Ramen: basic composition
As a dish, Ramen is a combination of a number of different components which taken together – depending on individual ingredients and particular cooking methods – create a certain taste which, in itself, is more than a simple sum of its constituent elements.
A bowl of Ramen is a complexity offering the one who eats it a synergistic gustatory effect – both fulfilling and engaging.
On a structural level, among the compositional parts of the standard modern Ramen there are such elements as Ramen soup (stock), Motodare and Flavor Oils with a batch of Ramen noodles put into the mixture, and garnished with a protein-based topping (Note: Tsukemen and Mazemen varieties are structured and served differently).
Motodare: for taste and color
Having originated in ancient China, Ramen was first brought to Japan at the end of the 19th century, and in the course of time has been greatly developed and diversified, evolving into many individual varieties by incorporating distinctive characteristics of local Japanese regional cuisines. One of the fundamental innovations introduced into Ramen was Motodare, which was more or less absent from the original Chinese type.
Motodare (“もとだれ” or “base sauce”) was initially developed from “Kaeshi” – a sauce for Soba buckwheat noodles. Although there are several different types of it, generally speaking, standard Motodare is made by dissolving and concentrating the “Umami” essence and flavors of various ingredients into another medium, and its role in Ramen can be broadly summarized as defining, emphasizing and strengthening the taste of Ramen soup stock: if soup stock serves as a foundation for Ramen broth, Motodare acts as a seasoning and coloring agent.
The most common terms for Ramen varieties, which have already found their way into the vernacular of Ramen aficionados around the world – derive from the type of Motodare used to make it – Shio, Shoyu, Miso.
Types of Motodare
As a culinary concept Motodare is subdivided into several types, made using such seasonings as salt (“Shio”), soy sauce (“Shoyu”) and fermented soy beans paste (“Miso”) as their carrier base.
Motodare is used for soup stock flavoring, and, to use a metaphor of a sort, without it a soup stock is like a lens without a focus.
As a general description, Motodare can be defined as a condiment made by mixing various ingredients with salt, soy sauce or miso, which is then added to soup stock to determine the direction of its taste.
In most cases, Motodare is made from foods with high concentration of Umami – or to be more precise of naturally occurring glutamic and inosinic amino acids – like kelp (edible seaweed), clams, shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, various species of fishes (including in a form of dried flakes or powder).
Synergistic effect achieved by combining those ingredients with a Motodare seasoning base greatly amplifies their umami-content, and enhances the degree of their impact on human taste perception. The type of added Motodare also affects the color of Ramen, with Shoyu Ramen being on average darker than the Shio variety, and Miso Ramen having a touch of creamy opaqueness.
Soy sauce, Salt, Miso, and more
There is also more to the seasoning base than just soy sauce, salt or miso.
For example, the soy sauce used to make Shoyu Motodare can be of two main different types – raw or heated. In comparison to the raw type (which has a distinct and clearly expressed taste of soy sauce) the heated type contains relatively little soy sauce flavor. Using these two types of soy sauce or combining them together can allow for greater versatility to create richer tastes with more complex structure.
As different types of salt have different chemical composition, and taste differently, choosing a particular one or a combination of them will have its impact on the taste of such Motodare.
Miso Motodare is often made by mixing various kinds of miso paste (white miso, red miso, etc.) and adding other seasoning and spicing ingredients (e.g. ginger, sesame, chili, etc.)
In a broad sense, such condiments as vinegar (or a combination of different kinds of vinegar like the one used in Yamato Ramen School), fish sauce, chili paste, etc. can also be used as a kind of Motodare as well.
Learning all secrets of Motodare
During the course, students of Yamato Ramen School have an opportunity to learn all theoretical and practical aspects of Motodare: choosing and processing ingredients, combination, preparation and storage methods, as well as using different kinds of Motodare for various Ramen recipes.
More than 30 different varieties are available for students to practice on during the School.