While this noodle soup is inextricably linked with Japan, ramen actually originated in China. They travelled to Japan with Chinese labourers and immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, but it wasn't until the end of the Second World War when Japan had a surplus of cheap flour that ramen really took off. Today ramen is practically considered a national dish with around 30,000 ramen shops (ramen-ya) in Japan. Ramen noodles are made with flour, salt and kansui, a type of alkaline mineral water that gives their noodles their springiness.
There are four basic broth types; shio (salt), an almost clear, simple, light chicken broth; shoyu (soy sauce), which has soy sauce added to a clear stock made from chicken and vegetables; tonkotsu, a cloudy, thick broth made from pork bones boiled for hours; and miso, a more modern interpretation with fermented soy bean paste added to chicken broth.
Ramen are invariably topped with finely chopped spring onion and contain menma, fermented and pickled bamboo shoots, and meat such as sliced cha shu (simmered pork), boiled eggs marinated in soy, pickled ginger, nori, beansprouts, mushrooms, narutomaki (a kind of pressed sliced fish cake with a pink spiral) and even, these days, corn. Set aside your manners, or eat in private, because to really get the best out of ramen, they need to be eaten with unseemly haste so the noodles don't go soft or the broth tepid. Slurping is optional.
Four of the best
Taro's Ramen & Cafe
Taro's Tonkotsu is hard to beat. And often hard to finish; with a well-filled bowl defeating all but the heartiest of appetites. Quality is a watchword- there is no MSG used, noodles are hand pulled and Taro's rich, complex stocks are made on Bangalow pork. There are also shoyu and shio versions and heaps of extra toppings available, from char sui pork neck to bamboo shoots and soy-soaked soft-boiled free range eggs.
Ground level, Boeing House 363 Adelaide Street, Brisbane, 07 3832 6358
Fans of the departed Ajisen Noodles in the city will be doing a happy dance to hear that it's been reborn in the West End. The same owner has taken over this small, modest space and is managing to produce some pretty fine ramen from the tiny kitchen (then often acts as waiter too). There's "Raku" ramen, a very nice pork tonkotsu, miso and paiku ("tenderous pork ribs") as well as a probably not very kosher, but delicious nevertheless, chicken karaage. For something different, try red ramen - which comes with a scoop of OMG-spicy minced beef.
153 Boundary St, West End 07 3846 6528
There are four types of Ramen at this busy ramen-ya that usually boasts a reasonable queue; from the mild, slightly milky broth of the nagahama - a tonkatsu boiled with pork bones for 39 hours and garnished with thin slices of Australian pork and spring onions - to a darker rich miso-based broth called karaka men. Ramen all come with a side bowl of spicy pickles, and extra noodles ("Kaedama") are free if you ask for them when ordering.
Shop 27B Sunnybank Plaza, Cnr Mains Rd & McCullough St, Sunnybank, 07 3344 1313
...plus one from out of town
Ganbaranba Noodle Coloseum, Cairns
Belying its grand name, this is a modest little place that could nevertheless be serving up the best ramen in the country. First clue is the number of Japanese diners. Second is when you're asked how you prefer your noodles; firm, medium or soft. Then the food arrives. Our favourite, Ikeman Tonkotsu, is filled with barbecued pork, floating in a rich broth scented with garlic oil, the noodles cooked to springy perfection. Free jugs of iced tea and condiments on the table add to the sense of generosity.
12-20 Spence St, Cairns, 07 4031 2522
Did we miss your favourite ramen spot? Jump on the comments and share your favourite Brisbane ramen haunt.