Ramen (Is Chinese Food)

Food for Thought

In Japan, “ramen” is categorized as Chinese food. It’s interesting that many people find this surprising. Another common name for ramen in Japanese is “chuuka soba” #中華そば where “chuuka” means Chinese. Soba, the buckwheat noodles, is the traditional Japanese noodles, so, they called it Chinese soba. The origin of the word “ramen” is not clear but it’s likely lā miàn #拉麺 “pulled noodles.” If you go to a Chinese restaurant in Japan, you would typically see ramen on the menu, but because ramen became so popular, it became specialized. Typically ramen shops in Japan are decorated predominantly with red and with the square spiral motif repeated along the edges of the bowls and signs. To Japanese people, they symbolize Chinese. You would almost never see them for soba noodle shops. Even though the Japanese flag is a red dot, bright red is not a common color in Japan.

I also find it interesting that ramen became much more popular than Chinese noodle soups in the US. Why? I think it’s because the Japanese version is more accessible to the American palate. Even though there are many variations of ramen in Japan, certain aspects remain consistent. It works with the lowest common denominators of familiar ingredients. In contrast, Chinese noodle soups are wildly diverse. If you randomly walked into a Chinese restaurant and ordered a bowl of noodle soup, you wouldn’t know what you get. It could contain all sorts of foreign ingredients like tripe, tendon, pig ear, and fish balls. The noodle could be egg noodle, rice noodle, glass noodle, broad noodle, or thin noodle. It’s too scary for the average Americans. In contrast, Japanese ramen is much more consistent, like ordering from McDonald’s.

These days, I personally prefer Chinese noodle soups over ramen. I find them more interesting.