Everyone’s favorite go-to speedy, filling, and supremely nurturing meal, ramen remains at the top of your comfort food list. Slurping up the fresh noodles, guzzling down the beautiful broth, and smacking our lips at all the fine toppings, there’s a thousand reasons to have ramen as your supper staple. When we talk about ramen, we don’t mean those crunchy curly noodles that come in a pack with a sachet of flavoring to sprinkle on top. We mean the real deal.
We know instant ramen can be quick, effortless, and easy but it just can’t compare to the nutritional value, the nurturing goodness, and the straight-up pleasure of a real noodle bowl. This doesn’t have to mean that making good quality ramen needs to be a long drawn-out process - we get it, sometimes you need that quick fix without spending hours boiling down pork bones. This is where packaged ramen can come in handy as long as you have awesome authentic noodles and a whole host of easy and essential toppings to choose from.
Types of ramen
There are four mainstay kinds of ramen but so many regional varieties. All kinds of ramen do have a few things in common though - delicious slurp-worthy noodles, a beautiful broth, and a variety of toppings to give them lashings of color, texture, and flavor too. The difference comes mostly in the choice of base for the broth as this can shake things up. Depending on the base, the broth can be clear or cloudy, salty or fresh, dark and dreamy or light. Here’s a quick intro to the main types of ramen.
Shoyu (Soy Sauce)
Shoyu ramen is the OG. As one of the first kinds of ramen out there, you know that Shoyu has big things going for it. Shoyu ramen is made primarily with a base of soy sauce. There are loads of different kinds of Shoyu out there but as a ramen base, it tends to be tangy and salty.
This is one of the lighter and clearer kinds of ramen base. The Shio ramen is normally made by boiling down chicken bones and throwing in some other salty flavors like bonito flakes, dashi, and dried sardines.
Miso (Soybean Paste)
Miso ramen comes from the Sapporo region of Hokkaido. This style of ramen uses soybean paste as its base and is super savory and full of umami flavors. As there are different kinds of miso (light, dark, red, etc) this ramen can be quite versatile. Overall it has an opaque coloring and a deep flavor.
Tonkotsu (Pork Bone)
Tonkotsu ramen is a creamy delicious dream. Originating from Fukuoka, this style of ramen is made by boiling pork bones down for hours and hours. This gives the ramen broth beautiful cloudiness and a strong meaty flavor.
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Ramen toppings are where you can really get creative and this is why we love to play around with adding color, texture, and tasty style to these magnificent noodle dishes. From a range of tender proteins to leafy greens, drizzles of different oils, and a whole host of pickled goodness - the toppings can turn your tired old ramen into a totally different and lively dish. We take a look at a whole host of toppings that are here to change the ramen game.
Thinly sliced braised pieces of pork are the ultimate ramen topping for those who want an added dose of protein. Chashu can be marinated with soy, salt, or miso. The type of cut of chashu will also impact the flavor - pork belly is the best for those who enjoy the fatty rich taste whereas the loin is a leaner choice, or you can pick Katarosu which is a blend of both. You can also top with Kakuni which is thinly sliced or cubed pork belly.
Tender, sweet, and with a slight crunch - bamboo shoots are an awesome addition to your ramen dish. You can, of course, opt for pickled bamboo shoots (menma) which are a match made in heaven for ramen, but you can also just choose regular bamboo shoots if you want a more fibrous taste that is similar in some ways to asparagus.
Packed with umami bursting flavor, sheets of seaweed are cut into strips, crumbled, or added whole to a steaming bowl of ramen. Nori has salty briny goodness and is a popular and delicious addition to any ramen dish. It brings crunch and a slight seafood edge.
For those who want their ramen to have a fresh crunch, you cannot go wrong with a bounty of bean sprouts. Bean sprouts have freshness as they boast a high water count. It’s worth noting that the more bean sprouts you add to your bowl, the more chance there is of it thinning out the broth due to the high moisture count.
Chopped green onion is always a popular cast member of the ramen show. Sprinkled over the top of the noodles, green onions bring color and a subtle grassy flavor. It’s not as intense as bulb onions that’s for sure but can bring notes of garlic, apple, and onion.
Fermented bamboo shoots are a great addition to ramen. Menma is made from a type of bamboo that grows in Southern China and Taiwan. These bamboo shoots are dried out in the sun before being fermented. It has a salty, pickled taste and a satisfying crunch.
Scallions and ramen go together like a dream. If you want to up your ramen topping game, you can also chop and char the scallions so that they release all those earthy pungent aromas and bring a smoky subtle flavor to the broth. You can use both the green and the white parts of the scallions.
