Once Upon a Time: Râmen

A dish whose first versions were of Chinese origin, the rāmen would derive their current name from the mian pasta (lā miàn, "pulled noodles"), hand pulled by the cook, one of the specialties of the Hui Muslim minority in Lanzhou, Gansu Province.

The legend tells that the first Japanese to have tasted the râmen would be Tokugawa Mitsukuni (1628-1701), lord of the Mito clan, at the time of Edo.

A Chinese scholar in exile in Japan, Zhu Zhiyu (1600-1682), reportedly presented him with noodles made from wheat flour and lotus root powder, a noodle soup close to the udon.

A variety of rāmen is marketed under the name Mito-han rāmen (râmen of the Mito clan) on the support of this legend, in the city of Mito. The rāmen were actually imported to Japan in the early 20th century (Meiji era) and are now considered a Japanese dish. The first rāmen store in Japan seems to have been located in Yokohama, a major port and place of arrival for Chinese immigrants.

They offered Chinese noodle soup in broth, with roast pork, bamboo shoots and a half-boiled egg. These noodles were then called "Chinese soba" or "Nanjing soba" Other sources refer to the Rairaiken restaurant in Asakusa, which hired a chef from Yokohama's Chinatown for its opening in 1910.

It was then salt-based shio rāmen, with the Japanese adding more their soy sauce later, creating the shōyu rāmen that spread throughout the archipelago in the 1920s.

In the 1930s, Chinese people introduced rāmen to other parts of Japan, including Sapporo (Hokkaido), Kitakata (Fukushima) or Kurume (Fukuoka). The rāmen became a popular Japanese dish after the Second World War, via the emergence of itinerant stands of rāmen, which where then a hot, economic and nourishing dish, the wheat flour used to prepare them being easier to obtain than the rice noodles.

In 1958, Nissin Foods launched the first instant râmen, then in 1971 its famous Cup Noodle, the local response to McDonald's that sets up the same year in Japan.

The local rāmen (Sapporo miso rômen or Hakata tonkotsu rāmen), previously regarded as regional specialties, conquered Japan from 1965, in a decade, in the form of instant noodles or through the opening of franchised râmen restaurants.

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© 2018 Wessel Woortman

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