Japanese Essentials: Ordering a Bowl of Ramen in Japan
When going to Japan, trying out the various foods that Japan has to offer is a must. But what’s the first food that comes to the minds of us foreigners? Well, it would definitely be Ramen right! With it being so well-known in Japan and also worldwide, it would be no wonder that we’d want to try some delicious bowls of ramen right at its source. Today, we’ll take a look at some common vocabulary related to ordering and eating a piping hot bowls of Ramen right here in Japan!
Types of Noodles
The following are by no means an exhaustive list. With such a wide variety of Ramen in Japan, listing every single one of them can take a really long time!
太麵 （ふとめん, Futomen）
細麵 （ほそめん, Hosomen）
Some Ramen restaurants typically would offer you the option to choose the thickness of your noodles. Usually, you’d choose between Futomen and Hosomen, of which the latter would be the thinner of the two.
Futomen, also known as thick or fat noodles, is what you’d usually find in thicker broths like Miso. They are also typically served together with a dipping sauce whenever you’d order some Tsukemen, つけ麵.
Chijiremen is typically curlier and springier in texture. It can also be served in a variety of soups or sauces. I even remember once having tried a bowl of Chijiremen in Tom Yum Soup and was just blown away by it! (Psst… It’s kinda near Coto Japanese Academy too)
Last but not least, we have Hosomen. Being the thinnest out of the 3, this is typically served in a light yet flavourful broth. This type of noodle is also iconic in the sense that it’s typically served in the Tonkotsu broth that we all love and would die for <3.
Types of Soup
Moving on, let’s take look at some common soup bases that we can find here in Japan. Here’s a compiled list of what soups there are, how to read it and what they are made of!
- 醬油 (しょうゆ): Shoyu, a Soy Sauce-based soup that’s light and goes easy on your taste buds.
- 豚骨 (とんこつ): Tonkotsu, a soup that’s relatively light to heavy depending on how it’s made. It’s typically boiled and made from Pork bones for hours. Sometimes, even days.
- 煮干し (にぼし): Niboshi, a soup that can also be light or heavy depending on how long it was boiled for. Typically made from dried sardines.
- 鳥白湯 (とりぱいたん): Basically, a Tonkotsu-esque soup made from Chicken Bones.
- 塩 (しお): Shio, a Salt-based soup that’s relatively light as well.
- 味噌 (みそ): Miso, a soup flavoured using a type of fermented bean paste. This is relatively heavy on the palate.
With so many choices of noodles and soup to choose from, you can literally be eating ramen for the entirety of your stay in Japan without running out of fresh new combinations to try out.
3 Components to Ordering a Personalised Bowl of Ramen
Walking into the Ramen restaurant, you’d place your order by the vending machine, get your ticket and then pass it to the staff. Then you get bombarded by this Japanese phrase that leaves you perplexed.
Okonomi wa arimasu ka?
Translation: Do you have any preferences?
More or less, they’d typically be referring to the 3 components we’re going to cover. These include the hardness of the noodles, the thickness as well as the oiliness of the soup. Knowing what to order can definitely help you make sure that you’d get the most out of money and guarantee you a bowl of ramen that’d suit your taste buds the most!
- Noodle Hardness 面の硬さ（めんのかたさ, Men no Katasa）
Hard – かため
Normal – 普通 （ふつう）
Soft – 軟らかめ（やわらかめ）
When choosing your noodle’s hardness you can simply just tell the staff this:
めんを (かた/ふつう/やわらか) でお願いします
Men wo (Kata/Futsuu/Yawaraka) de onegaishimasu
Translation: I’d like my noodles to be Hard/Normal/Soft.
- Soup Thickness 味の濃さ （あじのこさ, Aji no Kosa）
Thick – こってり／濃いめ (こいめ) (Kotteri/Koime)
Normal – 普通 （ふつう）(Futsuu)
Light – あっさり/薄め (うすめ) (Assari/Usume)
- Oiliness 脂の量 (あぶらのりょう, Abura no Ryou)
More – 多め （おおめ）
Normal – 普通（ふつう）
Less – 少なめ （すくなめ）
As for the Thickness of the soup and Oiliness of the dish, you can simply replace “めん” in the sample sentence with “スープ” and “あぶら” respectively. The descriptors (Thick/Normal/Light and More/Normal/Less) can also replace “かた/ふつう/やわらか” in the sample sentence to indicate how oily or thick you’d like the soup to be. With these in mind, I’m sure you’d be able to order a bowl of ramen that’s to your liking and would definitely be able to satisfy your hungry tummy!
As with most Ramen restaurants, you can also choose the serving size you’d like! If you’re feeling hungry, you should definitely go for the larger portion.
Regular Portion – 並盛り （なみもり, Nami Mori）
Medium Portion – 中盛り（なかもり, Naka Mori）
Large Portion – 大盛り （おおもり, Oo Mori）
Extra Large Portion – 特大（とくだい, Toku Dai）
Special – 特製（とくせい, Toku Sei）
Some restaurants also offer something similar to that of a free upsize. This would mean that you can order the larger portion without having to pay a single yen! Most ramen restaurants that typically serve Yokohama-style Ramen also like to offer free ご飯（ごはん, Gohan/ ライス, Raisu), which is a free bowl of rice. They are usually labeled 横浜家系（よこはまかけい, Yokohama Kakei）to indicate that their style of Ramen hails from Yokohama City in Kanagawa Prefecture.
The word to look or listen out for when you’re looking for some free rice or noodle upsize, however, would be 無料（むりょう, Muryou), which basically means “Free”.
Typical Side Orders/Condiments
With all things fancy aside, let’s not forget the typical toppings that made a bowl of ramen great in the first place. Oh, and let’s not forget the condiments that can help further enhance the robust flavours that each bowl of ramen has to offer! Below is a list of vocabulary depicting some of the more common toppings as well as condiments you can find at a Ramen restaurant.
- Seaweed: のり, Nori
- Green Spring Onion: 青ネギ （あおネギ）, Aonegi
- Chashu: チャーシュー, Chaashuu
- Flavoured Soft Boiled Egg: 味玉卵 （あじたまたまご）, Ajitama Tamago
- Bamboo Shoots: メンマ, Menma
- Mustard Greens: 高菜 （たかな）, Takana
- Red Pickled Ginger: 紅しょうが （べにしょうが）, Beni Shouga
- Noodle Refill: 替え玉 (かえだま), Kaedama
- 7 Spice Pepper/Pepper: 七味唐辛子 (しちみとうがらし)/胡椒 (コショウ), Shichimi Tougarashi/Koshou
- Vinegar: 酢 （す）, Su
- Chilli Oil: 辣油 （らーゆ）, Raayu