Everything You Need to Know about Ramen Culture, Part 1

Ramen has been trending in the Western world for the past decade or so, but in Japan, it’s been a cultural obsession for decades. With the launch of our simply complex NEW! ZENB Ramen, made with an authentically Japanese approach, with yellow pea noodles + umami-packed broth, we took a deep-dive into all things ramen to share everything you need to know about this delicious dish’s history.

For many of us, the introduction to ramen is via the instant-noodle packs found in supermarkets and convenience stores. The real stuff, with real, simple ingredients and umami-packed flavors, is a whole different thing. ZENB Ramen delivers an at-home version of the real stuff that will transport your tastebuds to a better-for-you refinement on a global favorite in about 5 minutes.

Ramen History

Yes, ramen is strongly identified with Japan, but it’s widely believed to have originated in China. A wheat noodle dish, called "lamian” in Chinese, was introduced into Japan in the 1860s, when Chinese immigrants settled in the port city of Yokohama after a series of wars among impactful countries in those days.

Slowly, Japanese cuisine created its own version, including noodles, dashi (soup stock), sauce, and proteins. As ramen carts and kiosks proliferated, Ramen quickly became a popular meal with workers as an inexpensive, filling, and well-rounded meal. The first shop to sell ramen is thought to have opened in Yokohama in 1870; the first specialized ramen shop opened in 1910 in Tokyo.

After the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, many of the ramen shops in Tokyo and Yokohama were damaged and destroyed, which led to the proliferation of yatai (street stalls), which were easier for vendors to open, and had limited menus, mainly focused on ramen.

While some ramen noodles were made with rice flour, during and after World War II, when rice became scarce, wheat took over as the primary ingredient. In the post-war landscape, American supplies reshaped the Japanese diet; the wheat and lard brought over from the States that became the dough for ramen noodles is just one example. The next big moment in ramen history was in 1958 when Momofuku Ando, a Japanese inventor and businessman, developed the first pre-cooked, packaged instant noodles. The product was heavily marketed across Japan and came to the US in 1966. Thus, ramen hit the world stage.

In the 1980s, as Japan’s economy began to boom, an influx of office workers and laborers needed quick, nourishing lunch options. A new wave of ramen shops opened across the county, many of which were helmed by young, ambitious chefs who helped elevate ramen from belly-filling street food to a new culinary art form.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this culinary exploration of ramen. And if you love exploring global cuisines and food culture, check out the ZENB blog, where we cover topics like Japanese winter holiday traditions, vibrant global flavors, and reducing food waste. To sharpen your cooking chops, dive into the ZENB recipe collection, packed with 150+ plant-fueled dishes to explore. Follow ZENB on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest for plenty of tips and tricks on cultivating a balanced lifestyle.

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