The cultural and culinary rise of ramen
Though understood to be a Japanese specialty, ramen has taken on diverse avatars, including the Korean adaptation ramyun/ramyeon, the rising popularity of which could be attributed to the spread of the Korean Wave.
A Chinese wheat noodle dish that came to Japan when the latter opened up its borders in 1858 after being closed off for 200 years, ramen’s legion has grown across the world. Though understood to be a Japanese specialty, ramen has taken on diverse avatars, including the Korean adaptation ramyun/ramyeon, the rising popularity of which could be attributed to the spread of the Korean Wave.
Back home, too, “post-pandemic India witnessed an undeniable uptick in the consumption of Korean food, particularly the beloved ramyeon, extending its fervour to smaller towns and suburban areas as well,” says the Korean Cultural Centre India. It features in both fusion and traditional preparations in India, but “all ramen have a combination of five elements—en (noodles), dashi (soup stock), tare (sauce), ingredients, and fat/oil”, says Kunal Singh Dogra, founder of Gurgaon-based Long Finish by Ramen Donn that serves three tares, a salt base tare, a soy base and one with a miso base. Tare is a seasoning concoction used in ramen and is usually made by combining dried kelp, dried mushrooms and smoked fish shavings (katsuobushi).
In Bengaluru, helmed by Japan-based chef Yasuhito Kosugi, is the award-winning Harima, with its own legacy of handmade noodles. “Handmade noodles elevate our ramen servings, adding to them an essence of traditionality,” says manager Pradeep Bohara. Harima’s Shoyu Ramen (creamy chicken broth with ginger soy sauce noodles that is topped with chicken, boiled egg, leeks and spring onion) and Negi Ramen (soya-based vegetarian soup noodles) represent these varieties.
INNOVATION ON THE INDIAN RAMEN SCENE
The dish’s continuing evolution in India is observing innovative flavours emerging from both hole-in-the-wall shops and fine-dining restaurants. At Mumbai’s Tao Asian Kitchen, Chef Krishna Poudel serves ramen bowls appealing to the Indian palate. Alongside the Spicy Coconut, Shiitake Mushroom and Burnt Garlic ramen variants on their menu, an offering like the Loaded Vegetable Ramen can “have Indian flavours, especially as the broth and seasonings incorporate Indian spices and herbs”, says Poudel.
Another Japanese-special ramen is tantanmen, adapted from the Sichuan dandanmian, a popular street offering. “It highlights a creamy, flavourful broth derived from soy milk and chicken or vegetable stock, and is flavoured with sesame paste and rayu chili,” says Chef Parvez Khan from the Mumbai-based Wakai.
At GoGo Ramen in Chennai, you can try Pork Broth Ramen, with a broth that’s simmered for 18 hours with ginger, leeks and scallions. Ramen can also be a summer offering, like at Zuru Zuru Delhi, where you will find a Litchi Coconut Cold Ramen, packed with citrus flavours and served with ice cubes. “The emergence of Japanese Cuisine in the city is notable, with its Umami flavour finding widespread acceptance among the Indian palate. Over time, Ramen has undergone significant evolution, becoming a popular one-pot meal,” says Chef Amit Shetty who serves a variety of classic ramen options, including Vegetable Miso Ramen, Chicken Shop Ramen, and Pork Char Siu Goma Ramen at Taki Taki in Mumbai’s Lower Parel.
Inputs by: Ruchika Garg