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Whether your idea of ramen involves a 60-hour Tonkotsu simmer or a 3-minute microwaved lunch, we can all agree that no food is as versatile, adaptable and simultaneously approachable to cooks as ramen.
This warm and hearty dish rose to fame after World War II, when Japanese inventor and businessman Momofuku Ando — creator of Top Ramen and Cup Noodles — brought the food as we know it to the masses.
Today, thanks to tastemakers like Momofuku Ando and chef David Chang, ramen can be found in just about every corner of the globe. You’ll find it both in simple instant formats as well as brilliantly layered restaurant-style creations. This makes it an accessible dish for every style of cook, from microwave masters to trained project chefs.
No matter which way you sway, you can create your own form of ramen that’s as humble or complex as you please. Here are some easy and tasty ways to up your ramen game.
- Level Up with Japanese Instant Ramen – There’s no shame in the instant ramen game! In fact, contrary to popular belief, modern ramen has virtually always been an ultra-quick convenience dish; hence, its popularity in dorms and break rooms around the world. One simple way to up your instant ramen game is to ditch the basic noodles for some mouthwatering Samyang Ramen noodles in flavors like super-spicy chicken, Korean gomtang (beef), kimchi and more.
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- Go Beyond Basic with Your Own Broth – Prefer the painfully slow over the lightning-fast? We respect the commitment! Making your own ramen broth is a labor of love that allows you to customize flavors and ingredients to your exact preferences. Traditional ramen broth falls into four main categories — shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso (fermented bean paste) and Tonkotsu (pork). Shio and shoyu are typically lighter, while miso is a bit thicker and richer. Tonkotsu is the creamiest and most unctuous of the four but, since it involves rendering pork bones, it can take days to make.
- Grab Some Gourmet Noodles – If you’re planning on whipping up your own broth, you’re going to need some authentic ramen noodles to top it off. Choosing your noodle is an important part of the process because you want something that will maintain its chew and flavor in the hot broth. Choose a wheat-based noodle with an alkaline component, as this will help ensure that the noodle remains elastic and smooth and doesn’t soak into a soggy mess.
- Don’t Skip the Tare – Traditionally, ramen is made using a simple formula — tare (sauce) + broth + noodles + toppings. Tare, Japanese for “sauce,” is a concentrated seasoning mixture that helps give ramen its rich, distinctive flavor or umami. Whether you go with a gourmet instant ramen or make your own broth, you can make the flavor even tastier and more complex by adding some flavorful tare to the bowl before adding your broth. If you don’t want to make your own tare, you can always add some yummy ramen sauce to the mix.
- Go Crazy with the Toppings — And for the fun part — toppings! Customize your ramen to your flavor preferences or dietary restrictions by piling your bowl to the brim with toppings that add flavor and texture:
- Meat or Tofu – From hearty chashu pork belly to crispy tofu, this component is one that helps make your soup hearty and filling. You can also top your ramen with short ribs, oxtail, bacon, ground meat, scallions, shrimp, mussels and more. Don’t forget the salmon roe!
- Marinated Eggs (Ajitsuke Tamago) – There’s nothing like a perfectly jammy soft-boiled egg atop your ramen. The classic ramen egg is soft-boiled (it takes somewhere between five and seven minutes, according to at-home ramen authority J. Kenji López-Alt) and may be marinated in salty soy and sweet mirin for an added pop of flavor. This is a simple yet amazing way to enhance any bowl of instant ramen without having to spend all day in the kitchen.
- Ramen Fish Cake (Narutomaki) – The white and swirly pink component of classic ramen (known in emoji format as “🍥”) is called narutomaki, and it’s a white fish paste that has been steamed and rolled into a log and colored with pink food coloring. You can make narutomaki at home or buy it (often frozen) from your local Asian grocery store.
- Veggies and Garnishes – Veggies are an amazing way to dress up your instant or homemade ramen and give it a healthy finish. Some of the most essential ramen veggie toppers include black garlic, scallions, cabbage, corn, mushrooms, spinach, menma (seasoned bamboo shoots), ginger, nori (seaweed) and bok choy, but you can really add whatever veg you like.
From unctuous broths topped with hearty pork and soy-marinated eggs to light miso-based creations, the styles and ingredients of ramen are truly limitless. Adding these ramen enhancers to your culinary toolkit is a great way to take any meal from basic to mind-blowing with as much or as little effort as you please.