So, yes, we've eaten our fair share of ramen. But, to restate the obvious, eating it doesn't tell you a whole lot about how to make it. As soon as we decided to make a go of it with Shiba Ramen, we dove right into our ramen education. Now, over six months into the project, we've learned a lot. We're still learning a lot, but we're getting into the territory of fine detail. We've got a good handle on the basics. Hiroko's ability to access Japanese-language materials (not to mention the ten days she spent at ramen school last October) has been predictably invaluable.
This is the first in a series of posts about ramen. I'm going to break down the cuisine into its constituent elements. This process should make it abundantly clear that ramen isn't what I called “ramen” in my room in Bradley Hall at Ohio State University in 1996 (or what you called “ramen” in your own dorm room). Lest there be any confusion on this point, I defer to Wikipedia:
Today, just a short intro into the elements. I'll detail these in the rest of Ramen Chemistry's Ramen 101 Series.
Soup stock. This is the core of the product. Making it involves boiling pork or chicken bones (often both together) for an extended period. I'll explain later how different parts of these animals contribute different features to the soup. Believe it or not, chicken feet have a very useful function here. Other umami-imparting ingredients—mushrooms, kombu, dried fish like niboshi or katsuobushi—also have important roles to play, especially if you seek the more complex flavors found in Japanese cuisine.
Tare. Tare (pronounced "tar-eh") translates literally as “sauce.” It's—for example—the miso or shoyu (soy) concoction that takes your soup stock and transforms it into miso ramen or shoyu ramen.
Noodles. Alkaline wheat noodles (no, ramen is not gluten-free). You can make them or buy them from Sun Noodle.
Oils. Flavored fats floating on the soup surface. Res ipsa loquitur.
Toppings. Ramen enthusiasts know that chashu (boiled and marinated pork shoulder or belly) and soft-boiled eggs are traditional ramen staples. But there's a lot that can be done here.
As you can see, we have much to discuss.