The history of ramen: an iconic noodle narrative

As you might remember from my previous blog post, last month I was invited to a fabulous evening at Wagamama in Liverpool ONE to celebrate their brand-new ramen menu.

After digesting some interesting facts (and some incredibly delicious Asian food) over the course of the evening, I decided to come away and dig a bit deeper into the history of ramen and what I found out was absolutely fascinating…

The origins and history of ramen

 

 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with ramen, it’s a wheat noodle and broth-based dish, classically brought to life with classic Japanese flavours such as spring onion, soy and miso. The very first examples of ramen used a combination of salt, animal bone broth and roast pork but over the years, the recipe has been adapted to cater for a much wider audience including vegans and vegetarians.

Ramen noodles come in all shapes and sizes – thick, thin, straight, ribbon-esque – but they always have that signature chewy texture. This comes from the Kansui noodle recipe which includes an age-old combination of baking soda and water to create that spongey, elastic bite.

Legend has it that the longer the noodle, the longer you’re expected to live because slurping up noodles as long as your arm demonstrates some serious lung power. I digress…

Wagamama Liverpool ONE ramen menu

Ramen was actually first introduced into Japan by Chinese immigrants in 1859 at which time, it was referred to as ‘Shina soba’.

This translated to ‘Chinese noodle’ and was what the dish was called until the 1950’s when it gained significant popularity in post-war Japan. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though because there’s an entire story to be told in between those two epochs of time.

Following America’s occupation of Japan after World War II, the country experienced its worst rice harvest in decades. As a result of the rice famine, the Americans filled Japan with wheat but had simultaneously banned outdoor food vending which had been thriving across Japan in the pre-war period.

Despite the ban, wheat and flour were secretly transported from mills to Japanese rebels who continued to make and sell ramen on the Black Market.

Vegan ramen at Wagamama Liverpool ONE
Vegan ramen at Wagamama Liverpool ONE

The Americans were aggressively promoting the health benefits of wheat and animal proteins during this time so as you can imagine, these prohibited ramen vendors were a big hit. Of course, this led to the discovery and arrest of thousands of ramen sellers during the US occupation and it wasn’t until 1950 that laws loosened around food vending.

Flash forward to 1958 when Japan had regained its independence and when instant noodles were invented, this is when ramen truly began to escalate to the iconic international dish it is today.

By the time the 1980’s rolled round, ramen had become a standout landmark on Japan’s culinary landscape and in 1994 a museum dedicated solely to ramen opened in the city of Yokohama.

Today, there are more than 24,000 ramen shops in Japan and the dish with such humble beginnings continues to inspire everything from street food to fine-dining worldwide.

wagamama-the-history-of-ramen-noodles

So, next time you’re wrestling ramen noodles into submission with a pair of chopsticks, maybe you can impart your new pearls of wisdom onto your partner(s) in dine.

I never was much good at history during school so naturally, I don’t really tend to ponder for too long on the historical narrative of the food I’m eating or the drinks I’m sipping. I just chuck ‘em down my gullet, share a snap of it on Instagram, ramble about it on this here blog site and be done with it.

However, after my evening at Wagamama Liverpool ONE, this is one terrible habit I’m making it my dedicated mission to shake.

Check out my review of the Wagamama food menu in Part I of this blog post!

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