Whether you’re big into Japanese food or not (we hope that you are!), you probably already know what ramen is. But did you know that there are literally hundreds of different types of ramen, with seemingly endless opportunities for variations in soup base, noodles, topping, and even the way it is served?
To give you a glimpse of what’s out there, we’ve compiled a speedy guide to the basic types of ramen and their characteristics, as well as some examples of regional ramen and a few simple ramen recipes that you can make at home.
5 Types of Standard Ramen To Know
Shoyu Ramen (Soy Sauce)
Shoyu or soy sauce ramen is the most common type of ramen in Japan. The country’s first ever ramen restaurant was based in Asakusa, Tokyo, and began captivating the public with its shoyu ramen more than 100 years ago. Shoyu ramen is made by combining a soy sauce-based soup with dashi (broth) made from pork, chicken, seafood, and other ingredients. The type of soy sauce and soup stock varies from shop to shop and region to region.
We want to introduce this recipe for mild soy sauce-based ramen with soup stock made from dried anchovy and with plenty of umami flavor. Although it has a simple seasoning, it brings out the full flav...
Shio Ramen (Salt)
Shio ramen is characterized by a light, refreshing taste and a clear and transparent soup base. Compared to soy sauce and miso ramen styles, which are defined by their rich soup, chefs making shio ramen are more likely to place emphasis on the accompanying ingredients inside the soup. That said, lately we have spotted styles of shio ramen with a more robust broth coming onto the scene.
Miso Ramen (Miso)
Miso Ramen is rich, hearty, and packs a punch in the flavor department thanks to a generous addition of miso to the soup base. A specialty of the city of Sapporo, in snowy Hokkaido Prefecture, miso paste, vegetables, and broth are stir-fried at high temperatures to create a unique umami broth that equals a perfect winter warmer.
Tonkotsu Ramen (Pork)
Tonkotsu Ramen is made by boiling pork bones for several hours to create a milky white soup that is also deliciously dense. The color, thickness, and flavor of the soup vary depending on the part of the pig used and the amount of time the bones are boiled, though garlic is a common seasoning. (Just a warning: this isn’t really a date-night kinda food…)
One key characteristic of tonkotsu ramen is the use of thin noodles. Since the portion of noodles is relatively small, many restaurants in Kyushu and Hakata in Fukuoka Prefecture have a system called kaedama or "doubling up," where you can ask for free noodle refills.
Tonkotsu Ramen is massively popular in Japan, especially in Kyushu in the south, and it’s the main variety of ramen that you’ll find outside of Japan, too.
Tori Paitan Ramen (Chicken)
Tonkotsu’s chicken-based cousin, tori paitan ramen is made by simmering chicken for a long time to create a milky soup that has a similar depth of flavor but is lighter than pork-based broth. While tonkotsu ramen comes in all sorts of servings, styles, and tastes, tori paitan ramen doesn’t seem to have as many notable differences from location to location. It’s not divisive in the way tonkotsu has die-hard lovers or haters and, without the intense porky funk of tonokostu, we’d argue that it’s much easier to eat.
Ramen Spin-Offs You Can Find in Japan
Check out these dishes that we like to consider ramen spin-offs you should sample.
Tsukemen is a variation on ramen, where the customer is served a bowl of thick ramen soup and another bowl of noodles separately. The noodles are dipped into the soup before eating, a bit like zaru soba (soba dipping noodles).
Boiled noodles are soaked in cold water to cool them off before serving, rather than offered piping hot in the boiling broth as with traditional ramen. Thicker and more plentiful portions of noodles are served to match a thicker, more powerful broth. Once you’ve finished your noodles you can "soup-wari" which is where you add water to the leftover soup to dilute it so you can slurp up every last drop.
Abura-soba is a version of ramen with almost no soup. It is also called soupless ramen or mazesoba. Just the smallest amount of broth is mixed with the noodles for flavor; where the soup tends to accumulate at the bottom, you need to mix it really well to cover all the noodles. "Abura" literally means "oil" in Japanese, but Abura-soba actually has fewer calories than ramen since there’s no soup.
What Are Some Famous Types of Regional Ramen in Japan?
The following is a list of representative ramen from northerly Hokkaido to southerly Kyushu. You’ll find that many local ramen recipes are closely related to the climate, culture, and history of the region.
Sapporo Ramen｜Hokkaido Prefecture
Sapporo Ramen is one of Japan's most famous local ramen types. It’s made by stir-frying vegetables and meat in a wok and pouring this umami-packed mixture into a thick, miso-based soup rich in spices and fats. The fat in Sapporo Ramen acts as a lid to keep the soup from getting cold – a unique feature of this region’s ramen which is known for its chilly temperatures. The noodles are usually medium-thick and curly. Another characteristic of Sapporo ramen is that the noodles are often aged.
Asahikawa Ramen｜Hokkaido Prefecture
Asahikawa Ramen is about as famous in Hokkaido as its Sapporo rival. Unlike Sapporo Ramen though, ramen shops in Asahikawa serve a soy sauce ramen, usually together with shio and miso ramen to round off their menus.
Compared to Sapporo Ramen, Asahikawa Ramen is more orthodox and easier to eat. Using a "double soup" method, chefs will combine a meat-based soup from pork bones with a seafood-based soup from niboshi (small fish boiled in salt and dried) to produce a strong, distinct taste.
Just like Sapporo ramen though, the Asahikawa variety also contains a lot of fat, again keeping the soup from getting cold. The noodles typically have a low water content so that they easily absorb the soup as well.
