Is ramen soup? Or is it something else? Here’s what the experts say
What would your answer have been if you were asked to categorize ramen as either noodles or soup? You’d probably go with either one of the two. However, popular information websites (including Wikipedia) categorize ramen as “noodle soup”, which just makes things more confusing.
In Japan (the country known to have popularized ramen), the dish is categorized as neither noodles nor soup. It’s just considered a dish consisting of wheat noodles in a broth with several toppings.
These definitions and categorizations might not satisfy the average person who’s looking for answers to a question they didn’t think they needed the answer to. But now, they can’t stop thinking of it!
In this post we'll cover:
Ramen as noodles: All the reasons to say it is
Japan is often regarded as the country that brought forward ramen to the rest of the world. While that’s true, it’s only true in part. Ramen is a Chinese dish in actuality, and even in Japan, the noodles are referred to as Chinese wheat noodles. Plus, the locality where ramen was first popularized is Yokohoma Chinatown.
Historians are divided over when Japan was introduced to ramen, but what we do know is that the dish was introduced by the Chinese.
Definition of the word
In any event, one of the principal reasons why people might argue that ramen should be categorized as noodles over soup is the definition of the word itself.
The word ramen originates from the Chinese word “lamin” and means “pulled noodles”. By the very definition of the word “ramen”, it should be categorized as noodles. Several eateries in Japan and across Asia would consider it to be more noodles than it’d be soup.
The primary ingredients (regardless of the toppings) are:
- Broth (The broth could be argued as being the “delivery mechanism” of the noodles and not the actual dish in itself)
Another reason why some might argue that ramen is more noodles than it is soup is that the broth can change. For example, instant ramen is supplied in varied flavors, which implies that the broth is subject to change, but the noodles are almost always wheat noodles.
The noodles are made of:
- Wheat flour
- Kansui (alkaline water containing either sodium carbonate and/or potassium carbonate)
Very rarely, if ever, will the noodles be varied. Even the shape of the noodles remains the same in many cases. If the broth or the soup is the only thing that changes, one might argue that ramen is principally noodles with varied broths.
It might be noteworthy here to mention that in several Asian cuisines, the broth is seen as a delivery mechanism for the flavor of the noodles, while not being seen as a soup in itself. The noodles are what retain the taste of the dish and the broth is just what it derives it from.
Ramen as soup: All the reasons to say it is
However, there are several advocates for calling ramen soup over noodles. All for good reason:
- The time
- The effort
- The flavor
When preparing ramen, unless you’re doing it from scratch, your time will arguably be spent more on perfecting the broth than it’d be on cooking the noodles themselves.
In several ramen dishes, the quantity of the noodles is on par with the broth, although there are several dishes where the noodles are made to be submerged in the broth, bringing the ratio up to 2:1 for the broth.
The time that it takes to prepare the broth (stock, seasoning, flavor, pork bones, and such) is arguably one of the main reasons why people would argue that ramen should be considered more as soup than noodles.
If you were to ask a chef who just spent an hour in the kitchen preparing ramen what took more time, they’d invariably answer that it was the soup or the broth. The broth is what gives the ramen its flavor and therefore, it has to be perfected.
The noodles can be left as they are because they genuinely have no flavor. On the other hand, the broth needs to have its signature flavor, which takes a whole lot more effort.
With all the different variations of ramen that you see either in fine dining experiences or with packets of instant ramen, you’ll notice that the flavor comes from the broth. While it could be argued that the flavor is retained by the noodles, it could likewise be argued that without the broth, there wouldn’t have been any flavor to begin with.
So which one is it?
Is ramen noodles or is it a soup? This question has divided many. However, Japanese cuisine says that ramen is considered both: a noodle soup. While the answer is vague at best, it does settle the debate.
However, there are strong reasons on both sides to support it being categorized as either noodles or soup. Which side are you on?
Also read: are ramen noodles fried before drying?
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.