The Diversity of Ramen in Japan

Abstract: This paper discusses the diversity of ramen in Japan by focusing primarily on regional delicacies, while also showcasing the broad array of ramen dishes worldwide. I breakdown what the ramen noodle is, the components of the dish (i.e. broth and noodle type), as well as the various condiments that uniquely define the region the ramen noodle dish is from. Also, I provide examples of how the ramen has evolved over time by describing unique ramen dishes created outside of Japan. My primary goal in this paper is to bring awareness to how the Japanese ramen various throughout the country, and how it has changed, adapted, and evolved over time.

It’s a quarter past seven as I stare at my computer screen, my fingers struggling to type out the first words of my final research paper. The thoughts in my mind wander, drifting away from the prompt typed on the sheet of paper lying motionless next to me. My stomach is alive, gurgling and grumbling. I am starving. I push back my chair and plod my way over to the kitchen table. Grabbing my car keys, I make my way to the garage and sink into my car seat. Swiping right to unlock my phone, I punch in the address to Hajime. My five senses are awakened as I step into this umami palace. The waitress catches my eye and motions me over to my usual spot in the corner. No menu needed; I know exactly what I want. Closing my eyes, I take in the aroma of the atmosphere, the sizzling of the teppanyaki grill, and the hollering of the bachelors as they down sake shots. Excuse me sir, may I? Opening my eyes, I am greeted by the most beautiful, divine, piping hot bowl of my all-time favourite comfort food…Ramen. As I sit there, face full of hot savoury noodles, I remain ignorant to the tumultuous history that brought this very dish to my table.

Contrary to popular belief, Japanese ramen is not in fact native to Japan. Like noodles and pasta from all over the world, they originated from one place: China. The Japanese were introduced to the noodle in a rather violent, and politically charged manner. Prior to the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan’s doors to the outside world were firmly shut. However, it was during the period between 1868 and 1912 that Japan experienced major political, economic and social change, following the death of the feudalistic military government (Kushner). As their doors were opening to foreign culture, the Japanese saw the rise of Chinese migrants in their cities. These migrants did not come empty handed or without gifts. The Japanese port cities of Yokohama and Nagasaki were introduced to shina soba from the Chinese who began selling this unique noodle to local workers. In 1910, the first noodle restaurant opened its doors, selling this newly introduced shina soba (Kushner). It rapidly grew in popularity, especially amongst workers as it was a relatively cheap and filling dish. However, during World War II, food restrictions drastically impacted the selling of shina soba in Japan.

Following a post-war economic boom, a saint-like individual by the name of Momofuku Ando invented the antidote to starvation, instant-noodles (Wei). During this economic boom, people were working overtime to keep up with the fast pace industrial expansion. The need for fast, convenient, and filling food was at an all-time high, and Momofuku’s instant noodles was the answer to their prayers. While no longer being called shina soba, “ramen” was rising in popularity again. As early as the 1980s, local ramen dishes were readily available, and in 1994, the first ramen museum open its doors in Yokohama (Japan Centre). Nowadays, ramen dishes are available in every city, town, and village in Japan. Similar to Italian and Chinese culture, each major region of Japan boasts its own unique take on this widely globalised dish. In this paper, I aim to highlight the diversity of ramen in Japan by focusing primarily on regional delicacies, while also showcasing the broad array of ramen dishes worldwide.

Growing up, I had the great privilege of traveling to Japan with my family, and anyone who has every visited Japan or interacted with Japanese people, knows how much ramen means to them. Ramen to the Japanese, is on par with ‘pasta al pomodoro’ for Italians, or ‘Beijing soybean paste noodles (Zha Jiang Mian)’ for the Chinese. In short, ramen is their national dish and a cultural icon (Japan Centre). Visiting Japan, and eating at various ramen-ya, I could feel the soul of Japan in each bite. It was truly a magical feeling. When I was younger, my father’s closest Japanese friend taught me the secret to ramen in Japan: the broth. Throughout Japan, ramen broth was classified into four separate categories: shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso (fermented bean paste), and lastly, tonkotsu (pork). In addition, the broth can also be classified by its heaviness, soup base, and seasoning.

