Ramen Anatomy: Four Parts of a Bowl of Ramen (2024)

Unless your parents did the right thing by blocking anything labeled Nissin in your life, you’ve probably had your first ramen experience right at home. It’s no doubt inferior, but instant noodles are a good starting point if you want to understand ramen.

Instant noodles were invented during Japan’s post-war era, where everything was a mess and people were struggling. The Japanese government, concerned about finances, insisted on feeding the populace with wheat bread from the US for their daily meals. Momof*cku Ando, the father of instant ramen, wasn’t a big fan of bread and wanted to feed everyone with noodles instead. Not surprisingly, Japan embraced it.

Although it was designed as a cheap substitute for real ramen, the Nissin noodles you’ve been eating since childhood follows the same principle of ramen—noodles in a broth overflowing with umami. If you’ve been pouring hot water over a styro cup of dehydrated noodles your whole life, you’re more familiar with ramen than you give yourself credit for.

Now if you’re still not convinced why you should learn all this, think of a basketball game. You could watch one and have fun with it, but you’ll only truly enjoy itif you know who’s playing and what the hell everyone is doing besides shooting the ball. Unless you learn a little about ramen, you can’t gloat about being a true fan.

Anyway, a bowl of ramen has four main components, the noodles, broth, tare and toppings. We’ll discuss each one below.


Most of us can’t tell Japanese from Chinese ramen noodles (half of those who do are merely pretending)and it’s totally understandable. The confusion is from the fact the Japanese stole the idea of ramen from the Chinese. Although nobody knows when it exactly happened, it’s clear that ramen noodles came from China.

But even with that knowledge, it’s still not easy to distinguish Chinese noodles from Japanese ones due to the sheer number of varieties available in both cuisines that overlap with each other. Some argue that the Chinese use egg in their noodles, which is sometimes true, but it’s not a clear rule. Other debates include hand-pulling versus machine cutting, using alkaline water, cutting them at different noodle lengths; but both cuisines tend to share these techniques.

However, one detail differentiates how the Japanese treat noodles from the Chinese: texture.

In Japan, people are obsessed with getting their noodles firm and under-cooked. Being served mushy noodles is like getting a well-done steak when you’re expecting a medium—it’s blasphemous. Needless to say, if you want to seriously enjoy ramen like the Japanese, learn to eat your noodles hard.

It’s best to serve noodles a bit under-cooked is that they continue cooking even after it leaves the kitchen. If you serve them soft, they’ll be mashed potato-soggy once you’re halfway through your bowl. It doesn’t stop there. Slurping noodles is a sign of respect that you’re enjoying your meal, and mushy ones can’t be smoothly slurped. (I challenge you to slurp mashed potatoes.) Therefore, when judging ramen, remember that soggy is a sin.

Another important thing to note is how noodles vary based on the region, broth combinations and target audience. f*ckuoka’s Hakata-style noodles which are light, firm, long and toothpick-thin are popularly combined with heavy and oily broths that’s popular among a younger, fat-seeking crowd. Contrast that to the pencil-thick udon noodles, which are usually balanced with a light and clear broth that’s more refined and attractive to an older demographic.

There are a few other noodle characteristics that differ from region to region including color, curl and chewiness, but these are mostly left to the noodle maker’s personal preference.

In Manila, here’s a short summary of the types of noodles being offered by ramen houses:

  • Mitsuyado Sei-men: thick, straight, yellow, chewy
  • Ukkokei: thin, yellow, bouncy
  • Ikkoryu, Wrong Ramen: light-colored, firm, straight, thin
  • Yushoken, Ramen Bar: light-colored, medium-thickness, straight, firm


Ramen broth is one of the most complex soups in the world. Compared to a broth like bulalo where there’s only one stock (beef), ramen uses at least two to three. The first is usually made by boiling pork and chicken, the second is from dashi (which we’ll discuss below).

To clarify, here’s a generic ramen broth formula:

[Pork/Chicken broth] + [Dashi] = Ramen Broth

The more creative and daring ramen shops tend to play with other ingredients such as beef, lobster, shrimp or even duck. Their broth recipes could look something like this:

[Shrimp broth] + [Pork broth] + [Dashi] = Ramen Broth


Dashi is a simple stock that’s usually made with two ingredients,kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (dried bonito or skipjack tuna). It’s a necessary component because it makes ramen distinct from Chinese or Vietnamese noodle soup.

