Food & Culture

The 18 Most Common/Authentic Japanese Ramen Toppings

Japanese ramen broths have complementary toppings versus being a total topping bukkakefest which uses every possible topping to make it #gramworthy (colorful).

Updated November 20th, 2021, January 16th, 2022, and July 23, ’23

This is a generalized breakdown that will give you a basic idea of the regional styles and the traditional ramen toppings that would go with the varying broths (the star of the show):

There are currently 3 Michelin Starred ramen restaurants in Japan that exemplify Japan’s culture and dedication to their craft (yea, these are not the recipes by food influencers with no BOH experience).

The point is, ramen in Japan has been elevated beyond instant ramen.
Photo Description: a ramen bowl with the traditional ramen toppings in the bowl. The toppings include chashu (pork), menma (fermented bamboo shoots), aonegi (green onions), and ajitama (marinated egg).
Toppings complement the broth like fluffers to the main star (the broth). Image once again by the City Foodsters

When people Google “ramen recipes,” every food influencer and blogger seems to have their Chinese bok choy and shiitake “ramen recipe.” Except, there is a big difference between Japanese ramen and Americanized ramen, just like in Japan, there is no Jessica Albacore roll.

The TL;DR (Too Long Didn’t Read)

Don’t care to scroll or read through it all, well here you go, all in one list:

Each regional style has a usual their usual suspects when it comes to toppings, and further below I cite which toppings go with which styles like boiled spinach in iekei ramen from Yokohama.

Like in the US, a Chicago dog comes with yellow mustard, neon-green sweet pickle relish, chopped white onion, tomato slices, a dill pickle spear, pickled sport peppers and celery salt.
  1. Menma (Shio/Shoyu Bamboo Shoots)
  2. Negi (Green Onions)
  3. Ajitama/Nitamago/Hanjuku Tamago (Flavored Egg/Boiled-Egg)
  4. Chashu: tontoro (Pork Cheek/Shoulder) to Kakuni (Pork Belly)
  5. Various Types of Chashu: Chicken, Beef, Duck, etc.
  6. Kikurage (Wood ear Mushrooms)
  7. Iwa Nori (Seaweed)
  8. Naruto or Kamaboko (Fish Cake)
  9. Tamanegi (Diced Onions)
  10. Ninniku (Freshly Grated to Mayu/Garlic Oil)
  11. Moyashi (Bean Sprouts)
  12. Kyabetsu (Cabbage)
  13. Kizami/Beni Shōga (Pickled Ginger)
  14. Karashi Takana (Spicy Pickled Mustard Greens)
  15. Horenso (Boiled Spinach)
  16. n (Corn)
  17. Batā (Butter)
  18. Wontons (Dumplings)

American ramen is highly influenced by vegan and vegetarian food influencers, so a ton of raw vegetables and mushrooms are used, especially if they sound “Asiany,” like enoki and shiitake.

The broth/soup is the star (it’s the first thing I take a sip of), although ramen contains these five components: broth, noodles, tare (flavoring), aromatics (fat is flavor), and toppings.

Most Americanized ramen places buy instant soup stock which is typically only tonkotsu (pork bone).

Types of Ramen Broth/Soup

  • Tonkotsu (pork bone)
  • Tori chintan/paitan (chicken stock)
  • Gyokai (fish/seafood stock) several types and blends from niboshi to bonito.

Types of Ramen Flavoring

  • Shio (salt)
  • Shoyu (soy sauce)
  • Miso (fermented soy beans)

Aromatic Oil (Fat)

  • Good ole lard (that layer of “skin” if you let your ramen cool), and if you have ever gotten some good instant noodles, it’s that white squishy stuff packet in the baller ramen. It’s what makes your ramen and face glisten, but also fat is flavor. It is also a key flavor component. When it is rendered, it is infused with garlic, onion, ginger, fish, to green onion (thank the Chinese for everything, but especially for Hainnanese scallion oil).
Fatworks fat: lard and schmaltz which are available in smaller to pail sizes.
I sought Fatworks because they are the ideal company for any ramen head/otaku preparing ramen, and I have a full blog post on them.

These are the regional toppings and pairings you will find throughout Japan and there are no enoki mushrooms or carrots like Americanized ramen (vegan, vegetarian food influencers and bloggers out for the likes/clout are not doing Japanese ramen).

Typically most Americanized ramen use ingredients that sound Japanese, but are not used as toppings. The most common are Japanese sounding mushrooms like enoki or shiitake vs. kikurage (wood ear mushrooms).

Core Japanese ramen toppings (Generalization)

Like a burger, the standards are typically lettuce, tomato, onions, and a pickle, the same goes for Japanese ramen.