Tamanegi - Onion
The Japanese word for onion is tamanegi. Tamanegi is full of umami flavors and has way more strength and depth than the green onions that are also added to ramen noodles. It’s aromatic (like garlic and ginger) that can definitely give your broth some oomph. If you want to push those taste buds even further, you can also caramelize the onions first for a honeyed smoky flavor palate.
Fish cakes bring so much flavor to ramen dishes that they are an absolute must. You can buy fish cakes in plenty of Asian grocery stores and you can choose to either chuck them into the broth or add them on the side. The fishcake will of course bring ocean elements to the dish but can also lend a slight sweetness too.
A processed seafood loaf made from a white fish paste called surimi, Kamaboko is a Japanese style fish cake that has been steamed until firm. A popular version of Kamaboko is Narutomaki which is made the same way (by steaming surumi) but has a pretty pink swirl inside it. These fishcakes have a slightly rubbery texture and a strong seafood taste.
There are tons of different types of kimchi out there. Hit up your nearest Korean food store and take your pick from fresh and spicy cucumber kimchi or the gorgeous go-to of cabbage kimchi. Kimchi brings a salty funky tang to any ramen soup and is also great for your gut.
Sesame seeds are a great way to add texture to your ramen bowl and these precious little seeds also help to elevate the taste too. Sesame seeds have a sweet and mild flavor but you can also crush or toast them to bring out a more almond taste.
Eggs are an awesome addition to any bowl of ramen. There’s something about the silky yolk of a soft-boiled egg that makes the broth extra creamy and slicks the noodles in shades of gold. You can go for a regular soft egg or you can pick a more traditional marinated egg. Ajitama is usually marinated in soy sauce, mirin or vinegar. You can also top with tamago (the Japanese style folded omelette).
If you want to turn up the heat dial on your ramen, get heavy-handed with the chili oil. Chili oil is always a winner for those who crave more spice in their noodle soups and adding it as a topping allows you to be as subtle or spicy as your taste buds like.
Negi is another popular ramen topping. Negi looks like a super long green onion and it takes its name from the Japanese for Welsh Onion. The white part of Negi is longer than your average green onion and it has a strong taste until cooked, which is when it turns slightly sweeter. The green part is used as an aromatic.
Adding a drizzle of sesame oil also adds a nice sheen to your ramen dish. Just like sesame seeds, sesame oil has a nice nutty taste and a subtle aroma. It will never overpower a ramen dish but can totally bring a gentle grace.
This Japanese condiment is an absolute joy. Made from fresh chilis and the juice of the tart yuzu fruit fermented in salt, Yuzu Kosho is all pop and power. Fresh, soaked in citrus, and with the heat of the chilis riding high, it's the secret ingredient to all kinds of noodles, soups, and simmering dishes and can elevate ramen to dizzying new heights.
Chili pepper in ramen is the perfect pick me up for those who are seeking eye streaming heat. You can chop up fresh chili peppers to scatter on top or you can look towards sansho (Japanese pepper) to get your tongue tingling and numbing in a glorious dance of deep heat.
Kikurage wood ear mushrooms
Wood ear mushrooms are one of the most popular mushrooms to add to ramen dishes. They get their name thanks to their ear-like shape and tree-like appearance. These kinds of mushrooms have a chewy bite, an earthly flavor, and are full of protein.
Shiitake mushrooms are another popular shroom to add to your ramen. Rich, buttery, and with a meaty texture, there’s plenty to love about this South Asian style fungi. The amino acid glutamate ensures that shiitake is oozing with umami and their high protein and meat like magic make them a good addition to any vegetarian style ramen.
Full of peppery spice and natural zest, radish slices work a treat when added to your ramen. They are fresh and have a great natural crunch which meshes well with the soft broth and the springy noodles.
Wakame seaweed is super nutritious and brings a briny umami flavoring to your ramen bowl. It tastes of the ocean but is free from fishiness and can be an awesome salty alternative for those vegan ramen dishes that need a little more oomph.
Miso ramen wouldn’t be complete without corn as a topping. These golden yellow nuggets of glory are great for bringing a balance of sweetness to the savory broth. Corn also brings its own texture to a bowl of ramen. If you ever buy ramen in Hokkaido, it will often come with plenty of corn.
An awesome seasoning mix that cannot be missed. Furikake is often used to spice up a bowl of rice but works equally well when tossed into ramen. The spice mix marries salt, fish flakes, seaweed, sugar, and sesame seeds too.
Fermented red pepper paste - gochujang is a staple in so much Korean cooking. Bringing together all the elements of sweet, salty, savory and spicy - gochujang can immediately lift up any broth that doesn’t have a lot of power behind it. Made from glutinous rice, salt, and meju powder, you should mix a little gochujang with rice vinegar in a bowl to give it a better consistency.
