Food & Culture

Japanese Ramen vs. American Ramen

Sushi in the United States is an Americanized version of Japanese sushi, and so is the ramen. It is often touted to be “Japanese” or “ramen,” but it is as Japanese as Gwen Stefani (“I Said, ‘My God, I’m Japanese'”).

Originally posted on February 29th, ’20, updated on June 29th, ’23

Pizza Hut (I-talian), Panda Express (Americanized Chinese food), poke (mainland haole pooky), and Taco Bell (the Mitla Cafe in San Bernadino), all loosely based on the native dishes they are inspired by. They are Americanized versions that many of us love, like me, “Mmmh, mmh, mmh good, my Taco Bell Mexican Pizza, I love Italian food.”

Taco Bell is an Americanized version of Mexican food and got voted the *most popular Mexican restaurant in the United States. That same poll, I bet Wienerschnitzel got voted the best German food.

* The Harris Poll “Taco Bell is America’s Favorite Mexican Restaurant
Photo Description: a composite pic of what I deem as American ramen. The bowl has enoki, spinach, bok choy, radish, corn, carrots, shiitake, egg, and a million other ingredients.
In Murica, I call this the vegetarian Murican bukkake bowl, it’s like sooooo oriental.

Travel the World Through Your Stomach

If you only had Pizza Hut or a Taco Bell, you might be wondering to yourself about the authenticity of your food. Thoughts of every time I bite into a nacho cheese Doritos locos taco or a slice of BBQ bacon cheeseburger with stuffed crust cheese pizza, is this reminiscent of Hidalgo, Mexico, or Naples, Italy. If you thought that, like Cypher in The Matrix, ignorance is bliss.

The context to this blog post is about Japanese restaurant-style ramen, not the instant kind. The instant kind is Japanese, but it is nothing like the Japanese restaurant version, which like many things Japanese, has been elevated.

The boom of ramen came out of post World War 2 when Japan had received food aid in the form of wheat, which were made into ramen noodles. This is what inspired Momofuku Ando to invent instant ramen (you can read all about in “The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze” (Volume 49) (California Studies in Food and Culture) First Edition, 1 by George Stolt.

Looking back, I can agree with Cypher, although I knew my Mexican pizza was not Mexican, and my favorite go-to item, the Enchirito, was in that same sushi boat (the Enchirito, topped off with three black olives, yes, I’m OG).

I still love these bastardized items, but I call them what they are. American goodness at its finest.

Now, onto Americans’ worst.

Americanized Ramen

Many restaurants outside of coastal cities and rural areas have been developing an Americanized style ramen heavily influenced by American vegan and vegetarian food influencers.

With so many influencers throughout social media looking for clout and likes, ramen has taken on a very American style, especially from the vegan and vegetarian community. So fish/seafood, chicken, and pork stock/fat became a medley of vegetables such as radish, carrots, and enoki mushrooms not typically found in Japanese ramen.

I think influencers thought wood ear are mushrooms, so any other mushroom that sounds “Asiany” would work as a substitute. They don’t use wood ear because they don’t go to Asian markets where it’s plentiful.
Photo Description: the Google results image results page when you Google "ramen recipes." Every pic has a ton of ingrediennts, but they especially like Chinese bok choi and shiitake mushrooms.

Google “ramen recipes” (I clicked on images to give you a visual).

Asians get lumped together as one homogenous group, so you will see Chinese (bok choy), Korean (sesame oil to seeds), and Thai (sriracha to chili’s) style ingredients all dumped in and touted as “ramen.”

To further compound the Americanization of ramen, some non-Asian Americans will not know the difference between Thailand and Taiwan, or knowing where Korea is, and if Beijing is the capital of Tokyo.

Typical American Ramen Traits cuz Murica

From Colorado to Ohio restaurants are serving up American ramen from $10-$18 with an average price of about $13.

  • Instant soup stock sold by a food distributor
  • Noodles (not necessarily ramen noodles, any noodle cuz what’s the difference)
  • Enoki and shiitake mushrooms
  • Bok choy
  • Raw spinach
  • Corn
  • Julienned carrots to add color
  • Sliced radish
  • Edamame cuz Asian
  • Poached or hard boiled egg (this is what makes it ramen bro)
  • Beni shoga (pickled ginger)
  • Sesame seeds (black or white sesame seeds)
  • Use of pork, beef, and shrimp

As long as you include “Asiany” looking or sounding ingredients, or use the logic of “do Japanese people eat edamame? They do, I should add it to ramen,” you are good to go. Also, for food influencer/cooks, extra points go towards making the bowl look colorful.

