Instant Ramen, Instant Facts: History, Types, and Hacks
Small Pack of Ramen History
Ramen (ラーメン in Japanese) is a noodle soup dish that was originally imported from China and has become one of the most popular dishes in Japan in recent decades. Giving you a short strand of the past, it all starts in 1800s China, which is considered to be the birthplace of all things ramen. The idea of noodles in a soupy broth traveled with Chinese immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th Century to Japan after the Meijiichin (Meiji Restoration) in 1868. During this period as many Chinese moved to Japan, Chinatowns began to form like the one in Yokohama, which is a busy port town that helped to spread the popularity of ramen throughout Japan. The first Japanese restaurant to serve up a bowl of noodles similar to today’s ramen was Yowaken (養和軒) in 1884, but it wasn’t until 1910 that Japan had its first ramen shop called Rairaiken (来々軒) in Asakusa (浅草), Tokyo.
There are many theories for how ramen got its name; one theory is that ramen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese name for hand-pulled noodles, “lā miàn” (拉面). A second theory proposes that “lăo miàn” (老麺), meaning old noodles, is the original form, while another states that ramen was initially “lǔ miàn” (鹵麺), which are noodles cooked in a thick, starchy sauce.
With its easy preparation and delicious flavor, ramen became known as Japan's favorite comfort food. Nowadays, authentic Chinese ramen and Japanese ramen have gradually become very different, mainly because of the difference in the soup.
As for the instant version of these delicious noodles, it wasn’t until the Japanese were faced with food shortage after WWII and bread and wheat consumption increased, with wheat being made into noodles, that Japanese-Taiwanese businessman Momofuku Ando got the idea of creating flash-frying noodles so they could be quickly cooked in boiling water. Ando had invented instant ramen and sparked a 3-minute global revolution. This led Ando to establish Nissin Foods and the Ando Foundation. In 1958, Momofuku launched the brand name Chikin Ramen, which became the world's first instant ramen, creating the instant noodle industry and mass production of instant noodles. In 1971, Nissin introduced Cup Noodles, the first cup noodle product.
Are there different types of instant noodles?
Ramen is often associated as a direct reference to instant noodles. However, instant ramen is just one type under the umbrella of instant noodles. There are many different types of instant noodles that fall into the category, such as instant soba and udon. As for the shape of dried instant ramen noodles specifically, these are usually wavy and thin dry noodles that need to be cooked in water. Whether straight, thin, and narrow, thick and wavy, or wide and flat, ramen chefs will select noodles based on their bounciness, their ability to cling to broth, and their texture in the mouth, searching for a noodle that interacts harmoniously with the soup in the bowl.
Dried noodles are made by drying fresh, uncooked noodles and are an excellent choice for a quick home cooked meal. Generally, with dried noodles, the thinner and straighter they are, the better they reconstitute. The most common method of producing these instant noodles is to deep-fry par-cooked bricks of noodles to dehydrate them (aka "de-fry-drating"). Take a look at the fat content on a pack of inexpensive instant ramen. That all comes from the dehydrating process. Higher-end instant noodle brands, such as Myoja Chukazanmai, are made by air-drying par-cooked noodles, resulting in an end product that's costlier to produce, but far more similar to traditional ramen.
The biggest difference between ramen and soba noodles is the flavor. While soba noodles are made mostly with buckwheat, ramen is usually made with wheat flour. Soba noodles have a nutty and rich flavor, from the buckwheat flour with which they are made. Their appearance features a light gray-brown color and has a firm and dense texture.
Additionally, although udon and ramen are made with the same type of flour, ramen is cut into a much thinner and smaller noodle while udon is thick and chewy. Udon noodles have a light flavor, often picking up the flavor of the accompanying broth or sauce. It’s white, glossy and easy on the stomach.
Within the category of dried ramen noodles, countries across Asia have made their own variations of instant noodles. Some of the most popular ones today include yakisoba, MAMA, buldak-bokkeum-myeon, and Indomie.
- Yakisoba: The Japanese version of Chinese fried noodles. It's made with egg noodles stir-fried with a few vegetables and occasionally meat and seafood, all flavored with a Worcestershire-style vegetable and anchovy sauce. It's often topped with shaved bonito flakes and benishoga.
