Ramen culture quickly spread all over Japan, and ramen noodle dishes unique to local regions emerged throughout the country. For example, in the Hakata region (Kyushu Island, which is south of Japan), one of the most famous ramen dishes is Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen (an emulsified and rich pork bone soup with thin and hard noodles.) In Sapporo (the largest city in Hokkaido, the most Northern Island), Sapporo Ramen is unique with curly relatively thick, yellow noodles in miso-flavoured soup, typically featuring corn and a piece of butter. The richness, saltiness, flavor and other characteristics of soup as well as the size and texture of the noodles vary dramatically from region to region. Because there are variations even within the same region (for example, from shop to shop), a lot of details are necessary when talking about a particular type of ramen. So when you tell us what type(s) of ramen you want to make, please give us as many details as you can.
The flour used for ramen noodle is predominantly wheat flour with high protein content (usually between 10-13%). There are many variations of ramen noodles from different ingredients, to shape, size, texture, colour and flavour.
Ramen noodles can largely be categorized into three types by the amount of water added to flour in mixing when making dough. The texture tends to be softer as more water/liquid is contained. Low water ratio noodles (25-31% to the weight of flour) tend to be hard in texture and thin in size. Medium water ratio noodles (32% – 39%) tend to be relatively soft and medium in size. High water ratio noodles (over 40%) tends to be soft and chewy, similar to udon noodle. The softer the texture, the bigger the size of noodle tends to be, and vice versa.
Modifying a few percentages of water ratio would make a big difference in texture. There can be unlimited number of variations.
Udon has a long history in Japan. There are many theories when people started eating udon, but one thing we can be sure about it is it has been around for hundreds of years in Japan. Over the years it has slowly evolved and many variations of udon emerged in different places throughout Japan. Some of these regional udon noodles got popular nationally, and a few of them even globally. The most famous and popular udon of all is called, “Sanuki Udon”. “Sanuki” is an ancient name for Kagawa prefecture where this noodles became popular. Typically, Sanuki udon tends to be thick in size and very chewy in texture. The color is white, and the length tends to be long. Some big restaurant chains featurin this type of udon have opened locations that grew in popularity overseas. Because of its unique texture, production of good udon noodle requires a process, called aging/resting to optimize the condition of dough.
Udon noodles served in hot soup, which is generally made from fish ingredients (dry sardine, kelp ) and kaeshi, which is typically soy sauce seasoned and aged.
Udon noodles served cold with special dipping sauce. As this style of udon noodles are typically chilled with ice, the texture becomes hard, which requires the noodles to be cooked longer than other dishes..
Udon noodles served hot with special dipping sauce. Udon noodles, although typically washed after being cooked to rub off starch from the surface, are served without washing for this type of udon because the noodles are served in the water they were cooked in. This also makes kama-age udon the quickest cooking udon.
Udon noodles are served either cold or hot with a separate special sauce. Customers pour the sauce over the noodles and stir before eating. This is relatively new and popular for its simplicity.
Among the dishes enjoyed by the people during the Edo period included broiled eel, sushi and tempura, but their consumption did not compare to that of soba and none of them were as widely and frequently eaten throughout the year. Soba was popular not only among the general public but also with the feudal lords. Judging from the fact that it made an appearance in a variety of literature including haikus and senryus (satirical poems), it is clear that soba had become pervasive and added an amusing element to the peoples’ lives.
Sobakiri, prepared by kneading buckwheat flour with water, came to be called soba for short. The noodle form of soba actually appeared before 1590 when Ieyasu Tokugawa was compelled to move to the Kanto region and took possession of the Edo Castle.
Waterwheel mills, which offered a revolutionary process to the manufacturing of flour products, became common during the Edo period. In addition to the increase in the planting of buckwheat crops under the Cultivation Promotion, a variety of factors such as the drastic growth in productivity due to the development of waterwheel mills and improvement in soba kneading technologies supported the foundation for the increased soba consumption.
White-coloured sarashina soba is produced by using refined flour prepared with the center part of the seeds.
By including more of the part closer to the husks, soba becomes darker. There are also some special kinds of soba in which powdered tea or yuzu are added to the dough. It is interesting to see the different styles of craftsmanship in the varieties of soba. In addition to cut soba, there is a number of ways to enjoy the flavors of buckwheat in Japan, including sobagaki (buckwheat dumplings) and oyaki (pan-fried buns).