  • Negi (diced green onions)
  • Menma (fermented bamboo shoots)
  • Nori (toasted seaweed)
  • Chashu (thin cuts of braised pork)

Types of ramen in the United States

Ramen is a type of noodle served with a pork, chicken, or fish stock, which is not commonplace because most Japanese noodle dishes are in a fish stock. Unfortunately, many American brands do not know that and simply think ramen means “instant noodles.”

  1. Japanese ramen chains from Japan: Santouka, Ikkousha, to Rakkan.
  2. American-based Japanese ramen: JINYA, Daikokuya, Tsujita, to Shin Sen Gumi.
  3. Instant Japanese American ramen: Sun Noodles.
  4. Americanized ramen: any number of spots popping up throughout the US.
  5. Instant Japanese ramen: from Maruchan, Sanyo Foods, to Nissin.
  6. Instant American noodles (marketed as ramen, but some of these producers think pho is ramen): Mikes Mighty Good, One Culture Foods, to Public Goods.

It looks like my list has inspired other lists, so I have updated this list (12/18/2020) to include some of my experience doing ramen pop-ups.

In Japan, less is more

As a general rule of thumb for Japanese ramen toppings, less is more (as in number of ingredients because Jiro style is a shit ton of one or two toppings).

A burger often comes with lettuce, tomato, and onions, and there is also a ramen equivalent. The core toppings are 1. negi (green onions) and 2. menma (fermented bamboo shoots) with 3. nori (seaweed is typically paired with shoyu/gyokai flavorings) rounding it out.

Can you dump other American sounding ingredients onto you burger? Yes, like ranch dressing, mayo, Hot Cheetos, and more? American tastes are usually more is better.
Photo Description: this is a picture of the infamous Hakata ramen by Ichiran. The bowls toppings are very minimal and they include chashu, egg, green onion, and their red chili.
Ichiran, Hakata/Fukuoka style tonkotsu ramen is the plain Jane of ramen because it’s all about that pork broth. My goto people for imagery City Foodsters

I’m not claiming “7 or 50 of the top ramen toppings” because that is silly AF (this is just what is traditionally used in Japanese ramen)

This is not the end all, be all toppings list, but it is a list of what you will traditionally find in Japan or around the world at any legit ramen-ya. After all, you can throw corn, bok choy, corn, and squid on a thick crust, deep-dish pizza and call it a New York style pizza if everybody you’re serving it to is none the wiser.

Americanized ramen uses a lot of generic soup bases supplied by massive food distribution companies (it’s like the fries and mozzarella sticks, all out of a freezer bag), so the broth is not the star of the show (so you get the bukkakefest of toppings that puts most JAV to shame)

Photo Description: Afuri ramen in Japan, along with locations in the U.S. on the west coast. This bowl has nori, menma, hanjuku egg, chashu, and what looks to be mitsuba or mizuna in it.
Yuzu shio ramen at Afuri, Japan. Image by the City Foodsters

You can add anything you want to ramen, but these are the core toppings you would find in Japanese restaurant ramen

As ramen continues to develop, a number of non-traditional toppings are starting to show up although this list is a good base for producing a ramen that reflects the flavors and culture of Japan.

Menma (Shio/Shoyu Bamboo Shoots)

Used often in: all types of ramen broths

Photo Description: Japanese fermented bamboo shoots in a blue bowl with a flower print. The strips of bamboo or lightest yellow in color.
Seeing menma in ramen is like the 80’s and seeing Ron Jeremy. Image by DryPot via CC

Below I have included places to buy ramen toppings, but when it comes to menma, there is a only few varieties or types to choose from unfortunately. Except, what there is available, this is the one ingredient you need to try, especially if you are doing a shoyu ramen.

Negi (Green Onions)

Used often in: all types of ramen broths

Photo Description: huge stalks of Tokyo negi, green onions. You can clearly see the white scallion part of the stalk to the green tops.
The most common and a must for ramen. Image by Bert Kimura

For my soy sauce dashi for soba, I use only the white parts although for tonkotsu, I used the green end of the green onion.

Ajitama/Nitamago/Hanjuku Tamago (Flavored Egg/Boiled-Egg)

Used often in: all types of ramen broths

Photo Description: in a squarish bowl a half-cooked egg is cut in half. It looks like an ajitama which is a marinated egg. The golden orangish color of the yolks looks almost gelatinous.
As good as it gets when it comes to egg porn. Image by Guilhem Vellut

To make it easy on you, this style of egg goes by so many names and the translation for ajitama just means flavored egg. Tama and tamago is egg, and nitamago and hanjuku is the preparation which is half-cooked which also is why you might hear “lava egg.”

