, when ramen first started in Japan, it was a traditional type of ramen known as chuka-soba, with a less thick soup and a gentler flavour, but over time it has gradually changed to a thicker, more impactful ramen.

The soup types started with pork, chicken and beef, then seafood was added, then vegetables, and now even fruit is used, and even vegetarian ramen has been created.

Future direction of evolution of ramen culture

Today, the world of ramen is a world where anything goes.
However, it is important not to move away from the essentials.
No matter how much innovation you do, you have to keep the basics in mind.
If we stray from the basics, we will end up with something like the fake sushi we see so much in the sushi world.

Below I would like to present the direction of evolution that will drive ramen culture in the future.

Until now, wheat has been the main ingredient for noodles, but recently, rice and other grains are being used due to the influence of gluten-free products. In the future, there is an increasing likelihood that a variety of new, healthy ingredients will be used, including pulses.

The range of soup ingredients has also expanded from pork, chicken and beef bones to all kinds of seafood ingredients, vegetables and fruits, and it is highly likely that new ingredients will be introduced one after another here as well.

Up to now, Japanese seasonings have been the main ingredient in the original sauce, but in the future a wide variety of foreign seasonings will be used. We already use Vietnamese fish sauce at all times in our ramen schools.

The range of flavoured oils, both animal and plant-derived oils, is also expanding, and nowadays various fats and oils that have never been used before, such as olive oil and chia seed oil, will be used.

The same applies to toppings, which will not just be charcuterie, but will utilise a variety of proteins. A wide variety of cooking methods will be used, including raw, low-temperature cooking and smoking.

The presentation of ramen noodles will also go far beyond that of past ramen, with the possibility of noodle dishes where it is hard to tell whether they are ramen or not.

Continued in Chapter 3: The Essence of Ramen Soup.

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