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What the heck is ramen and why should you care?

This humble Japanese dish is taking over the food world, one slurp at a time.

by: Tessa Purdon | 18 Aug 2016

Not long ago the restaurant scene in South Africa didn’t offer much in the way of different world cuisines. Sure – you would have come across a grimy Chinese spot here and an Italian there… but fast-forward to 2016 and you’ll see just by looking at our restaurant section alone, that we’ve become far more exposed to international cuisines than ever before.

We can order a Reuben sandwich at the American-style diner, Clarkes in Cape Town, or a spicy corn taco at the Mexican-inspired El Burro Taqueria. Feel like a touch of authentic Portuguese? Head to newly opened Selva in Joburg and pop into Momo Baohaus in Greenside for some tasty Thai street food. I’m just dying for a Vietnamese spot to open up soon!

But right now, ramen is the name of the game with little ramen bars slowly emerging like mushrooms after a heavy rain, giving us an exotic taste of Japan. But why ramen, you might ask. And what is it?

Simply put – ramen is a deep bowl of noodles in a soupy broth that was for decades, the staple food of the Japanese working class. Sounds a bit boring right? Well here’s the catch – each ingredient that goes into a ramen bowl is painstaking prepared to ensure a rich and concentrated bowl of deliciousness and those in the know say it's pretty addictive. I'm guessing it has something to do with all the rich umami flavours going on.

There are 4 main components to a bowl of ramen:

1. Soup
This is the broth and can be made from animal bones like pork, chicken or fish. It’s made over a long period of time (a few days) allowing all the flavour goodness of the bones to be extracted.

2. Noodles
There are many varieties of noodles that can be used with the most common being wheat noodles, egg noodles or soba noodles.

3. Tare
This refers to the specific flavouring added to the broth – which could be miso, soy sauce or rice wine vinegar to name a few.

4. Toppings
Here’s where things get magical, and the toppings are what truly give a bowl of ramen that Instagrammable quality. Anything from seaweed and boiled eggs to sliced pork, beef or chicken gives the ramen bowl its oomph.

Keen to try your hand at ramen? Give this pork belly and shiitake ramen recipe a go! Or simply pop into the following ramen hotspots to see what all the fuss is about:

Cape Town

Downtown Ramen

Three Wise Monkeys


Mooki Noodle Bar


Warm and Glad


If all else fails, there's bound to be a Spur nearby.


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