Heaviness can be broken up in to kotteri (rich) or assari (light). A richer broth is usually thick, opaque, and filled with emulsified fats, vitamins, and proteins. What I found rather fascinating is that, “opaque white bone broths are also known by their transliterated Chinese name, paitan” (Kenji). On the other hand, lighter broths are thinner and clearer, and are usually mixed in with vegetables and fish. The soup base is prepared by simmering the main ingredients, which can range from animal bones to sea kelp or dried seafood (Kenji). That delicious aromatic smell that we love so much is a result of the infusion of onions, garlic, scallions, and mushrooms. Seasoning is one of the most important aspects of a ramen dish and is the primary source of salt used to flavour the ramen soup. When I was in Japan, I noticed that a few restaurants would opt out of mixing the seasoning directly into the soup base, and instead add it to each individual ramen dish per the customers requirements and desires. One of the most popular and oldest forms of seasoning is shio or sea salt. In Hakodate, a Southern Japanese city, many of its local dishes such as shio ramen are heavily influenced by Chinese traditions and Chinese style noodle soups. Another ramen seasoning that I personally find delicious is called shoyu. This type of seasoning is prevalent in the Kanto region of Central Japan. While it is now commonly paired with creamy Tonkotsu pork broths, traditionally shoyu seasoning would have been mixed in with clear to brown chicken or seafood broths. Originating from Hokkaido, and only gaining popularity in the 1960s is miso. Being one of the youngest ramen seasonings is also one of the most popular, and being from a colder region like Hokkaido, it boasts a bolder and heartier robust seasoning.

While both the broth and seasonings are vital components of ramen dishes throughout Japan, the most important aspect of the dish is the ramen noodle itself. I have eaten my fair share of ramen noodles throughout my life, and while this may be completely inaccurate, I believe there are more types of noodles in Japan than there are shapes of pasta in Italy. The ramen noodle itself can come in various forms, some of which include straight, thin, narrow, thick, wavy, wide, or flat. In order to pick what type of noodle they want to use, chefs look for its, “bounciness, ability to cling, and their texture in the mouth, searching for a noodle that interacts harmoniously with the soup in the bowl” (Kenji). Fun fact: I was once told that a piping hot bowl of ramen noodles should not take any longer than 7-15 seconds to make its way from the kitchen to the dining table otherwise the meat broth will lose its unique umami flavour.

In order to continue our exploration of the various kinds of ramen dishes across Japan, and eventually, across the globe, we must first define what a ramen noodle actually is. Similar to how other noodles and pasta is made, ramen noodles are made with wheat flour, salt, water, and kansui. Kansui is an, “alkaline water which gives the noodle their characteristic bounce and their yellowish hue” (Kenji). Nowadays, there are three types of noodles globally: Fresh, Dried and Instant. Fresh ramen noodles are very common in many up-scale restaurants around Japan and are made from scratch. They are quite chewy in texture which gives it a far more authentic taste as compared to dry and instant ramen noodles. Fresh noodles are also usually thin and straight and can be found in many tonkotsu broths. The reason why chefs opt to use thin and straight fresh noodles in tonkotsu broth is because the noodles do an effective job at clinging together and holding the soup in through a capillary action, which delivers, “plenty of hearty pork flavour with each slurp” (Kenji). On the other hand, fresh wavy noodles are best paired with miso broth as their waves are better designed to hold the miso’s nutty bits of fermented bean (Kenji). Trying to say which type of ramen, straight or wavy, is the best is a rather foolish task, which is almost like trying to say that spaghetti is inherently better than linguine or tagliatelle.

While one would find an abundance of fresh ramen noodles in restaurants across Japan, dried ramen noodles are primarily reserved for at-home cooking and are made by drying fresh uncooked noodles. Dried ramen noodles can also be found in many ramen packets in supermarkets across Japan. The thinner and straighter dried ramen noodles are, the better they taste, albeit the fact they are far oilier in texture than fresh noodles (Schweitzer). The third, and most global type of ramen noodles, is instant noodles. As a college student, I can fully relate to the craze behind instant noodles. Not only are they extremely convenient to prepare, but they burst with flavours, and are relatively healthy. In 1958, Momofuku Ando blessed the world with this genius invention, which completely revolutionized how people view the Japanese ramen.

Japan is made up of over 6,800 islands along the Pacific coast, with the five main islands being Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa. Each island or region boasts its own unique twist on Japanese ramen, and there are so many variations of ramen that classifying each unique twist would be almost impossible. However, the three regional Japanese ramen variations that I was taught to be the most important are Tokyo-style ramen, Sapporo ramen, and Hakata-style ramen.

