Different types of Japanese ramen explained (like shoyu & shio)

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  May 1, 2022

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Ramen is a noodle soup dish that originated in China. But it’s become one of the most common dishes in Japan in the last decades!

This dish is cheap and widely available, and this makes it the ideal meal for travelers on a budget.

Ramen restaurants, also known as ramen-ya, can easily be found in almost every corner of Japan. And they produce different regional variations of this dish.

a bowl of ramen contained of eggs, meat, seaweed, with a black-color soup

The basic ramen broths don’t have a lot of ingredients. Mostly, the broths are made from chicken bones, pork bones, or a combination of both.

In some recipes, dashi (a consommé made of bonito flakes or niboshi) is simmered with kombu and then blended into the meat to create a clearer and purer broth. Certain regional varieties require seafood, but not mutton and beef.

Also, check out the Food Network’s “everything you need to know about ramen”:

 

Different types of Japanese ramen

Here are the main types of ramen that you should be aware of.

Different types of japanese ramen infographic

Miso ramen

Miso ramen

First, what is miso? This is an ingredient made from salt and soybeans, and it mostly features in Japanese food like sauces and soups. Ramen has a very distinctive and sharp flavor, and it’s the primary ingredient in miso ramen.

Miso ramen is very unique, especially because of its slightly orange color. It’s mostly served alongside veggies for the toppings, although you’ll also find other variations like egg and meat.

This type of ramen wasn’t popular in Japan until the ’60s, but now it’s a common variation found in most ramen restaurants.

“Shoyu” soy sauce ramen

Shoyu ramen with soy sauce base

Soy sauce is another common ramen flavor, and it’s locally known as “shoyu.”

This hearty and rich version is known for its darker coloring, and it’s mostly served with onions, pork, and eggs. Shoyu ramen is very common in Japan, particularly Tokyo, and it has a delicious and spicy flavor.

“Shio” salt ramen

Shio ramen with salt base

Also known as shio ramen, this is the oldest variation of ramen. You can easily recognize it because of its clear coloring.

You should note that shio ramen has a slightly saltier flavor, although it’s very tasty since it’s usually made with a pork or chicken base. You can also find salt ramen in Chinese restaurants too.

Salt ramen is mostly served alongside a lot of seaweed, and it’s a more traditional variation of ramen compared to others.

If you have problems with sodium, you should try to avoid salt ramen since it contains high salt content.

Tonkotsu ramen

Bowl of Tonkotsu ramen

This type of ramen is very common, and it’s made by boiling pork bones in order to create a creamy meat-based soup.

Tonkotsu ramen is mostly served with large portions of thickly cut pork (chashu), bamboo shoots (menma), and egg.

Even though tonkotsu ramen was originally found in the Fukuoka, Kyushu region, it’s become a common variety across Japan.

Curry ramen

Japanese curry ramen

This is the final type of ramen that you should know. Curry ramen is the latest variety of ramen to be introduced to Japan, and most people love it very much, especially those who like Japanese curry.

This variation of ramen is made out of curry soup, which is mostly made with pork bones and veggies, and then seasoned with curry.

Even though these are the main categories of ramen that you can easily find in Japan, there are other different variations, like abura soba, fish base, tsukemen, and even other unusual flavors like duck.

If you love ramen, there’s a chance that you have tasted one of the varieties that we’ve highlighted above, or you’re even planning to taste all of them! 

What you need to note about ramen noodles is that there are packaged and instant varieties of noodles, made from wheat flour, different types of vegetable oil, and flavors. These noodles are usually pre-cooked, meaning they’re steamed and then fried or air-dried to reduce the cooking time for consumers.

Ramen nutritional facts

Even though the nutritional facts will vary between the different types of ramen, most instant ramen noodles have a low calorie count, and they lack important nutrients too.

For instance, let’s take the nutritional information of 1 serving of chicken-flavored ramen noodles:

  • Calories – 188
  • Carbs – 27 g
  • Total fat – 7 g
  • Protein – 5 g
  • Fiber – 1 g
  • Sodium – 891 mg
  • Manganese – 10% of the RDI
  • Riboflavin – % of the RDI
  • Niacin – 9% of the RDI
  • Iron – 9% of the RDI
  • Thiamine – 16% of the RDI
  • Folate – 13% of the RDI

As we highlighted earlier, ramen noodles are made out of wheat flour, which is fortified with synthetic types of particular nutrients like B vitamins and iron to make them more nutritious. However, they don’t have key nutrients like fiber, protein, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and B12.