- MAMA: Thai stir-fried instant noodles with around 50 flavors. In Thailand, the Mama brand of instant noodles is ubiquitous enough that people tend to refer to all instant noodles as “Mama”.
- Buldak Ramyun (buldak-bokkeum-myeon): This spicy South Korean instant noodle has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years due to the spicy noodle challenge that went viral. Unlike many ramen noodles, the correct way to prepare this noodle is to remove the liquid after cooking and add the hot sauce packet to the dry noodles for extra spice and flavor.
- Indomie Mi Goreng: A staple food of Indonesia, these popular instant Mi Goreng noodles are most commonly served mixed with soy sauce, seasoning oil, seasoning powder, and chili sauce. (Provided with each pack of noodles.) Depending on the variety, they are either served dry or with soup.
Upgrade Your Instant Ramen
Check out these hacks for bringing your instant noodle game to the next level using ingredients you can find in your fridge!
Load Up on Protein
To make your ramen meal more nutritious, consider adding a few from this list:
- Sunny-side-up egg
- Soft-boiled egg
- Sliced pork belly or chashu pork
- Shredded braised pork
- Kamaboko (white and red fish cake that comes sliced on top of sea-flavored ramen - when it's formed into a spiral shape, it's called narutomaki)
- Shredded chicken
- Seafood: shrimp
Go Big with Toppings
Make your ramen bowl fancier by adding:
- Shredded daikon
- Bok choy
- Enoki mushrooms
- Wood ear mushrooms
- Menma (lacto-fermented bamboo shoots)
- Shredded pickled ginger
- Grated garlic
Switch Up the Liquid
To deepen the character of the soup, try cooking the noodles in vegetable or chicken broth instead of plain water. Such as the broths you can find at ramen restaurants, you could level-up your soup with pork/chicken broth, black sesame, spices, or even milk!
Find the Best Instant Noodles on Umamicart
Umamicart carries the coolest and widest assortment of instant noodles. We’re always expanding our instant dry noodles product selection. Enhance your instant ramen collection with some of our favorite instant ramen and flavors you need to try next!
- Sapporo Ichiban Tonkotsu Ramen (5 pack)
- Nissin Raoh Ramen, Umami Tonkotsu Flavor (6 pack)
- Sapporo Ichiban Yakisoba (5 pack)
- Myojo Yakisoba with Mayonnaise
- Hikari Menraku Spicy Sesame Ramen
- Itsuki Hokkaido Shio Mellow Salt Ramen
- Yamamoto Curry Udon
- Yamamoto Tanuki Oyaji Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen
- Shirakiku Goku-Uma Ramen Bowl, Shoyu Flavor
- Menraku Tempura Soba Bowl
- Menraku Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen Bowl
- Lucky Me Pancit Canton, Kalamansi (6 pack)
- Lucky Me Pancit Canton, Chilimansi (6 pack)
- Lucky Me Pancit Canton, Sweet & Spicy (6 pack)
- Lucky Me Beef Mami Instant Noodle Soup (6 pack)
- Lucky Me Chicken Mami Instant Noodle Soup (6 pack)
- Nongshim Kimchi Ramen (4 pack)
- Nongshim Neoguri Spicy Seafood Udon (4 pack)
- Nongshim Shin Ramen (4 pack)
- Daebak Ghost Pepper Chicken Noodle Cup
- Nongshim Soon Veggie Ramen (4 pack)
- Samyang Hot Chicken Ramen (5 pack)
- Paldo King Cup Instant Ramen, Seafood Flavor
- Samyang Hot Chicken Cheese Ramen (5 pack)
- Samyang Hot Chicken Jjajang Ramen (5 pack)
- Happy Snail Luosifen (Spicy Rice Noodles)
- JML Shanghai Pork Noodle Big Bowl
- JML Beef Stew Noodle Big Bowl
- JML Instant Noodle Beef Stew Flavor (5 pack)
- Mama Instant Noodle, Spicy Pork (Moo Nam Tok) Flavor (3 pack)
- Mama Instant Noodle, Creamy Shrimp Tom Yum Flavor (3 pack)
- Mama Instant Noodle, Duck Flavor (3 pack)
Shop through our Instant Noodle aisle for additional Asian instant noodles!