Tokyo-style ramen is made predominantly with curly, wide noodles in a pork and chicken broth. When I was in Tokyo, I found many ramen broths that are heavily flavoured with a regional delicacy: dashi. Dashi is a, “broth made from dried smoked bonito flakes and sea kelp” (Kenji). What I find fascinating is that the dashi broth from the Tokyo-style ramen is actually a mix of traditional Chinese-style soup broths with broth from traditional Japanese buckwheat soba noodles which is very light yet rich in flavour. The deliciousness of Tokyo-style ramen comes from the generous portion of shoyu seasoning, and is traditionally served with chashu (pork), kamaboko (white and red fish cake), egg, and preserved bamboo shoots.


On the other hand, Sapporo ramen originates from Japan’s most northern province of Hokkaido and is one of the most influential styles of ramen in Japan. Usually Sapporo ramen is prepared with a very rich, and hearty, chicken, fish, or pork broth. What makes it especially unique is that it is also flavoured with akamiso, which is a red soybean paste. The addition of the red soybean paste gives Sapporo its rich flavour, which makes it the perfect dish for the cold weather up North. The region of Hokkaido is known for its massive vegetable and dairy farms, as well as several fishing ports. Utilising the geography and vegetation that Hokkaido offers, chefs specifically prepare Sapporo ramen with ingredients native to this Northern Region. As a result, this delicious dish’s umami is enhanced with the addition of stir-friend bean sprouts, cabbage, sweet corn, roasted scallops, and butter (Kobi’s Kitchen).

Hakata-style Tonkotsu ramen may be one of the most unique ramen dishes in the entire world. Originating from the warmer Southern Japanese island of Kyushu, this dish is commonly referred to as the standard of tonkotsu ramen. This type of broth is seasoned well with shio in an effort to preserve the milky white colour of the soup (Kenji). Usually Hakata-style ramen is served with chashu, wood-ear mushroom, beni-shoga (a type of Japanese pickle), and spicy mustard greens. Chefs who make this style of ramen are famous for their use of bold flavours and textures that they believe can stand up well to the intense pork flavour.  

All these types of ramen dishes just go to prove how diverse Japanese ramen culture really is, and how similar to Italy and China, each region in Japan due to their cultural, societal, and agricultural characteristics, produce a unique twist and style of ramen noodles. As we all know, ramen is stereotypically that cheap fast food dish you order at odd hours of the night to satisfy night-time cravings, but it also is a highly complex pillar in Japanese society. A simple bowl of ramen represents the political, cultural, and culinary importance of the Japanese, and as such it is often considered to be a national cultural icon (Goulding).

In 2004, tourism in Japan skyrocketed, and as a result, the ideology behind a ramen dish transformed to be inclusive of various elements of global culture. One such example is of Ivan Orkin; a famous ramen aficionado who spent years in Tokyo understanding and learning the history and craft behind ramen. In his NY ramen restaurant, Ivan put together a speciality dish called Maze-men. Of the reviews and articles that I have read surrounding this dish, many have noted that it is quite similar to abura soba, however he adds his own unique Italian background twist by adding an egg and bacon. Mixing it all together forms this beautiful sauce, almost like a Japanese carbonara (Kenji).

One of the most diverse, and creative takes on ramen, which I have in fact have had the great pleasure of eating is located at Yuji Ramen in New York. Once again, we see the cross culturalism of Italy and Japan coming together to produce a dish like no other. The basic premise behind this dish is that the chef uses Japanese ramen-style alkaline water dough, but instead of making them into the ramen noodle strands we have grown accustomed to, the chef actually shapes the dough into Italian pasta shapes (Kenji). Not only are the noodles Italian-Japanese, but the beautifully delicate sauce is textually inspired by Italian sauces but seasoned with Japanese ingredients and techniques. The result is a fusion ramen dish that ties in the best of both Italian and Japanese noodle/pasta cuisines to create a scrumptious dish like squid bolognese ramen orecchiette.  

Ramen shops are no longer confined to the tight geographic and political boundaries of Japan. Nowadays, one can find a Japanese ramen restaurant in every major city in the world. What once started off as a cheap, immigrant dish has now catapulted itself into every college student’s dorm rooms. Everyone around the world shares their love for ramen as the ultimate comfort food. Now as this iconic Japanese symbol of cultural identity evolves and tailors itself to the specificities of cultures and societies, the ramen that was once loved by merchants in Imperial Japan, is now loved by billions all over the world.  