So how can you make ramen noodles healthier?

If you love eating ramen noodles, there are a number of ways that you can make your dish healthier:

  • Add veggies – Adding cooked or fresh veggies like broccoli, carrots, onions, or mushrooms to ramen noodles can add the nutrients that aren’t found in ramen.
  • Add lots of protein – Because ramen noodles don’t have much protein, adding chicken, eggs, tofu, or fish can add protein that’ll make you feel fuller for longer.
  • Consider buying low-sodium versions – These varieties can assist in reducing the salt content in your dish to considerable levels.
  • Don’t use the flavor packet – Instead, create your broth by mixing low-sodium chicken stock with fresh spices and herbs in order to get a healthier version of the noodles.

Although ramen noodles are some of the cheapest carb sources you can find out there in the market, there are other affordable and healthy options you should consider too. Oats, potatoes, and brown rice are some of the diverse and cheap carbs you should consider, especially if you want to save money. 

Also read: sushi conveyor belt restaurants, what’s it like?

How to make ramen

Recipe 1

Ingredients

For the broth:

  • 6 – 6 ½ pounds chicken wings 
  • 4 (8 oz) medium carrots cut into ½” thick rounds
  • 3 small bunches scallions, roots trimmed
  • 10 cups water (divided)
  • 1 head garlic (roots removed, skin on), cut ½ horizontally
  • 1 (2” piece) ginger, cut into ¼ inch pieces
  • 20 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 6” sheet dried kombu
  • ¼ cup soy sauce

For the shoyu tare

  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mirin

For the noodles and eggs

  • 3 to 4 large eggs (but this will depend on the number of people served)
  • 6 packages (5 oz) fresh, thin, and wavy ramen noodles

For serving

  • ½ cup menma (fermented bamboo shoots)
  • 6 (medium) scallions, thinly sliced
  • 3 toasted nori sheets (cut into ribbons)
  • Toasted sesame oil (Asian) or chili oil

For the equipment, you’ll need:

  • Stockpot
  • Stovetop-safe roasting pan or large stovetop-safe casserole dish
  • Slotted spoon or strainer for skimming

Directions

For making the broth and tare:

  1. Roast your chicken wings. Put a rack in the middle of your oven, and then heat it to around 425 F. Put the chicken wings in a roasting pan or casserole dish (stove safe) and then roast until they’re evenly browned. This should take you around 30 minutes. Reduce the oven’s heat to around 375 F, add your scallions and carrots, then stir to mix. Continue roasting for an additional 20 minutes.
  2. Deglaze your roasting pan – Transfer the veggies and chicken to a stockpot. Then, place your empty roasting pan on the stovetop, and set the heat to high. Add 2 cups of water and then stir and scrape vigorously, using a heatproof metal spoon. Scrape off the flavorful browned parts from the pan’s bottom. Allow the water to boil, and then carefully pour it into your stockpot.
  3. Add the aromatics – Add your ginger, garlic, kombu, shiitakes, and the 8 cups of water to the stockpot, then stir to mix. Allow the mixture to simmer over high heat, or when you see just a few bubbles around its edges.
  4. Simmer the broth – Reduce the stove’s heat to the lowest setting possible and then add soy sauce. Simmer while the stockpot is uncovered, until the chicken meat has detached itself from the bones, and the wing bones can separate easily. This step should take you around 3 to 3 ½ hours.
  5. Strain your broth – Pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl, and then discard the solids. Allow the broth to cool to room temperature, cover the bowl, and then refrigerate overnight. Make sure that you skim off the fat from the surface and then discard it before using the broth.
  6. Prepare the tare – Mix the soy sauce and mirin in a small container (airtight) seal, and then refrigerate until you use it.