Chashu (Pork Shoulder to Cheek) to Kakuni (Pork Belly)

Used often in: all types of ramen

Photo Description: the very iconic side plate of ramen toppings from Santouka ramen. The plate consists of tontoro or pork cheek. The other ingredients are kikurage ramen, negi, menma, naruto, and umeboshi (plum)
The tontoro at Santouka is a must and this is the same cut of pork as guanciale (pork cheek).

Tontoro can often be found at yakiniku restaurants, and of course as chashu at the other infamous LA ramen chain, Santouka.

Various Types of Chashu: Chicken, Beef, Duck, etc.

Used often in: all types of broths

Photo Description: this fabulous and succulent piece of duck chashu is from Mensho ramen in SF. I am holding it up with chopsticks and you can see the fatty layer of the duck breast.
Oh you succulent piece of duck and it only took an hour of waiting in line at Mensho SF.

Not to be confused with Chinese char siu which is Chinese BBQ pork. Japanese cha shu is typically always braised or nowadays done sous vide. If you want a listing of all the various cuts, types of meat (pork belly to shoulder), to preparation, you can check out my dedicated chashu post.

Kikurage (Wood ear Mushrooms)

Used often in: all types of broths

Photo Description: a zaru or bamboo plate has a bunch of fresh kikurage placed atop the place, along with some sort of spruce looking garnish. The wood ear mushrooms look really fresh with a very nice sheen.
Every vegan wannabe instafamous “chef” must think shiitake and enoki are substitutes, but they are not. Image used under CC.

The quality of kikurage has been a challenge for me because the thin strips I like so much, suck. So when buying kikurage, I buy the fresh stuff which comes whole like the above picture.

Iwa Nori (Seaweed)

Used often in: shoyu, tonkotsu/iekei, paitan

Photo Description: nori or seaweed. There are two types depicted which are strips for small bite size portions to the larger sheets used for handrolls and makizushi.
Do you have an eye for seaweed? Image by Alice Wiegand, (Lyzzy)

When it comes to seaweed (nori), there is a Korean seaweed which is not as smooth as Japanese nori and it has a more rustic look. Although if you are buying for Japanese ramen, please keep in mind that Korean seaweed often comes coated with an oil (often sesame oil) to salt which can tweak the taste of your ramen.

Naruto or Kamaboko (Fish Cake)

Used often in: shoyu, paitan, miso, shio

Photo Description: naruto or fish cake is whitish in color and has a pinkish red swirl in the middle. The outside shape has a "flower" like shape when cut perpendicular.
Yea, there is an anime character with the same name. Image by Mitsuwa Marketplace.

When it comes to soy sauce or fish flavored stocks, the tip off is seeing naruto in it.

Tamanegi (Diced Onions)

Used often in: all types of ramen broths

Photo Description: in a brownish round plate, a pile of diced white onions.
Ay guey, cebolla is not just for your tacos homie. Image by Steven Depolo

For heavy broths or soy sauce forward broths, white onions go great with the broth, and if you are doing a birria ramen, it’s a must.

Ninniku (Freshly Grated to Mayu/Garlic Oil)

Used often in: tonkotsu, Jiro style

Photo Description: two fresh garlic bulbs and a number of garlic cloves are shown unpeeled.
My coworkers know when I had tonkotsu ramen because I go H.A.M. with garlic. Image by Kjokkenutstyr Net

My go to ingredient for tonkotsu ramen and I douse it with minced, “mayu” (burnt garlic), to fried garlic chips.

Moyashi (Bean Sprouts)

Used often in: tonkotsu, Jiro style, miso

Photo Description: Plate of mung bean sprouts or moyashi in Japanese. The plate is round white plate with a gold trim. The moyashi is piled on top in large mound.
This ingredient can spoil so quickly, so if you buy it, be sure to use it that day. Image by Frank C. Muller, CC

The infamous Daikokoya in Japantown Los Angeles utilizes moyashi to Jiro style ramen contains tons of it although my favorite has been in a savory spicy miso ramen.

Kyabetsu (Cabbage)

Used often in: tonkotsu, Jiro style

Photo Description: several heads of whole cabbage.
I love corn beef and cabbage which is why this ingredient is common place to me. Image by F Delventhal

Cabbage in Japan is use on a number of dishes from okonomiyaki, tonkatsu as a side salad, a salad, to Jiro style ramen – you won’t find salad greens in ramen like vegan and American style ramen tends to do.

