What Makes Ramen So Damn Good?
Warning: serious food porn ahead
There’s this scene that comes to mind whenever I dip my chopsticks into a bowl of piping hot ramen. It’s from a 1985 Japanese film called Tampopo, where an elderly ramen master teaches his protégé how to appreciate a bowl of the stuff.
Look, I know it’s a lot of theatrics. Observe the bowl? Caress the surface? Naysayers may not see the point of taking in what could be a bowlful of gastronomic perfection before plunging right in, but a dish so carefully crafted ought to be received with as much love as it was made with. Ramen is an art, ramen is an experience.
This train of thought sparked this mini ramen-centric exploration of sorts. Why do the people who like it, like it so much? What makes a bowl of ramen worthy of mastering a slurp technique? What kind of magic lies interspersed between those spoonfuls of broth and whirls of noodles that leaves people charmed and hungry for more?
To get a general idea, we asked a diverse group of ramen enthusiasts to rank which elements of the dish are most important. Behold, the average consensus:
But that’s barely scratching the surface—or in the words of Tampopo’s ramen master, caressing it. We savor this study a little more and dip our chopsticks a little deeper. Read on for full disclosure (just don’t blame us for any consequential cravings.)
RELATED: 10 Rules to Eat By
When it comes to ramen, what matters most?
“It all boils down to umami and the richness of the broth. The broth has to be in perfect harmony with the doneness of the noodle and the toppings served with it to create the perfect balance.” –John F.
“The experience when eating the combination of the ingredients.” –Glen G.
“The taste. How the broth is of a particular warmth, taste, spice, richness; how well it’s seasoned; how the umami is just right. The protein is tender and adds another layer of flavor, completing the perfect mix of flavors.” –Rousselle P.
“There’s a certain flavor I look for. To me, the best ramen makes me feel whole. I am most particular about the broth! I love when it’s a little milky and that it has the right amount of richness.” –Aaliyah R.
“It’s the noodles x broth combo.” –Maureen M.
Let’s talk favorites. What’s the best ramen you’ve ever tried?
“Genya’s Pirikara and Mendokoro’s Karai Tsukemen.” –Dep D.P.
“Ajisen ramen in Tokyo! I loved it because, obviously, the ramen was extremely good. It didn’t stop there though—I guess it was also the experience of being in Japan. The Ajisen branch I went to also had the “antisocial”/private booths so that was fun.” –Tamia R.
“Ramen Daisho tonkotsu ramen. The broth is delicious and not oily.” –Dan C.
“Shoyu Ramen from a small shop in Shinjuku, Tokyo.” –Tony T.
“The best ramen I’ve ever tried would be from two places. I had the ramen with the best broth at Ramen Daisho! Their Tonkotsu ramen is so packed with flavor. With regards to the best ramen with the beat noodles, it’s the infamous Mendokoro Ramenba hands down. The noodle thickness is just right, and it’s not too hard nor soft. They prepare them in front of you, too. ” –Shaunna P.
“Ukkokei Ramen Ron, Yamazaki, RioZen. Because I’m half Japanese, I have high standards for ramen. Those are a few restaurants that have the best ramen for me (plus the owners are Japanese… not sure about Ukkokei though). I love eating in those restaurants because the quality of the noodles is good and the soup/broth is perfectly made.” –Cece M.
RELATED: Who’s That Guy: Daniel Mabanta
One last thing: why ramen?
“I don’t think anyone can dislike ramen. There is a perfect bowl of ramen for everyone out there. It’s just that they haven’t found the right one for them yet.” –Chin Q.
“It’s soul food. Lemme take you out. :)” –Rousselle P.
“Eating ramen is an experience in itself. Rich savory broth, freshly-cooked noodles and delightful toppings–all of these in a bowl bursting with flavor.” –JP S.
“I love ramen because of the combination of the warm broth, the chewy noodles and the wide range of toppings that complements its rich flavor. Somehow, for some odd reason, it just tastes like home to me.” –Celina C.
“Actually, I was a huge ramen hater a few years ago. Every time my family would dine at a ramen joint, I’d insist on ordering from a different restaurant instead of having a bowl to myself. However, I have finally understood what everyone has been raving about. Picture fresh-cooked noodles, with a rich, savory broth, the perfect amount of spice, a few slices of pork, and a boiled egg… that’s probably what heaven in my stomach would be! Having a warm and tasty bowl of ramen is like having hot chocolate while snuggled up in bed on a cold day, or having that first sip of coffee before starting a busy day. It’s a dish that is not only filling but comforting and calming.” –Angel M.
“Ramen is a complete meal for me. All five senses are satisfied whenever I eat ramen. It’s my fave comfort food. Its umami flavor will change your palate. I can’t explain how much I love ramen but to me, eating this dish always makes me happy.” –Shaira L.
“I read something that went along the lines of this on Ippudo’s menu the first time I tried it: “Ramen is cosmos in a bowl.” –Tamia R.
Art Alexandra Lara.