Ramen Explained

Ramen Explained
Ramen, like curry rice, is firmly established in the category of kokuminshoku, the national food of Japan. But while curry is often prepared at home, ramen remains a restaurant food. If you can call the establishments that serve it by that name, of course.  
In the last Instagram poll, you voted for ramen. And I had the right books at hand, so I didn't want to put it off for too long. 
Besides, I thought it would be a pretty easy topic to cover. The dish is rather new and simple...
Well, I was wrong as I never expected that a humble noodle soup would take me on such an exciting journey.

Contents:

  • Protoramen? Tokugawa Mitsukuni and Chinese scholar
  • The food of open port cities. Ramen in Yokohama and Hakodate
  • Ramen pioneers: Rairaiken and Takeya Diner
  • Food for the merry, food for the poor and ramen in films by Ozu Yasujiro
  • Forbidden fruit. Ramen in WWII and American occupation
  • From zero to hero or the sudden fame of ramen
  • Ramen Museum, Cool Japan and the new adventures of ramen
  • What’s in the bowl? the components of ramen
  • Shut up and slurp. Or real ramen manners.
  • Bonus: regional varieties of ramen (Patreon special)

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Things to read

  • Kushner Barak “Slurp A Social and Culinary History of Ramen”
A brilliant book, actually. And while it claims to be about ramen, it provides so much more than a simple history of the dish. The author takes time to walk you through centuries of Japanese dining traditions carefully explaining how and why they changed, what people were eating during a particular period and what they thought about their meals. Full of diary entries of contemporaries, historical anecdotes and statistical data the book shows how Japanese people slowly embraced all the ingredients ramen consists of and how they all came together in one bowl. 
I’ve never expected a book about fast-food would teach me so much!
  • George Solt “The Untold History of Ramen”
The book dives into the history of ramen in Japan, starting with three “creation myths” and the spread of the dish during the late Meiji and Taisho periods. The biggest part of the book revolves around the post-WWII revival of ramen and how is it connected to internal and international politics, industrialisation and social changes through decades. 
It’s an academic work, so not a super exciting read, but not a bad one either. I only wish the author wouldn’t repeat and rephrase himself so many times. The book would be 50 pages shorter and much more pleasant to read. 
  • Ivan Orkin, Chris Ying “Ivan Ramen”
I didn’t expect it to be good, but it was actually a great book. Not an overnight success story of a mighty foreigner in Japan, but an honest story of trials and failures, of endings and beginnings and about life in general. 
The story of Orkin’s live and Ivan Ramen shop takes the first part of the book. The second part gives you recipes to play with. 

Things to watch

Short video about Tokugawa Mitsukuni and ramen 
  • Ramen Heads, 2017
A documentary about Ramen King Osamu Tomita, who won the best ramen award 3 years in a row and other chefs and their thoughts about ramen. 
  • Samurai Gourmet, episode 2: The Demoness’s Ramen
Funny show about retired office worker discovering small restaurants in the neighbourhood. A look into daily Japanese life, good humour and a simple way to level up your instant ramen included. 
  • Ramen Samurai
A very classic ramen story about ramen chef reaching for perfection. Set in a small town of Kurume in Kyushu, the story goes from 70-s to nowadays. It’s very warm and smells delicious tonkotsu ramen. 

Besides Ramen Samurai, there are plenty of other ramen movies. Ozu Yasujiro, the director mentioned in the episode, features ramen in as many as three films:

  • Hitori Musuko, 1936
  • Ochazuke no Aji, 1952
  • Sanma no Aji, 1962
  • Then, THE ramen movie «Tanpopo», 1985
  • And there’s even a movie about a foreign girl making ramen. Please, meet “The Ramen girl”

Things to listen

Про рамен есть даThere’s even music about ramen. If you ever want to listen to it, here’s the list: 

  • Yano Akiko “I wanna eat ramen”
  • The Komadori sisters “Ramen Tears”
  • Sharan Q “Koike Loves Ramen Song”
  • Misora Hibari “Charumera soba ya”
  • Shibakura Mariko “The Chikin Rāmen Song”
  • “Chicken and Egg Ramen”

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