Ramen can be regarded as Japan’s national dish. There are as many types of ramen that can be counted, as many regional styles and specialties abound with soups, noodles, and toppings, all varied according to local tastes, ingredients, and cultures. It’s a challenge to put them in categories because of their wide differences. But then, let us try to put some order in the ramen world with attempts to classify them.
Ramen can be categorized into four classes: shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso (fermented bean paste), and tonkotsu (pork). However, the first three are flavorings, the fourth is the broth base. These four classes are distinct, but there can be cases of overlaps and outliers. There are unique ramen dishes that don’t belong under any of the four, but they exist. This is categorizing ramen broth first by its heaviness, then by the soup base ingredients, and finally by the seasoning source. This classification system, used by some Japanese sources, can be combined to cover every bowl of soup-based ramen in existence.
Classifying Ramen Broth by Heaviness
Heaviness is classified as either kotteri (rich) or assari (light). Kotteri broths are thick, sticky, and usually opaque, loaded with emulsified fats, minerals, and proteins from long-boiled bones. Assari broths are clear and thin, usually flavored with more vegetables, fish, or bones cooked at a light simmer so as not to cloud the broth. Now, there are a few ramen soups bordering on the kotteri side by Sapporo-style miso ramen served with a pat of butter and on the assari side with the lighter, clear seafood soups of Hakodate.
Classifying Ramen Broth by Broth Base
The broth base is the main ingredient simmered to make the soup. This range from animal bones – pork, chicken, beef, and fresh fish being the most common – to even lighter broths made with sea kelp or dried seafood. In addition, ramen broths incorporate a variety of aromatics, like charred onions, garlic, ginger, fresh scallions or leeks, and mushrooms. The most widely recognized and celebrated broth worldwide is tonkotsu, boiled pork bone broth. The best tonkotsu broths are a milky, golden color and leave a sticky sheen of gelatin on the lips as they are slurped.
Classifying Ramen Broth by Seasoning
The seasoning is the main salt source to flavor the soup. It can be mixed directly into the soup base or added to each individual bowl for customization. The most common seasonings are: Shio: Sea salt is the oldest form of ramen seasoning, and derives from the original Chinese-style noodle soups. Shio ramen is popular in Hakodate, a southern city in the Hokkaido prefecture with a strong Chinese influence in the local cuisine. Shoyu: Japanese soy sauce is a popular ramen seasoning in the Kanto region of central Japan, originally from Yokohama. Traditionally it’s paired with clear to brown chicken, seafood, and occasionally pork or beef-based broths. It’s very common to see creamy tonkotsu pork broths flavored with shoyu. Miso: is the latest form of ramen originating from Northern Hokkaido, where cold weather demanded a bolder, heartier bowl of soup. It’s most often paired with heavier, more robust, and unique toppings like sweet corn or stir-fried pork belly and bean sprouts.