Ramen 101: The Most Popular Varieties You'll Find in Japan (2024)

Japan is home to more than 32,000 ramen shops, many of them packed, with lines snaking out the door. What has become the country's unofficial national dish — defined as a wheat noodle soup — originated centuries ago in China, with the moniker "ramen" serving as the Japanese adaptation of "lamian," Chinese wheat noodles.

According to the Yokohama Ramen Museum, ramen traveled from China to Japan in 1859. Since then, the soup has gone from a cheap, fast meal option to a dish worthy of Michelin stars. In Japan, tiny ramen shops with just a handful of counter seats are tucked into subway stations, atop rickety stairs in unassuming apartment buildings, and sandwiched between storefronts throughout the city. Diners often sit shoulder-to-shoulder, slurping noodles and watching as the ramen shokunin (master) rapidly flash-cooks noodles in boiling water while, as if choreographed, ladling scalding soup into bowls.

While four main ramen broth types have emerged (as listed below), it's important to understand that ramen is extremely regional in Japan, and countless more styles exist. For example, on the southwestern island of Kyushu, those who reside there eat tonkotsu (pork) ramen. But more specifically, every prefecture on the island — and sometimes even specific cities within prefectures — prepares its own, more nuanced take on the noodle soup. While there's really an infinite world of ramen, we've put together a generalized guide to the most common styles.

Japan’s most popular ramen types

Ramen is typically classified by broth flavor, with three especially common categories: shoyu (soy sauce), shio (salt), and miso. A fourth, tonkotsu, references the broth's base ingredient, not flavor. However, as ramen has evolved over the last 30 years, contemporary ramen chefs deviate from these categories to create soups spiked with everything from clams to blue algae.

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1. Shoyu

Shoyu is the Japanese word for soy sauce and this lighter-style ramen­­ — which can appear clear-brown or darker and cloudy — is flavored with exactly that. It's the single most commonly found type of ramen and was invented in 1910 at a ramen shop named Rairaiken in Tokyo's Asakusa neighborhood. Although soy sauce might sound like an everyday ingredient, chefs who serve shoyu ramen don't use the kind of soy sauce one might have at home. Instead, they make their tare, or base sauce, using a secret blend of ingredients like dried seafood, dried mushrooms, and herbs. The tare is often mixed with a chicken broth base.

2. Shio

Ramen 101: The Most Popular Varieties You'll Find in Japan (2)

Shio (or salt) ramen is frequently made from a chicken broth base but can also call for pork or seafood. This lighter-bodied, lighter-flavored ramen that's also lower in fat and oil is often clear in appearance and is the saltiest of the group.

3. Miso

As its name suggests, miso ramen is flavored with the fermented soybean paste of the same name, which can be made from soybeans, rice, or miso, and colored white or red. This umami-rich style of thicker and more complex ramen originated in Japan's Hokkaido prefecture, but it has since spread all over the country.

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4. Tonkotsu

Ramen 101: The Most Popular Varieties You'll Find in Japan (4)

One of the richest ramens out there, tonkotsu which was born in f*ckuoka prefecture on the island of Kyushu — eventually spread across Japan, with every prefecture, and sometimes even specific cities, inventing their own style. Tonkotsu is a viscous, creamy, and complex ramen made from simmered pork bones. The bones break down and release collagen while cooking, meaning that tonkotsu can be so thick that it coats the back of a spoon. Tonkotsu shokunin often fortify their already rich broth with pork or chicken fat.

A popular sub-category of tonkotsu ramen is hakata ramen which, too, originated in f*ckuoka. This super milky-white, extra-rich tonkotsu is often served with thin, hard noodles and minimal toppings. The reason being is the shop that invented hakata ramen was just a stand without chairs, so serving quick-cooking thin noodles made sense for fast customer service. Other Kyushu regions serve thicker noodles and different takes on the tonkotsu broth.


Of course, countless ramens exist that don't fit into the above categories. And one of the most common types is what we today call tsukemen, previously known as morisoba. Tsukemen chefs serve separate bowls of rich and creamy pork soup alongside chilled, thick, and chewy noodles. The diner dips the noodles into the soup, then slurps.

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Another riff on ramen — which is typically served hot — is chilled hiyashi chuka. Usually, chefs only serve this Chinese-inspired broth-less ramen style during the summer (but in the Sendai region, it's available year-round). Composed of chilled ramen noodles and various toppings, it's dressed with a soy- or sesame-based sauce. And then there is abura soba (served warm) and mazemen (served warm or cold), which are similar takes on soupless ramen, tossed in an oil-based sauce.

Types of Ramen Noodles

Beyond the broth, the second key aspect of ramen is noodles. Some ramen shops serve thick and chewy noodles, while others offer thinner, less-glutenous specimens. Noodles are usually long and can be straight, or wavy in shape. Some shops make their noodles à la minute in front of customers, while others buy from an outside producer. Ramen noodles, also called soba (not to be confused with buckwheat soba noodles), are made from wheat flour, egg, salt, and kansui mineral water. And it's this alkaline mineral water that gives ramen noodles their unique chewiness, flavor, and color. Some ramen shops allow customers to customize their noodles by selecting thickness (thin, regular, thick), or doneness (regular, firm).

Ramen Toppings

While ramens usually come with specific toppings, chefs often allow customers to add extra toppings. Common additions include extra orders of thinly-sliced, fat-marbled braised or roasted pork (chashu), bamboo shoots, seaweed, scallion, bean sprouts, fish cake, boiled egg marinated in soy sauce, and mirin.