For serving

  1. Cook your eggs – Fill a large saucepan with water and then boil it over high heat. Reduce the heat until the water is simmering rapidly. Now add your eggs into the water gently, 1 at a time, and then allow them to simmer for around 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the eggs and put them in an ice-water bath to cool. Peel your eggs, cut them in half lengthwise, and then set them aside.
  2. Cooking the noodles – Put back the egg cooking water onto the stove and allow it to boil. Add your noodles and allow them to cook according to the package directions; this should take you around 3 to 5 minutes. When done, drain the noodles and run them under cold water to stop them from cooking further.
  3. Simmer and flavor your broth – Allow your broth to boil again in a different saucepan. Remove it from the heat and then add your tare to taste.
  4. Assemble your ramen bowls – Divide your noodles between your ramen bowls and start ladling in the hot broth. To each ramen bowl, add 1 or 2 egg halves, scallions, bamboo shoots, and nori, and then drizzle with sesame or chili oil.

Recipe 2

a bowl of japanese ramen

Ingredients

  • 700 ml chicken stock
  • 3 garlic cloves (halved)
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce (plus extra for seasoning)
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Ginger, sliced (thumb-sized)
  • 1.2 tsp Chinese five-spice
  • Chili powder (a pinch)
  • 1 tsp white sugar (optional)
  • 375 g ramen noodles
  • 400 g cooked pork or chicken breast (sliced)
  • 2 tsp sesame oil (as garnish)
  • 100 g baby spinach
  • 4 tbsp sweetcorn
  • 4 boiled eggs (peeled & halved)
  • Shallots or green spring onions (sliced)
  • Sesame seeds (sprinkled)

Directions

  1. Mix the chicken stock, garlic cloves,  soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, ginger, Chinese five-spice, chili powder,  and 300 ml water in a stockpot or large saucepan. Allow the ingredients to boil, lower the heat, and allow them to simmer for around 5 minutes.
  2. Taste your stock— Add a tsp of white sugar or some more soy sauce to make it saltier or sweeter, depending on your preference.
  3. Cook the ramen noodles according to the packaging directions, drain, and then set them aside for later use.
  4. Slice the cooked pork or chicken, and then fry the meat in sesame oil until it begins to brown, then set aside.
  5. Divide your noodles in your ramen bowls, and then top each with an equal portion of the meat, baby spinach, sweetcorn, and boiled egg halves.
  6. Strain your stock in a clean saucepan, and then allow it to boil again.
  7. Next, divide the hot stock between your bowls, and then sprinkle over the sliced shallots or green spring onions, shredded nori, and sesame seeds. Let the spinach wilt a bit before serving.

Ramen bowl and spoon sets to buy

These are some of the best ramen bowls and spoons you can buy.

World Market Japanese ceramic ramen bowl set

  • Genuine ramen experience – Slurp your favorite ramen the way it was meant to be enjoyed: in a perfect ceramic ramen noodle bowl! The set includes a bowl with chopsticks and a soup spoon for an authentic dining experience.
  • Quality and finest materials – These ramen bowls are FDA-approved, lead-free, and BPA-free. Suitable for all hot and cold dishes and the entire set (chopsticks and spoon included) are dishwasher and microwave safe. It makes life easier for all.
  • Designed for endurance – Strong and durable, made from the best non-absorbent, insulated ceramic so your ramen tastes fantastic and stays warm. Treated to resist chipping, staining, and fading, and will look new, even after many years of use.
  • Multipurpose bowl – The ceramic noodle soup bowl set will be your go-to in the pantry for ramen noodles, miso, wonton soup, udon, and even pho. But it can also be used for cereal, ice cream, rice, aand pasta. The possibilities are endless!
  • This set includes a noodle bowl with soup spoon and chopsticks

Check them out here on Amazon

4 set (16 pieces) ramen bowl set

  • Asian recipes to the next level: These bowls will take your homemade meals on a one-way trip to Tokyo.
  • Made from sturdy, restaurant-grade unbreakable melamine, these bowls are built to last. Dishwasher and microwave safe.
  • Perfect size: 32 oz is the chef-recommended size. A large amount that stays hot to the last bite.
  • Spoons, chopsticks, and chopstick stand included: Each set comes with everything you need. And unlike other listings, this one also includes chopstick stands.

