From fast food to cult cuisine: Everything you need to know about ramen.

Bountiful Bowl - YAM Magazine Colour Issue Jan/Feb 2024
The Quick Shoyu Ramen by chef Yoshimune Arima of Kizuna Ramen is rich with chewy noodles and savoury goodness. (Recipe below) Photo By: Jeffrey Bosdet.

By Cinda Chavich

Cheap, cheerful, nourishing and restorative — Japanese ramen is perhaps the finest example of a big, slurpable meal in a soup bowl.

This everyday staple has gained a kind of cult status, with celebrity chefs around the world weighing in on the perfect way to construct a bowl of ramen and TV shows like Midnight Diner offering the steamy soup as a panacea to our daily dilemmas. 

At its most basic, ramen is a bowl of chewy wheat noodles and savoury broth, a fast meal to be enjoyed at a tiny ramen shop or street-side stall. The broth should be rich and salty, shot with umami and filled with golden noodles. But there are many variations on the theme, from those ubiquitous packets of instant noodles that have kept many a starving student sated to the beautiful bowls of brothy fresh noodles crafted from scratch by a devoted ramen master.

The Broth

In Japan, where ramen has its roots, there are variations of ramen in every corner of the country, based on each region’s broth and tare or kaeshi (seasoning sauce). 

But there are some basic styles: shio ramen is a clear broth seasoned with salt; shoyu ramen is darker clear broth with soy sauce; tonkotsu is a rich, creamy pork broth (also called hakata ramen); paitan is a cloudy chicken broth; opaque miso ramen has fermented miso paste. 

Ramen broth can be made from pork, chicken or fish bones, or dried mushrooms. Pork is the most popular, with bones simmered for many hours, even days to provide the collagen that melts into the broth and imparts the richness, fat and gelatinous mouth feel of a truly slow-simmered soup, says Greg Masuda, chef of Nikkei Ramen-ya in Courtenay, which is partnered with Ghost Ramen here in Victoria. 

At home, Masuda says, you can use pork hocks and a home pressure cooker to extract the most pork flavour, or make rich chicken broth with meaty chicken carcasses. As any
chef (and grandmother) knows, fat carries flavour, so the best ramen broth has a fair amount of fat. You can also add a little dashi (a broth of dried seaweed and bonito flakes) for a boost of umami. 

The Noodles

Ramen noodles are wheat noodles made simply with flour, water, salt and sometimes eggs, plus the alkaline ingredient called kansui (potassium carbonate and/or sodium carbonate). Kansui gives the noodles their slippery but chewy texture and yellow colour, thanks to a reaction with components of the flour.

Some ramen noodles are cut fine and straight, but others (like instant ramen) are curly. They come in a variety of thicknesses, too — chefs choose the appropriate noodle size to match their own broth recipes.

Because the noodles are so labour-intensive, most ramen restaurants purchase them from specialists like Yamachan Ramen, a California custom noodle maker with a branch in Vancouver. Chef Masuda, however, makes his artisan noodles from scratch, shipping 1,500 to 2,000 deconstructed bowls (noodles and broth) to Ghost Ramen every week. He has also recently expanded his production to supply his Nikkei Ramen kits to Thrifty Foods and other larger grocers so home cooks can enjoy them, too. 

Home cooks can also find frozen ramen noodles and broth concentrates from Japanese commercial brands like Sun Noodles and Myojo at Fujiya and Fairway markets, as well as the cheap, dry, instant noodles. Just note that most instant noodles are deep fried before drying; steamed and air-dried instant noodles are a healthier choice. 

When making ramen, it’s essential not to overcook the noodles or leave them in hot broth before you eat them. (That’s why many ramen restaurants package noodles and broth/toppings separately for delivery.) Instead, bring lots of water to a rolling boil and add the noodles, stirring to loosen them into separate strands, and cook according to directions. Drain well, add to steaming hot broth in a bowl, and serve immediately.

Putting It All Together

Beyond beautiful broth and bouncy noodles, a great bowl of ramen comes with toppings including soft-cooked eggs, pork belly chashu so tender it collapses under your soup spoon and vegetables like bok choy or spinach. 

You might also find slivered nori (seaweed), sweet corn, shiitake mushrooms or pink-and-white coins of fish cake garnishing your ramen and, in Korea, spicy kimchi. Green onion, toasted sesame seeds or Japanese furikake (a combo of sesame seeds and seaweed), and a splash of sesame or chili oil make a grand finish.