Dashi is also crucial because kombu contains a generous amount of glutamic acid, a flavor enhancer and the main component of MSG. In fact, Kikunae Ikeda, founder of Ajinomoto, invented the infamous powder after trying to figure out the “fifth taste” withkombu. To answer your MSG question, yes, ramen has it in its natural form. That’s also the reason why you profusely reach for a glass of water after ironically downing a bowl of liquid.

If you’re wondering what dashi tastes like, just remember your last bowl of miso soup, isolate and remove the miso taste in your head, and there you go. Remember that dark green plant lying at the bottom of your miso soup bowl? That’s kombu. (Good to know: most restaurants here in Manila use dashi powder as a shortcut for miso soup.)

Because of dashi, a bowl of ramen will always have a hint of brininess in it (because seaweed comes from the sea) regardless of whether it’s primarily made with pork or chicken.

In Japan, the most popular broth is called tonkotsu, (not to be mistaken for tonkatsu) a rich, milky, pork bone soup that’s usually boiled somewhere between 4 to 48 hours, depending on the broth texture and flavour depth the cook wants to attain. As with all ramen, tonkotsu broths include dashi and commonly, chicken.

In Manila, ramen restaurants that specialize in tonkotsu include Ramen Yushoken, Ikkoryu, Santouka and Wrong Ramen. Kitchitora of Tokyo does a thick, chicken broth. Ukkokkei has a mix of different types (but my personal guess is that they’re using instant ramen mix for their non-Tantanmen ramen).

Tare (Flavouring)

Tare (pronounced as ta-re) is the ramen’s seasoning and defines the “type” of ramen you’re being served. If you’ve been to any ramen house, you’ve most likely encountered the three major categories shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce) and miso (fermented soy bean).

One common mistake is to assume that a shio ramen contains only salt as a seasoning but that’s not the case. A shio ramen uses salt as the primary seasoning, plus a combination of mirin and other Japanese spices in tow. In the same way, shoyu ramen will have soy sauce as its star, but will also contain other flavoring ingredients.

Knowing your tare is immensely helpful when trying to decide which type of ramen to order.Let’s say you get yourself a tonkotsuramen. If you want a clean, pure, porky taste, go for the shio version. If you’re looking for an extra punch of umami from the soy sauce, go for shoyu. If you’re looking for a little pungency, a bolder texture and even more umami, go for miso.

Some ramen houses don’t offer guests choices for tare. They do this either because they want to specialize in one type, or they want to be more creative than usual by offering seasonings that don’t exist elsewhere.


The lineup of traditional ramen toppings commonly include green onions, beansprouts, wood ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots, seaweed, naruto (that pink & white eraser-like object), garlic, oil and a protein, which is usually chashu. Aji tamago (marinated soft-boiled egg) is a popular, but usually optional addition.

Among the toppings, the most noteworthy ones are the protein and the egg. Ramen houses are judged based on these two.


Chashu (not char siu, that’s Chinese!) is a skinless pork belly roll that’s braised in a pot of mirin, sake, soy sauce, sugar and some aromatics, which lends it a dark brown color. Once the meat is tender after a few hours of cooking, a meat slicer is used to consistently cut the pork into slices about ten pages thick. Good chashu should contain a balanced amount of fat and meat, and should be flavorful and buttery soft.

In some cases, chashu is substituted for another form of protein. Santouka for example, uses pork cheeks as a premium option. Similarly, Nomama gets a little more adventurous with Kitayama Wagyu beef cheeks.

Aji Tamago

Aji Tamago is a soft-boiled egg that’s commonly marinated in chashu sauce. Although there are debates on this, I’d wager that a good aji tamago would have a mildly runny yolk that oozes out when you slice the egg open.

If you’re wondering why a good number of ramen houses screw up the aji tamago, it’s because egg is bacteria and temperature sensitive, which makes it a tricky dish to mass produce in a restaurant kitchen. Fortunately, if you want to do this at home, it’s relatively easier once you’ve got the timing and temperature perfect.