If you want to experience what real Japanese ramen is like that has spurred on its popularity in the US, I have a list of the 18 most common Japanese ramen toppings.

Most American food producers do not know that ramen does not mean instant noodle, and that it is a specific type of Japanese noodle made up of wheat flour, purified water, salt and kansui (which is sodium carbonate, and potassium carbonate).

Here is my link to the full article on 11 noodle producers claiming to do ramen. Some are faking it till they make it (making it, meaning they figure out what ramen is), but Sun Noodles pictured below has it all figured out, and it is where you will want to go for ramen.
That yellow hue is due to the kansui, not cuz Asian and it is what makes ramen noodles, ramen noodles.

Japanese Ramen

This is Japanese ramen from Japan and also Japanese ramen chains in the United States (primarily in large coastal cities, mainly in LA, SF, PNW, and NY).

Just like a hamburger, Japanese ramen has it’s core ingredients of green onion, fermented bamboo shoots, and toasted seaweed (for soy sauce or fish based broths).

If you are an American, we know based on where we live, what to expect on a burger although lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and mustard are the standards.
Andrew aka Ramen Beast knows whats up.

Want to learn more about Japanese ramen, follow Andrew @ramen_beast on Instagram.

The regional broth styles of RAMEN IS THE STAR OF THE SHOW and commonly made from pork, chicken, or seafood/fish stock, and you will not find the recipes online.

Generalizing, it’s miso/shio in the North, shoyu in Tokyo, and the South/Kyushu for pork/tonkotsu.

Tonkotsu (pork stock), shio (salt flavoring), shoyu (soy sauce flavoring), tori paitan/chintan (stock), to miso (flavoring) ramen.

The Epitomized Japanese Ramen Traits

In Japan, Japanese restaurants offer up ramen priced as low as $6 to $12 with an average of $9 (affordable for the everyday salaryman).

  • Multi-hour crafted stocks from fish/seafood, pork, and chicken
  • Ramen noodles, various styles
  • Tare (soup flavoring) of salt, miso, and soy sauce
  • Aromatic fat/oil
  • Menma (fermented bamboo shoots)
  • Negi (green onions)
  • Ajitama (soy sauce marinated soft boiled egg)
  • Chashu (braised pork)
Photo Description: Japanese ramen from Menya Shono.
A light stock, light onions, with what looks like a little citrus/acidity from the kabosu. Image by Mensho Tokyo

Even Michelin Starred ramen in Japan will run you $9 to $14 (try finding that level of quality at an affordable price anywhere else).

Ramen is also like a burger in Japan as staple food and it’s priced accordingly.

Even the Michelin starred ramen restaurants and the most popular restaurants start at $8 for a solid bowl of ramen.

Photo Description:
An unctuous deeply pork flavored stock (tonkotsu) with a layer of pork fat skimming the surface from Ichiran. Image by my go to people, City Foodsters

Japanese ramen is all about “less is more” and focuses on quality above all else, and many of the top restaurants produce their own stock to noodles and some of the toppings themselves. Not to mention utilizing locally sourced ingredients.

Regional styles vary from tonkotsu (Kyushu/Southern Japan), shoyu (Tokyo), miso ramen (Hokkaido/Northern Japan), to a number of other styles spread throughout Japan like Kitakata style from the Tohoku region.

Food in Japan is just as regional as a lobster is to Maine, or Texmex is to the Southwest, or “Philly” being attached to a cheesesteak.
Photo Description:
Yuzu shio ramen at Afuri, Japan. Image by the City Foodsters

In an upcoming post, I may go further in depth on the differences between American and Japanese ramen.

I get Gwen Stefani because she is into the culture, but unlike one person who does not get it and cites the above as “idealism.” I say, “Sure, buddy, but it is called culture.” It’d be like saying we Americans don’t innovate. Yeah, not all of it is good on the food side, but there is good. The internet (Kahn/Cerf), Google, Apple, Facebook, music and entertainment (the Harajuku Girls), our ideals, and through pop culture, Americans dominate.

This happened over a decade ago, but I say Gwen was primarily cultural appreciation, and she may have said some off comments, but overall she’s good in my book.

Want to read about American vs. Japanese Ramen in Vietnamese? Check out Ngo Linh’s Blog, along with the original source by Felix Behr.

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Americanized food happens like Taco Bell happened due to segregation, but the Americanization of ramen happened due to vegans.


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