Japan and France are the only countries where their food is listed as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
We have so many varieties of food it is difficult to try them all.
Our sushi is known all over the world. I want to introduce you to our noodles, especially ramen. Some of the dishes mentioned in this article you can taste in your home country. When we lived in Atlanta we ate noodles at several different restaurants, however even if they look the same they do not taste the same as what you find in Japan. There is a science to preparing the dish, like with sushi the skill in how you cut the fish determines the actual taste. With noodles everything from the water to type of ingredients, to how it is prepared and even the way you eat them can mean a big difference to your palate.
Certain noodles you eat cold and others only hot. The main types of noodle dishes are Ramen, Soba, Udon, Champon, Yakisoba, and Tantanmen but even these vary by regions and prefectures in Japan. I included the Chinese dish of Tantanmen because it is so readily available throughout the country.
Some of the soups for the noodles can take up to 30 hours to prepare.
- UDON – These are the thickest of our noodles and are made from wheat. During the summer you eat them cold with various sauces you dip and in winter they are hot with different soups including curry, which is my favorite. The dishes will vary by region. In Nagoya the noodles were flat and the soup had a soy flavor.
- SOBA – Made from buckwheat and flour, they are served dried or soft chilled. Soba is usually accompanied by tempura, and a dipping sauce. The dishes vary by region with Okinawa using a totally different noodle. I was not a fan of Soba until our trip to Nagano where the noodles were so good I almost ordered another serving.
- YAKISOBA – Means fried buckwheat, but it is made from wheat flour and is flavored with many different sauces. Miwa makes this dish every couple of weeks mixed with cabbage and other veggies. There is a special Yakisoba sauce we buy from the market that gives it a deep taste. Others mix the noodles with oyster sauce.
- CHAMPON – is a regional dish from Nagasaki and has Chinese origins. You make Champon by putting pork, seafood, and veggies in a frying pan with lard. The soup is chicken and pig based using Ramen noodles. The difference with this dish is they use only one pan with the soup and noodles boiled together.
- TANTANMEN – Regular or made from knife-shaved noodles. Primarily found in the Chinatown restaurants throughout Japan. This is my favorite noodle dish. It is made with Chile peppers, sesame, ground beef, and various veggies, like bean sprouts. Usually on the menu you see one to three Chile peppers to indicate how hot the soup will be.
- RAMEN – Thin wheat noodles with salt, and alkaline water boiled in a large vat that cooks overnight. The broth depends on the region and can be miso (fermented bean paste), shio (salt), shoyu (soy Sauce) and tonkotsu (pork) with all types of variations in between. My favorite is spicy miso, which in some parts of Japan is hard to find. Ramen has been available throughout Japan since the early 1900’s with many prominent dishes by region.
In Sapporo we ate their famous Miso Ramen topped with sweet corn, chopped pork, bean sprouts and garlic at the ramen alley near the station. My home Yokohama has a Ramen museum featuring all types and flavors with the local favorite using a thicker noodle with soy based pork broth topped with roasted pork, boiled spinach, a dried seaweed sheet, and half a soft-boiled egg. When we visited Fukuoka’s famous ramen stalls on the canal it was a very tasty milky pork-bone tonkotsu broth topped with mustard greens, sesame seeds, and ginger. We also experienced great ramen in Nagasaki, which was less oily than Fukuoka.
In almost all ramen restaurants there are little containers with many types of toppings and you choose whatever you're in the mood for. No matter where you are in Japan there will be Ramen.
The noodle dishes are very reasonably priced and in some restaurants you can order different sized bowls. One thing is for sure: if you're eating noodles in Japan you will not leave hungry. Follow this link for information for the Ramen Museum in Shin-Yokohama.
For your Japan trip to be complete make sure to sample several of our noodle dishes.