Ramen (ラーメン) are Chinese noodles that have turned into a type of Japanese cuisine. Despite originating in China, Ramen noodles have become one of the national foods of Japan, recognized throughout the world and eaten in both eastern and western cuisines.
The noodles already present in Japan, most notably Udon noodles, tended to be very thick. The Chinese, however, already had a noodle that was referred to by the Chinese “Lamien” (or RamYen) which was hand pulled and was much thinner and made of wheat.
No one is sure when these noodles were introduced to Japan. Estimates have the food introduced anywhere from the 1700’s to the late 1800’s, and some estimated it may have been long before then as well.
There are also stories that it was introduced in Japan in 1659 during the Ming Dynasty by a exiled member of the Mito clan known as Keiko Kosuge. Regardless, for several years Ramen was called Shina Soba, or “Chinese Soba.”
In the early 1900’s, Ramen was sold most often by street venders and small shops as a soup. Its popularity began to grow thanks to the demand for meat foods as well as the inexpensive ingredients involved in making Ramen noodles.
By 1958, Ramen began to take off, thanks to the invention of “instant noodles” by Nissan Foods owner Momofuku Ando. Instant noodles allowed anyone to take these noodles anywhere and make them simply by adding boiling water. The invention of Instant Noodles was considered the greatest invention of the 20th century by a poll in Japan.
Since then, Ramen and Japan have become synonymous. Ramen is now sold throughout the world, especially in instant noodle form, and is considered a cultural icon of Japan. There is even a Ramen museum dedicated to the history and growth of Ramen in the country.
Ramen is sold in a variety of forms. Though it is traditionally associated with lower quality food, Ramen is also used in some higher quality dishes as well.