At Kizuna Ramen, a takeout- and delivery-only ramen business based in a Victoria commissary kitchen, chef Yoshimune Arima carefully matches noodles with the broth using a “concentration meter” to test the density of his slow-cooked, creamy pork tonkotsu broth and vegan aged miso broth. He then tops with braised pork belly chashu (or marinated tofu chashu), ajitama egg, braised black mushroom, fermented bamboo shoots, koji stir-fried vegetables and secret spicy sauce.

Ajitama eggs are soft-boiled and marinated with soy sauce, mirin, sake or rice wine, and dashi. Chashu is pork belly or shoulder slowly braised in soy sauce, mirin, ginger and garlic. Find a recipe for similarly flavoured Pork Tenderloin with Hoisin Glaze at

Everyday Goodness

With all of the hype around ramen restaurants these days, and some even getting the Michelin nod, it’s easy to forget that ramen is a simple dish, designed for everyday eating. 

But as Allan Nichols, owner of Banff-based Ramen Arashi, reminds me, there are literally thousands of iterations of this Japanese “salaryman’s” meal. 

“Ramen in Japan is what the chef wants to make,” he says, flipping to the Instagram feed of @ramenguidejapan, and scrolling through hundreds of iterations of the famous dish. “Our ramen is modelled after Yokahama-style ramen, but even there you will find lots of variations. Every ramen chef will create something that’s unique.”

Which is another reason that exploring the world of ramen is always intriguing.

Whether visiting your favourite ramen shop or perfecting your stock-making skills at home, slurping a big bowl of ramen is a wonderful way to celebrate soup season. 

Quick Shoyu Ramen

Chef Yoshimune Arima of Kizuna Ramen offers this simplified recipe for ramen made with a fast, light shoyu (soy sauce) broth. 

Bountiful Bowl - YAM Magazine Colour Issue Jan/Feb 2024
Chef Greg Masuda of Nikkei Ramen-ya in Courtney makes noodles and broth, from scratch, every week for Ghost Ramen in Victoria. Each bowl is packed with noodles and other savoury toppings. Photo By: Jeffrey Bosdet.


• 6 cups water
• 4 pieces dried kombu (Japanese kelp), about 2 x 3 inches each 
• 2 dried shiitake mushrooms
• 2/3 lb ground pork
• ½ lb ground chicken
• 2 green onions
• 3 slices ginger
• 6 Tbsp bonito flakes or dried anchovy (in tea bag or strainer) 
• Salt to taste


• 7 Tbsp cooking sake or rice wine 
• 3 Tbsp mirin 
• 7 Tbsp light Usukuchi soy sauce 

To Serve:

• 2 Tbsp oil
• Reserved ground meats, mushrooms and ginger
• 1 clove garlic, chopped
• 2 Tbsp oyster sauce or hoisin sauce
• 3 portions fresh or frozen ramen noodles, preferably medium Tokyo-style
• 2 to 3 baby bok choy, halved (optional)
• 2 to 3 green onions, sliced
• Soft-boiled eggs, halved (optional)
• Chili oil to finish (optional)

To make the broth, place water into a large pot and add kombu, shiitake, ground pork, ground chicken, green onion and ginger. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove kombu and discard. Continue to simmer
for 20 minutes.

Strain the broth. Reserve the meats, ginger and mushrooms. Chop mushrooms and ginger and set aside. Discard green onion. 

Return the broth to the pot and heat to simmer. Add the bonito flakes in a tea bag or tea ball so you can remove them easily, and remove broth from heat. Steep for 5 minutes and remove the bonito flakes. Season broth to taste with a little salt. The broth can be prepared a day ahead to this point.

To make the kaeshi or tare, combine sake and mirin in a saucepan and bring to a boil just to burn off the alcohol. Add the soy sauce and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes to reduce slightly. Set aside.

Prepare the toppings: In a skillet or frypan, heat the 2 Tbsp of oil and brown the reserved ground meats, shiitake and ginger along with the chopped garlic. Season with oyster sauce or hoisin sauce, cooking together until nicely glazed.

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the noodles and cook according to the instructions on the package. If using bok choy, add it to the water with the noodles just before they’re ready; blanch slightly then remove with a slotted spoon or spider.

Meanwhile, heat the broth. Divide it between two or three large soup bowls and add a tablespoon or two of kaeshi to each bowl. Add the cooked noodles and top with reserved meat/mushroom mixture, as well as bok choy (if using), green onions and halved soft-boiled eggs (if using), or other toppings to your liking. For a spicier dish, drizzle with chili oil to finish. Serves 2 to 3.