Choose Between Two Options
- $17 for two bowls of ramen and two drinks ($31.50 value)
- $33 for four bowls of ramen and four drinks ($63 value)
Ramen: From Dorms Rooms to Momofuku
Many Japanese menus may include ramen, but don’t expect the cheap, crispy packets sold in supermarket bins. Check out Groupon’s guide to untangle the story of this traditional noodle dish.
Ramen has two separate reputations, and neither entirely does justice to the dish. Instant-noodle makers peddle those inexpensive cups or packets familiar to most people who have ever lived in a college dorm’s crawlspace. On the other end of the spectrum are obsessive ramen blogs and inventive, upscale restaurants such as David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar, credited for sparking a stateside ramen boom. Between these extremes, however, lies a dish that’s a diverse, affordable staple of Tokyo eating.
At its simplest, ramen is a bowl of al dente, slender wheat-based noodles submerged in salty broth. Since the broth is hot enough to cook the noodles, many chefs drop in cool pieces of meat to bring it down to a slurpable temperature. Naruto fish cake (named for the Japanese whirlpools that its pink-and-white swirls resemble) can also appear in the bowls, as can dried kelp, bamboo shoots, and egg, but the list of potential ingredients is endless and often delightfully unpredictable.
The dish is now entwined with Japanese culture, but in fact ramen was a fin-de-siècle import, as its original name—shina soba, or Chinese noodles—attests. Later, as food processing became mechanized in the 1950s, a new dried-noodle product lent the name ramen to both fresh and instant varieties alike (and not a moment too soon, since the word shina had taken on a pejorative edge by then). Although Japanese diners have a wealth of fresh ramen options, the country still has plenty of shelf and belly space for the packaged stuff—the consumption of instant ramen in Japan in 2004 came in at an average of 42.8 meals per person. Even at the finest ramen joints, the noodles may not be made in-house: getting them exactly right is a multiday process involving careful chemistry and the expensive machinery needed to work the low-moisture, sodium-carbonate-stiffened dough.