Ramen Reimagined

January 12, 2024

Ramen Reimagined

While many people associate ramen exclusively with Japan, it actually originated in China. Ramen was introduced to Japan in the 1870s, and gained major popularity there after World War II. With many struggling with food access, a large shipment of wheat flour sent from the U.S. led to an increase in noodle production, causing ramen to become a staple “stamina food” in Japan. The first version of the dehydrated, instant noodle packs we are accustomed to today, known as “Chikin Ramen,” was invented in 1958. Millions of people rely on instant ramen every day due to its delicious flavor and affordability. Unfortunately, many instant ramen packs lack the nutritional benefits that restaurant quality and homemade ramen include.

This week in The Kitchen’s Community Cooking Classes, we used instant ramen packs to create our own delicious and nutritionally rich Vegetable Ramen. Following this recipe, we did away with the included flavoring sachets, and added out own broth and vegetables. This way, we avoided the added sodium and preservatives found in these flavor packs, and increased the nutritional content by including fresh vegetables and whole ingredients, without breaking the bank on eating in a restaurant! 

Quality ramen is truly an art form, and reviewing its key componets is a great way to improve our homemade dishes. Traditionally, ramen contains the following four core elements:

  • Tare: This word means “dipping sauce” and refers to a concentrated sauce or seasoning paste. Usually placed in the bowl first, tare then mixes with the added broth to enhance the flavor of a dish. For our Vegetable Ramen recipe this week, we used shoyu, or soy sauce, as our tare.
  • Dashi: This word means “extracted liquid” and refers to a broth that the noodles float in. Because noodles have a neutral flavor on their own, dashi usually has strong umami flavors to enrich the dish. This week, we used vegetable broth as our dashi, making this a vegetarian and vegan friendly dish!
  • Noodles: The star of the show, noodles are differentiated by their thickness; thin noodles are smooth and best for soup! There are many different types of noodles that would be delicious in ramen, but here are some popular variations:
    • Ramen (Chukamen): long, cylindrical, and curly; made from wheat flour and kanusi (mineral rich, alkali water)
    • Somen: thin noodles made from wheat flour dough
    • Soba: thin noodles made from buckwheat
    • Hiyamugi: slightly thicker than somen, made from wheat flour
    • Udon: bouncy, thick noodles made from wheat flour
    • Chinese Glass Noodles: made from either rice flour and water or mung bean flour and water
  • Toppings: There are endless toppings for ramen! They include both protein and vegetables as well as hot and cold toppings. Common toppings include marinated meats, boiled eggs, bok choy, ginger, sesame seeds, etc. This is a great chance to get creative, use what you have, and increase the nutritional content of your dish! For this week’s recipe, we used cabbage, carrots, celery, onion, spinach, mushrooms, and green onion.

There are also many different types of classic ramen dishes, listed below! This week’s vegetable ramen recipe is considered Shoyu Ramen because one of the key ingredients is soy sauce.

  • Tonkotsu Ramen: a creamy dish characterized by a base made from slow-cooked pork bones.
  • Miso Ramen: the key ingredient, miso, gives this dish a rich umami flavor. Miso comes in three types: white (mild and sweet), red (strong and pungent), and yellow (medium and versatile).
  • Shoyu Ramen: soy sauce is the main ingredient for shoyu ramen. Soy sauce is often incorporated into the broth and used as a condiment.
  • Shio Ramen: shio means salt, and this type of ramen is often light. Common ingredients include chicken bone broth and seafood.
  • Tsukemen: a dish of dipped noodles. Noodles and a dipping sauce are served in separate bowls.

As mentioned before, the goal of the Vegetable Ramen recipe was to add nutrition and flavor to instant ramen without using the seasoning sachet. However, you may not want to waste these packets, so try out this delicious Seasoned Egg Recipe as an alternative use!

  • Spice-Seasoned Egg: Bring water to a boil in a saucepan and add 4 eggs for 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water and peel after 5 minutes. In a ziplock bag, add spring onions, 2 sachets of instant ramen seasoning, salt and pepper, and 1.5 tsp sesame oil and shake to mix. Add eggs to the bag and refrigerate for 3 hours.

Ramen is a staple dish for so many of us, and we hope this recipe and additional information will help inspire you to spice up your instant ramen, while adding some additional nutrients along the way!

For more information, check out Ramen: 80 Easy Noodle Bowls and Broths by Makiko Sano.

By Sophia Orsinelli

JVC Northwest AmeriCorps Nutrition Educator