Ramen 101: The Most Popular Varieties You'll Find in Japan (2024)


Ramen 101: The Most Popular Varieties You'll Find in Japan? ›

Japan's most popular ramen types

What is the most popular type of ramen in Japan? ›

Shoyu (Soy Sauce) Ramen

Originating in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, shoyu ramen epitomizes the fusion of simplicity and sophistication. Its clear, umami-rich broth is delicately seasoned with soy sauce, creating a harmonious blend of flavors.

What are the 4 types of ramen? ›

You often see ramen categorized into four classes: shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso (fermented bean paste), and tonkotsu (pork), which doesn't make particular sense, as the first three are flavorings, while the fourth is the broth base.

What is the popularity of ramen in Japan? ›

Today, ramen is enjoyed not only in Japan but also around the world, with many international variations and interpretations of the dish. It has become a cultural phenomenon, with entire restaurants and even museum exhibitions dedicated to the history and art of making ramen.

What are the 5 elements of ramen? ›

“There are five basic elements to ramen: noodles, tare, broth, topping and aroma oil,” Sun Noodle's executive chef Shigetoshi “Jack” Nakamura says. “For a very long time people in Japan were very poor, so they couldn't eat regular proteins or meat.

What are the popular ramen flavors in Japan? ›

The four main types are tonkotsu, miso, shoyu and shio, but there are other popular options, too. You'll also see combinations of these; for example, miso ramen and tonkotsu, a pork bone broth, are sometimes mixed. Specific types of noodles accompany different soups, so you won't find curly noodles everywhere.

What are the four most popular types of ramen? ›

Ramen Types - The Big 4
  • Tangy Shoyu.
  • Bright Shio.
  • Milky Tonkotsu.
  • Savory Miso.
Dec 24, 2018

What is the rarest type of ramen? ›

I tried Japan's rarest ramen flavor. It's called the Ice Ramen, and its ingredients are so insane. that only brave people are able to eat it, because you can only get it at the Ice Ramen restaurant, which is completely made of ice. Yes, the whole restaurant is actually made of ice.

What is the most difficult ramen? ›

While there are many good, humble bowls of shio out there, many ramen chefs see this as the most difficult type of ramen to make, since they can't rely on incredibly flavorful miso and soy sauce to provide the dimension their broth might otherwise lack.

What type of ramen is Naruto? ›

Naruto's favorite ramen is miso based with extra chasu, or pork. Ramen broth comes served in one of three ways- miso, salt, or soy sauce based. You may also see soup classed as tonkotsu, which refers to the pork stock base most commonly used in ramen.

Is ramen Korean or Japanese? ›

Ramen is a Japanese adaptation of Chinese wheat noodle soups. It is first recorded to have appeared in Yokohama Chinatown in the early 20th century.

Is Japanese ramen junk food? ›

Ramen noodles are not inherently healthy or unhealthy, but they provide limited nutritional value on their own. They contain carbohydrates, fats, protein and some micronutrients like B vitamins and iron. "​​Objectively speaking, instant ramen noodles may not be the most nutritious option out there.

What is the most popular type of ramen? ›

1. Shoyu. Shoyu is the Japanese word for soy sauce and this lighter-style ramen — which can appear clear-brown or darker and cloudy — is flavored with exactly that. It's the single most commonly found type of ramen and was invented in 1910 at a ramen shop named Rairaiken in Tokyo's Asakusa neighborhood.

What is the secret of ramen? ›

Noodle's Secret ~ Kansui lye water. Japanese lye water called kansui is an indispensable auxiliary ingredient for ramen noodles, and it is no exaggeration to say that it produces the exquisite balance between ramen noodles unique koshi firmness and soup flavour.

What is the circle thing in ramen? ›

Narutomaki: If you've ever noticed a small white disc with a pink swirl in a bowl of ramen or even a picture of ramen, that's narutomaki or fish cake.

What is the liquid in ramen called? ›

The broth is the most important part of the ramen — it's where most of the flavor comes from. Typically, ramen broth is a combination of pork or chicken stock and dashi. Dashi is a simple Japanese soup stock containing kombu and bonito flakes.

What type of ramen do they eat in Japan? ›

Broadly speaking, there are four main ramen types. Three of the types refer to seasonings—miso ramen, shio ramen (salt) and shoyu ramen (soy sauce)—while the fourth is tonkotsu, or pork bone stock. Seasonings and stock bases, such as chicken, fish and seafood, are mixed and matched from area to area and shop to shop.

What is the most popular type of ramen noodles? ›

Shoyu is Japanese for soy sauce, and shoyu ramen uses this as the base for its soup alongside other ingredients such as chicken broth. This is the most widespread of all the types of ramen, with a clear brown broth and a huge variety of potential toppings.

Is soba or udon more popular in Japan? ›

Most every noodle shop across Japan will offer you a choice between udon or soba. However, we sometimes speak of Tokyo udon or Osaka soba because udon tends to be more popular in Tokyo, while soba tends to be more popular in Osaka. There is no correct noodle and soup base match.

What are the most common noodles in Japan? ›

Popular types include:
  • Ramen.
  • Udon.
  • Soba.
  • Yakisoba.
  • Sōmen.
  • Hiyamugi.
  • Harusame.
  • Shirataki.
Feb 2, 2023

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