What do you think of when you think about ramen? Slurping noodles? A trip to Japan? Perhaps the time when you were a broke ass student who lived on Mi Goreng and bananas (we’ve all been there)? We bet a dark history of political turmoil and racism doesn’t even cross your mind, but that’s the reality of our favourite noodle soup.
So next time you splash tonkatsu broth all over yourself, keep calm and consider some very strange things you probably didn’t know about ramen.
Ramen was originally Chinese
Uh yeah. You’re favourite noodle soup actually originated in the same place as sweet and sour pork. Of course, the Japanese put their own spin on it (more on that in a moment), but the noodle dish was brought to Japan by Chinese immigrants, who thought nobody should miss out on the fun of slurping. We agree.
It once represented world domination
Way back when Japan and China were at each others throats (early 1900s – look it up), Japan was on it’s way to building an empire, and with Taiwan and Korea under their belts, started moving in on China. When Shina Soba, or ‘China soba,’ was introduced to the Japanese palate in 1910, it caught on like gangbusters, because essentially the noodles, which were longer and yellower than Japanese noodles, represented Japan ‘ingesting’ China, and annexing it into it’s growing empire. Who would have thought a bowl of noodles could say so much?
It was once illegal
Ok, technically it was the street stalls that sold them that were illegal, but still. Post-WWII (Japan’s dreams of an empire over), the US imposed stringent rationing laws on the Eastern nation to combat food shortages – laws which included banning outdoor food vending to maintain the system. So ramen went underground and was soon heavily in demand from hidden stalls dotted around Japan’s bombed out cities. We understand – we’d hit the black market for ramen too.
Communism in Japan was defeated with ramen – sort of
In an admittedly rather convoluted way, ramen was a driving force in turning Japan away from communism. The defeat in WWII led to a severe food shortage, but to stop people from turning to communism in hunger and anger (hanger – it happens), the US started shipping in a buttload of wheat, wheat that could be turned into delicious, calorie-filled ramen. Democracy looked better with every steaming bowl.
There are 19 officially kinds of ramen
How many different ways can you serve a bowl of noodles? 19 apparently. You may not be able to tell the difference between broth made with chicken or pork bones, but truly dedicated ramen lovers can. As long as they come with a heaping of pickled garlic on top, we’re in.
There is a museum dedicated to ramen
Not to be confused with the instant-ramen museum (we’re not joking), the ramen museum in Yokohama is devoted entirely to Japan’s favourite noodle soup. Wander the museum and you’ll find a recreation of Tokyo in 1958, the year instant noodles were invented, and be able to sample nine different styles of ramen. You might want to brush up on your Japanese though – there are no English signs here.
Words by Ranyhyn Akui