Check the latest prices here

Rovatta Regatta ramen soup bowl set

  • Durable quality: The ramen noodles bowls are very durable, are 100% melamine, resist chipping, staining, and fading, and will look new, even after many years of use.
  • Japanese design: the Japanese ramen bowls are high quality and will make you feel like you’re eating in a top fancy restaurant. These noodle bowls are made to last with daily use.
  • Matching dinnerware set: This ramen bowl is perfect for all types of Asian cuisine and is compatible for all your dining needs. Ramen bowl sets will enhance your soup experience.
  • Package included: This ramen noodle bowl set contains 4 noodle bowls, 4 noodle soup spoons, and 4 noodle chopsticks. The ramen noodle spoon has a hooked end that keeps it from sinking into the bowl.
  • Easy to clean: Ramen bowl noodles are dishwasher-safe and easy to clean. Do not microwave though!

Check the latest prices and availability here on Amazon

How to use a ramen vending machine

Using a ramen vending machine requires 4simple steps that’ll get you ramen within a short period of time!

When you visit Japan, there’s a possibility that you’ll find yourself in front of one of these machines since ramen is such an irresistible delicacy. Ramen vending machines are a convenient way to order food, and they’re commonly found at almost all ramen shops across Japan.

How to use a Japanese Ramen vending machine

Almost every Japanese person is used to this simple and fast way of ordering ramen, but this system tends to confuse first-timers, especially when everything’s written in Japanese.

However, this shouldn’t deter you from enjoying ramen since these machines are easy to master!

Also read: what are the thick Japanese noodles called again?

What are ramen vending machines?

In Japan, restaurants are usually divided into 2 categories: those that provide a full-service system and those that have a food ticket system.

Ramen vending machines fall in the second category, and you’ll find them standing right next to the restaurant’s entrance, or even outside the restaurant. Therefore, you should be able to know how to order ramen from one of these machines.

If you find a signboard or a menu outside indicating the dishes offered at the ramen shop, it’s advisable to check the dishes first, and then decide what you want to eat before you go into the shop.

Mostly, you’ll notice that there’s 1 vending machine or ticket machine available, and you shouldn’t take too long to make your order. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a long line behind you!

Most of the vending machines either have touchscreens or buttons.

The button machines are the older versions, with 1 dish per button. There’s a possibility that you’ll find these machines at old-fashioned restaurants that serve set meals, or in ramen shops that are privately run.

On the other hand, the vending machines with touchscreens offer their menu services in English or Chinese at times.

Mostly, the food pictures in these machines are large and colorful, which makes ordering food from these machines much easier, even for people who don’t speak Japanese. You’ll find these machines at large fast-food chains.

How do you order ramen from these machines?

You’ll need to follow 4 simple steps to get your food ticket. However, these are very common, and they might differ from one restaurant to another.

Let’s delve deeper into these steps.

Step 1: Insert your money

First, you’ll notice that the machine has a slot for bills and coins.

The slot locations might differ from one machine to another. However, the machines will have an icon showing where you need to insert your money.

When you do, the machine will automatically recognize the amount you’ve inserted and the dish buttons will flash or light up.

Step 2: Select your dish

Only a few ramen vending machines in Japan have an English menu; this means you’ll need to rely on the images.

Please note that when you can’t recognize the items on the images or there are no images displayed at all, select one of the options at the top left of the vending machine. The main reason behind this is that it’s much simpler.

Most of the ramen shops capitalize on the habit of customers searching for food in a Z-pattern, from upper left to upper right, then lower left to lower right. Therefore, they end up placing their main menu options on the top left.

If you’re confused about this, you can consider consulting the staff at these shops.

You shouldn’t be shy at all. Even when you don’t speak Japanese, just ask for the assistance that you need.

Also, you need to note that the ramen vending machines offer a generous option of toppings just below the main menu, like eggs and veggies. In addition, you can also order side dishes in the same manner.

Step 3: Pick your ticket and change

Once you make your choice, a food ticket or tickets will fall in a tray on the lower-left section of the machine.

Note that some vending machines will give you change together with your ticket. Others will need you to push an extra button to get the same.

Step 4: Give the ticket to the staff

Once you retrieve your ticket, proceed to the waiting area and give it to the chef or staff of the restaurant. In some shops, the staff will approach you directly while you’re at the machine.

They’ll then rip or cut the ticket, and you’ll get one half. You should place this slip on your table. Avoid losing it before you get your order.

Eat delicious ramen

Now that you know what the different types of ramen are, which one will you choose? No matter where you are in the world, you’re sure to run into these many varieties. So give them all a try if you can!

Read more: different types of sushi explained

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

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.