If ever there’s a lesson to be learned from all this is that ramen requires a ton of components and processes to create. When I first realized that a single bowl contains over 30 different ingredients, I understood that bowls of ramen are like humans, no two will ever be completely the same. Cool, eh?

With your newfound ramen knowledge, you can boldly begin interrogating servers from Manila’s ramen joints with the confidence of a ramen god.

This article was originally published in 2013.

Ramen Anatomy: Four Parts of a Bowl of Ramen (2024)


Ramen Anatomy: Four Parts of a Bowl of Ramen? ›

But at its most basic, a bowl of ramen has four parts, according to Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat, authors of "Japanese Soul Cooking": soup, seasoning (or tare

Tare is traditionally made by mixing and heating soy sauce, sake and/or mirin, and sugar and/or honey. The sauce is boiled and reduced to the desired thickness, then used to marinate meat, which is then grilled or broiled, and the final dish may be garnished with spring onions.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Tare_sauce
), noodles and toppings.

What are the 4 components of ramen? ›

Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup dish with Chinese-style alkaline noodles. It is the harmony of five key elements of ramen: broth, tare (sauce), noodles, toppings, and oil.

What are the parts of a bowl of ramen? ›

Anyway, a bowl of ramen has four main components, the noodles, broth, tare and toppings.

What does a ramen bowl consist of? ›

A delicious bowl of ramen is big and full of flavor and usually has a protein like pork belly, chicken or beef. It's filled with crunchy vegetables and often topped with a soft-boiled egg.

What are the 4 ramen broths? ›

But the main way ramen is categorized is by its primary flavor, which comes from how its broth is made. There are four general classes of ramen: shoyu, tonkotsu, miso, and shio.

What are the 5 parts 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 is the structure of ramen noodles? ›

Noodles: Ramen noodles contain wheat flour, salt, water and a special alkaline water called “kansui.” “Kansui” is what gives the noodles their unique flavor and springy texture. Noodle shape and thickness often change depending on the type of ramen you're eating.

What is the most important part of ramen? ›

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 are the three parts of ramen soup? ›

1. components of ramen soup
  • soup base. The first is the soup base, known as white broth in udon noodles. ...
  • ex-dalet. If the soup base expresses the depth of the soup, the original sauce is the direction of the flavours. ...
  • flavoured oil. The role of the flavoured oil is to add impact to the taste of the ramen.
Aug 31, 2023

What is the hole in a ramen bowl for? ›

The unique bowl's shape with the holes is expertly designed to prevent the spoon from falling into your soup. Also the bowls have holes to hold the chopsticks to ensure they always have a proper place, which will make it convenient for you to move the ramen bowl.

What is the difference between a ramen bowl and a pho bowl? ›

Broth: Ramen broth starts out with a clear meat-, seafood-, or dashi-based broth, then is seasoned with soy, salt, miso, or bone broth. Phở broth is made by boiling beef bones and seasoned with lots of spices and herbs. Noodles: Ramen noodles are wheat-based, yellow, and chewy and springy in texture.

What is a traditional ramen bowl called? ›

There are many different kinds of bowls used in the traditional Japanese table setting. There are soup bowls or Shiruwan (汁椀), small bowls, rice bowls or Ochawan in Japanese (お茶碗), and even ramen bowls or ramen Bachi (ラーメン鉢).

What are ramen bowls called? ›

The general Japanese term for a ramen bowl is ramen bachi. Among the many types of Japanese soup bowls that vary in size and shape, menbachi is a deep and wide bowl especially suitable for ramen.

What is a ramen without broth called? ›

Mazesoba, often called Mazemen here in the US, is Japanese brothless ramen that originated in Nagoya. The thick, chewy noodles are mixed with well-seasoned minced pork, garlic chives, green onion, nori seaweed, katsuobushi powder, and sous vide egg yolk.

What is chashu in ramen? ›

Today is all about what is perhaps my favorite part of a bowl of ramen: the tender, salty, sweet, fatty, melt-in-your-mouth slices of braised pork belly known as chashu. It's a component of a perfect bowl of ramen that's all-too-often overlooked at restaurants.

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 are the three main types of ramen? ›

The most orthodox style of ramen is soy sauce-based ramen, or "chuka-soba," but miso and salt variations were eventually created, and these "soy sauce, miso, and Shio (salt)" became the basic flavors of the dish.

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