The world of Ramen is vast and varied, with passionate devotees like our frequent contributor Kenji Lopez-Alt and enthusiastic fans like myself. We're not talking Cup 'A' Anything or magic flavor packets here--these are incredibly rich, complex bowls of goodness, requiring several hours of simmering and most likely a ramen master stirring the pot.
So, what is ramen, anyway? Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup dish, with Chinese-style wheat or egg noodles served in a very rich broth along with cooked sliced pork, fresh scallions, and a maybe slightly-more-than-soft-boiled egg. The dish differs from Vietnamese pho, which has a lighter broth, rice noodles, and beef rather than pork. Variations are endless, depending on the region of Japan you're in, and new interpretations pop up all the time. (Korean bulgogi and kim chi ramen? Sign me up!)
The ramen joints in the U.S. typically classify their bowls in terms of flavoring--the sauce that's added to the master broth. There's shoyu, or soy sauce, added to more intense, often spicy ramen; shio, or salt, a lighter style that highlights the broth itself; and miso, the fermented soy bean paste, often used in vegetarian-style ramen for more umami. You'll also see tonkatsu ramen on the menu--this refers to the pork bone-based broth, steeped with aromatics and slightly thickened. If you're a first timer, tonkatsu is your best introduction to the world of ramen.
A truly authentic bowl of ramen is quite complicated to make on your own. Our 25-minute Mushroom Ramen Bowl won't quite compare to the real thing, but it's still gorgeous and delicious.