Kaiware (Radish Sprouts)

Used often in: shio

Photo Description: glass jars in a cute little metal basket with a wooden handle. In the jars look to be radish sprouts being kept fresh in the jars which must have water at the bottom for the roots to feed off of.
Japanese food is subtle on flavors. Image by Kuromeri

Almost on the decorative end although with a delicate shio broth, the taste of a few radish sprouts set the flavor of the bowl off.

Kizami/Beni Shōga (Pickled Ginger)

Used often in: tonkotsu

Photo Description: kizami or beni shoga. The strips of red pickled ginger are in a small square bowl with blue trim.
I love beni shoga in my gyudon, but in ramen, even Hakata style, I don’t use it.

In Hakata style ramen, they have it placed on the side, but at most Americanized noodle restaurants, they place it directly in the bowl.

Karashi Takana (Spicy Pickled Mustard Greens)

Used often in: tonkotsu (Hakata style), tsukemen

Photo Description: a white round plate with pickled mustard greens are sitting in the bowl in a mound shape. The mustard greens are a dark green in color.
I eat takana with a number of foods. Image by the City of Fukuoka, Japan

For one of my ramen pop-ups, if you want to make spicy takana, all you have to do is add cayenne to it although in the picture it looks like they used a Thai chili?

Horenso (Boiled Spinach)

Used often in: shoyu, tonkotsu/iekei

Photo Description: fresh spinach leaves and the stems can be seen here. Slight moisture can be seen on the leaves.
If you are looking for things to add to ramen, at least spinach is Popeye approved. Image by Edsel Little, CC

The spinach is not tossed in fresh, but it is boiled. If you are not sure how that is, you can look up ohitashi which is another very popular Japanese dish you can prepare.

n (Corn)

Used often in: miso (the Hokkaido region is a sweet corn producer)

Photo Description: stalks of corn in the husk are bunched together. A few of the stalks, the husks are whisked open to show the white kernels of corn.
In Murica, corn is put in all types of ramen cuz Murica bro. Image by Simon Lei

This has got to be one of the most popular ingredients for American ramen, but in Japanese ramen, it is nowhere near as popular although like Americanized Mexican food, a Doritos taco loco is not on every street corner in Mexico.

Batā (Butter)

Used often in: miso (the Hokkaido region is a milk producer)

Photo Description: this is a shot of blue and white plate with a block of butter that looks like it has melted on the plate.
Back in the day, “the early 2000’s”, I remember having butter in ramen over in the SGV. Image by Sarah Laval, CC

Another ingredient like corn that is utilized in the Tohoku region (Northern region of Japan) to promote locally produced ingredients.

Wontons (Dumplings)

Used often in: shio

Photo Description: this is very nicely shot picture of a bowl of ramen. There is one large white bowl and 3 smaller bowls. In the main bowl is ramen with dumplings, ramen, and what looks like gai lan.
Better recognize ramens origins. Image by the Intercontinental Hong Kong, CC

Ramen has Chinese origins, so it should not be a surprise to find Chinese dumplings in it.

Japanese ramen toppings, not Americanized vegan instant ramen

There’s a number of other ingredients like umeboshi (pickled plum) on top of Santouka’s shio ramen that I love to chili threads that are used on tantan men to miso ramen. This list goes on and on from pork back fat in Jiro style ramen to a number of other ingredients that a number of you can cite that I probably overlooked (feel free to comment), but like I said, this is a list to highlight what you would find in Japan.

Now that you know the toppings, this is where to buy authentic Japanese ramen toppings

I myself have had a hard time finding places to buy legit ramen toppings at a reasonable price, but here are the “Brands and Where to Buy Authentic Japanese Ramen Toppings and Bowls.

As a Japanese American, this is my list.
Photo Description: Momoya menma is packaged in a glass jar which has a gold and red label with Japanese kana.
This is not the best of the best, but it is a small game changer for having your ramen taste Japanese because this is the real deal.

42 regional ramen styles illustrated by Fanny Chu

If you are not in a state or a country that understands ramen, you will probably get all the ingredients tossed all in which does not yield a proper Japanese ramen. So if you want to taste “less is more,” get this poster by Fanny Chu because a lot of work went into it. Not to mention being able to appreciate and respect the regional varieties she researched and illustrated.

Photo Description: a poster by Fanny Chu of the 42 regional varieties of ramen that spans throughout Japan. The poster has the text "ramen, illustration to spread ramen love." All the varieties have illustrations of each variety.
This poster is why I want to travel more, to eat.
sharing is caring
Don’t share your ramen because they need to get their own bowl, but be sure to share this article because vegan food influencers aren’t doing anyone any favors.
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