A fermented soybean paste that truly adds to the essence of so much cooking - miso paste packs a punch when it comes to salty umami flavors. Miso is made from cultured soybeans, a mold called Koji, grain and salt. It also comes in different categories - there’s light or white miso and dark or red miso too.
Tangy and sweet with a serious kick of garlic and spice, Sriracha is everyone’s fave condiment for a good reason. If you want to turn up the dial on your ramen dish or if it’s feeling a little meh and you want to give your tastebuds a shake, sriracha is a super easy go-to sauce for livening things up.
The Japanese spice blend of Togarashi is a tantalizing addition to any ramen dish. A beautiful blend of red pepper flakes, sesame seeds, seaweed, and just a hint of orange peel brings a salty, spicy, and citrus flavor mix that marries heat and zest together. It can be super spicy so use it with care.
Pickled ginger - Benishoga
Ginger brings a wholesome heat and is a great immune system booster. But pickled ginger is even better. Known as Benishoga, pickled strips of ginger, you will often find this topping on tonkotsu throughout Japan. It’s a great way of lifting the dish and adding a simmering warmth and slight tingle to the tastebuds.
Crushed or minced, garlic is always a good addition to a bowl of ramen. Garlic can be intense - especially as it's common to add it to ramen in its raw form. Raw garlic can have a spicy nutty taste and is super pungent.
A dash of lime goes super far when it comes to brightening and lifting the flavors of a dish. It works wonders in ramen as it lifts any heavy or dark salty flavors and brings balance. It also adds a lush tang that lingers on the palate.
Mitsuba is sometimes nicknamed Japanese parsley and adds a beautiful bright zesty topping to your ramen bowl. As mentioned, Mitsuba is often compared to flat-leaf parsley but is also said to share similar notes with cilantro, chervil, sorrel, and celery too.
Daikon radish shares a similar shape to a carrot. This winter root vegetable shares a similar flavor to mild red radish. It can be pickled or smashed and served raw. When served in ramen it brings a slight tang to the dish.
You can throw all kinds of green veggies in with your ramen and the results will be delicious. A handful of wilted spinach, some chopped cabbage, and even canola plant will all boost the brilliance of this dish. Green veggies bring plenty of nutritional benefits to your bowl of ramen but also add to the delights of color and texture too.
If you want to bring out the best in all those simmering flavors from a hearty bowl of Shio Tonkotsu, add some marinated leek for a lift. Part of the onion family but with a sweet and softer flavor, leek can bring depth to soups, stews, and of course ramen bowls.
Asparagus is swimming with amazing health benefits and for those who want to up their green count when it comes to ramen, it makes for a great salad topping to your steaming bowl. This is common practice in Sapporo for those health-conscious ramen slurpers.
Niki Soboro is ground meat (this can be chicken, pork, or beef). It is usually seasoned with flavorings like soy sauce and a little sugar and then fried until fry.
Shijimi Clams are believed to be an amazing natural hangover cure. The next time you have been burning the candle at both ends, add some of these freshwater clams to your ramen and let all that beautiful B12, Vitamin A, and succinic acid get to work. Along with the high level of health benefits, these clams will also bring big umami flavor, tender meat morsels, and deep flavor to your bowl.
Umeboshi (Pickled Plum)
Umeboshi are Japanese pickled plums. Legend has it that they were once given to Samurai warriors to fortify their energy levels, today they are common as a hangover cure. The name Umeboshi translates to salted plum. These pickled plums are aged for a whole year so they have that lip-puckering, sour, intense and salty flavoring. They can brighten, deepen, and bring sour notes to ramen.
Want to beef up your ramen with some delicious sides? Here are two of our favorite ramen sidekicks to say farewell to hunger…
A Japanese pan-fried dumpling is a delicious way to go when you want a side dish for your ramen. Gyoza are always glorious - first steamed and then pan-fried, you get all the goodness of tender insides and a crisp exterior. Gyoza can be stuffed with ground meat (often pork) and vegetables.
Deliriously good dumplings are another great side for your ramen dishes. There are tons of different dumplings and potstickers for you to take your pick from; including meat, veggies, and even shrimp. Be sure to have some soy sauce for dipping too.
So, with all of these toppings to choose from we are curious. What are your go-to ramen toppings? Are there any delicious morsels and gorgeous garnish ideas to add that we have missed? Do you stick to the most common Japanese ramen toppings or do you go off-kilter on your mission to make the best ramen? Share all your thoughts with us in the comments.