Tsugaru Ramen｜Aomori Prefecture
Tsugaru Ramen, a local ramen in Aomori Prefecture, is characterized by the use of dried sardines. Many types of niboshi ramen lay claim to the title of ultimate Tsugaru Ramen, from light and easy broths to strong and punchy soups with an intense fishy flavor.
What’s interesting about ramen in Aomori Prefecture is that you’ll often find it in soba noodle restaurants, rather than specialist ramen restaurants.
Kitakata Ramen｜Fukushima Prefecture
The region of Kitakata is blessed with high-quality water so the ramen is made with thick noodles that boast a high water content. The main soup type of Kitakata ramen is shoyu, but there are also stores that serve shio ramen and miso ramen, too.
The main feature of Kitakata Ramen to be aware of is the lashings of noodles and chashu pork that make this a type not for the faint-hearted.
Shirakawa Ramen｜Fukushima Prefecture
Shirakawa Ramen is another local ramen from Fukushima Prefecture. The most distinctive feature of the Shirakawa variety is its handmade wide and curly noodles, though the number of stores that make the noodles by hand is sadly falling.
Shirakawa Ramen is made with a clear soy sauce-flavored soup that is thicker than Kitakata Ramen. A restaurant called Tora Shokudo was the first to serve Shirakawa Ramen until chefs who had trained there graduated to start restaurants of their own, thereby popularizing Shirakawa Ramen in the region.
Tokyo Ramen | Tokyo Prefecture
The OG local ramen of Tokyo is the most common type of soy sauce ramen in Japan and is made of a clear soup with a pork and chicken base, blended with dried seaweed and other ingredients. A soy sauce blend is added to the broth, and then curly noodles are thrown in.
The toppings for Tokyo ramen include the standard choices like negi (green onions), chashu pork, menma (bamboo shoots) and nori (seaweed). Among the countless varieties of ramen available in Japan’s capital today, Tokyo Ramen is one of the oldest and most traditional.
Yokohama Iekei Ramen｜Kanagawa Prefecture
Yokohama Iekei Ramen, the local ramen of Kanagawa Prefecture, is a thick pork bone and soy sauce soup with thick noodles. The basic toppings are spinach, nori (seaweed), and chashu (pork). What’s made Iekei Ramen so popular in recent years is that you can customize the firmness of your noodles, the intensity of the flavor, and the amount of oil.
Kyoto Ramen｜Kyoto Prefecture
Kyoto Ramen has a rich, thick soup that feels a far cry from the dainty and elegant Japanese food that’s often associated with Japan’s cultural capital. Shinpuku Saikan, one of the oldest and most famous Kyoto ramen restaurants, claims to be the originator of ramen in the city.
While Kyoto Ramen can now be found all over Japan, we recommend sampling the ramen at the source for a real taste of what might be the richest ramen on this list.
Hakata Ramen | Fukuoka Prefecture
Fukuoka City is mad about tonkotsu and there’s really no other ramen style that defines Fukuoka than this. Hakata Ramen is made with a milky white soup from pork bones and combined with ultra-thin noodles.
When you order at a ramen shop in Hakata, you’ll usually be asked how firm you want the noodles to be cooked. The main terms used to describe this are "balikata," "kata," "normal," "yawa," and "bari-yawa.”
The main choice of locals? Apparently, 80% of customers choose "kata" – thin and stretchy noodles – so we’d suggest starting with that if you don’t have a preference… yet!
What Are The 5 Most Common Ramen Toppings?
Toppings for ramen vary depending on the type and the region. Here’s just a few of the most common.
Chashu (roasted pork)
Chashu is a chunk of pork, usually pork belly, that is coated with sauce and grilled. That being said, there are many different types of chashu depending on the type of meat (you can also get chicken chashu), the part of the meat used, the seasoning, and the cooking method, which all differ based on where you’re getting your ramen.
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Menma is made from steamed bamboo shoots that have been pickled in salt and fermented. It’s a topping that’s unique to ramen – you won’t find it added to udon or soba noodle dishes. Thick and chewy, menma adds a deliciously bitter bite to a bowl of ramen.
Nori (dried seaweed)
Nori is dried seaweed. It’s a common ingredient used in various Japanese dishes such as sushi. Rich in nutrients, it provides a salty, umami flavor that amplifies the flavor complexity of the ramen soup.
Negi (green onions)
Like nori, negi pack a pungent taste and are a popular choice of ramen toppings. The type of negi used varies from region to region. In places like Tokyo in eastern Japan, white onions are mainly used, while in Kyoto and Osaka in western Japan, green onions are used. In areas where negi is a local specialty, you’ll find most ramen stores will proudly feature it.
That ooey-gooey marinated boiled egg, ajitama is not as common as some of the other toppings on this list, though it is still super popular. Ajitama are made by boiling eggs and soaking them in a soy sauce-based sauce, or sometimes miso or another flavor. While the yolk inside a perfect ajitama is often soft and oozing, some long-established restaurants offer something called zenjuku ajitama which is hard-boiled.
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Ramen's Global Popularity
Being such a highly customizable dish, there’s so much room for creativity and innovation in ramen styles. What’s so great to see is that, with ramen’s continuing popularity in Japan and overseas, along with the changing dietary preferences of younger generations, we’re seeing lots of interesting new types popping up. Check back in with us soon as we’ll probably need to update this guide before you know it!