Korean Ramen Noodles – History & Facts of Ramyeon
The best friend of students and busy professionals around the world, eating instant ramen or ramyeon / ramyun, as it is known in Korea, is the ultimate hack for a cheap, quick, yet satisfying meal. The Korean brand Nongshim produces the world-renown Shin Ramyun, a spicy-flavoured instant noodle you’ve probably consumed as its exported to over 100 countries. It could be said that ramyun is simply a ‘Korean ramen’, however despite their historical similarities, both dishes as we know them today are quite distinct.
According to an article by The New Yorker, ramen first arrived in Japan in the early nineteenth century, brought over by Chinese tradesmen and made popular by the cooks of Tokyo’s Rairaiken restaurant. These cooks fashioned a delicious dish comprising of broth and Chinese noodles, with the noodle dough being kneaded with a new ingredient called kansui, a sodium-carbonate-infused alkaline mineral water. This method set these noodles apart from traditional Japanese noodles and quickly became the favourite of many locals.
A bowl of ramen was initially referred to in Japan as shina soba, basically meaning ‘soba from China’. Over the next few years, restaurants all over Japan started serving regional versions of shina soba, using local ingredients. After World War 2, the American occupation of Japan saw increasing imports of cheap wheat, which aided in preventing food shortages as locals were able to prepare instant noodles with ease. Ramen culture proliferated to Japan’s neighbouring countries and spawned their respective versions of a prominent food culture, especially in Korea.
In the early 1960s, ramyeon, which means ‘noodles in a spicy broth’, was the perfect dish for Koreans who found themselves busy peddling in the industrial world and in grave need of instantly-available food. In terms of the difference between ramyeon and ramen, Japanese ramen is subtly flavoured compared to the spicier, stronger flavoured ramyeon. Ramen broth is generally made from chicken, seafood, or pork stock while ramyeon’s soup is made from processed seasoning. Ramyeon only refers to the form of instant noodles boiled in a cup/pot of hot water, as opposed to Japanese ramen which may be either cooked traditionally or available in the instant
Each packet of ramyeon consists of dried noodles and a sachet of spicy seasoning, to which you simply add boiling water. They are available either in a packet or as cup noodles, depending on the convenience of the consumer. While cooking-averse foodies enjoy their ramyeon in a cup, the more adventurous eaters have taken to preparing the packet version in order to customize their noodles – most add chopped meats, vegetables, eggs and even spices in a myriad of methods to suit personal taste. You’re probably getting hungry for a hot bowl of noodles by now, so click here for a video on how to cook ramyeon properly.
Ramyeon is traditionally cooked in a ‘yangeun nembi’, a nickel-silver plated aluminium pot that has a unique ‘off-gold’ colour and is able to be heated up extremely quickly. This suits the cooking of ramyeon better over other kitchenware as ramyeon is meant to be a time-saving dish. Even the most inexperienced cook will have no problem preparing a ramyeon dish, and that along with its wide availability has made this dish ubiquitous in most households. 24-hour convenience stores have also perpetuated instant noodle culture by providing boiling hot water and wooden chopsticks for hungry passer-bys looking to enjoy a hot cup on a cold night.
According to Stripes.Korea, Koreans currently consume the most ramyeon in the world, with a yearly average of 80 packets per person. The popularity of Korean instant noodles has spread well beyond Korea, and is now highly popular in Malaysia. Singapore, Australia and even Russia. Some may attribute this mostly to Korean soap opera stars who consume ramyeon onscreen and did wonders to whet the appetite of a global audience – we love it simply because it’s easy to prepare yet delivers a burst of flavour (helped along by our favourite Malaysian spices, in some cases).