Works Cited

Goulding, Matt. “Super Noodles: the Rise and Rise of Ramen.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 Feb. 2016,

“Japanese Ramen, How to Make and Different Types.” Japan Centre,

J. Kenji. “Guide to Ramen Varieties.” Guide to Ramen Varieties | Serious Eats, Serious Eats, 18 Apr. 2019,

Kushner, Barak. Slurp!: a Social and Culinary History of Ramen – Japan’s Favorite Noodle Soup. Global Oriental, 2012.

Schweitzer, Sharon. “The Cultural Significance of Ramen.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 27 Oct. 2017,

Wei, Clarissa. “An Illustrated History of Ramen.” First We Feast, First We Feast, 1 June 2018,



Vibrantly Spicy Noodles (Rohan Khatu)

Green are the wide bay leaves,

carefully selected from our grandmother’s garden, sent straight to the kitchen.

Fresh soft dough comes from the bustling market,

skilfully hand-mixed with the colourful spices and seasoned leaves.

They are delicately played into the tawa,

our mouths water at the aroma of traditional Indian spices.

The thick red liquid stains the boring coloured pot,

the finely cut vegetables marinate in the bubbling curry.

Sipping the wooden spoon, my eyes beam with excitement

I urge my cousin to taste, shoving the spoon in his mouth.

I wanted to pass the ladle on to everyone in the village,

so that everyone could listen to the symphony of flavours in my mouth.

I was well aware my family would chow down the dish if I left it out of my sight,

I gathered the silverware and bowls, and placed it perfectly on the table top.

In the midst of all the frenzy,

the richness of the creamy masala comforted our souls.

We were thousands of miles away from our village,

My family was closer than ever.

None of our worries were important right now,

As we softly chewed our grandmother’s original recipe in the company of our own.

The poem I chose to imitate was “Cold Noodle Soup with Sephora Leaves” by Du Fu. I found this poem particularly important as it resonates well with the emotions that I feel when I eat a dish made by my grandmother, and the warm comforting feeling of enjoying her hard work and love. One line in the poem that really stood out to me was, “I eat more, worrying that it will soon be gone”. Whenever my family gathers together for a big meal, I always have to battle it out with my cousins over the chicken kabobs, rajma, and spicy noodles, as these dishes are made specifically by my grandmother and are undoubtedly the best dishes I have ever eaten. The joy and happiness painted across my grandmother’s face as she watches us duel over who gets the biggest and juiciest portion is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. While reading this poem, I enjoyed Du Fu’s use of both the objective (i.e. specific ingredients and locations), as well as the subjective (i.e. emotions and feelings) to neatly bring the whole recipe and noodle to life.

Throughout the poem, Du Fu emphasized and highlighted many important themes of Chinese food that we have discussed in-depth in class. One theme that I noticed was very much prevalent throughout the poem was this notion of balance. Each sentence was meticulously structured with this almost perfect balance of including a small detail followed by an explanation of what people are doing in relation to that small detail. Having lived in Asia (Singapore to be specific) for a majority of my life, I am well aware of the concept of yin and yang, and how important this balance, and harmony is in Chinese culture and society. Each sentence of this poem sheds light on the balance between flavors and aromas, mirroring the harmonious balance of Chinese communities. Furthermore, the importance of community building and sharing an experience with others is emphasized beautifully as Du Fu writes about wanting to share this beautiful dish with other people, regardless of how far away they physically are. Ever since the first class, we have spoken in great detail about how the Chinese view meals as an opportunity for communion and spending quality time with people they love and cherish. I have also learned a great deal about various types of noodles and how they are all perfectly connected and associated with various memories and events. Du Fu writes about eating a fresh refreshing cold noodle soup on a special occasion, and I tried my best to replicate this setting in my poem about an Indian dish my family loves to eat, especially in the comforts of each other’s company.

Each journal entry has given me the opportunity to learn more about my own multi-cultural background, albeit with my roots deep in India. Having grown up in a multi-cultural city, an attended an American international school for the majority of my childhood, I have never fully embraced my Indian culture, however I am fortunate that this class has enabled me to dig deeper into my Indian culture, and learn more about my family history. From reading Du Fu’s poem, and from sitting down and writing from my own unique perspective, I have come to understand that Indian culture very much revolves around family and creativity. When my grandmother was younger, she used to love to cook a lot for her parents, and many of the dishes she is famous for cooking are products of her just messing around in the kitchen, and using her culinary creativity to come up with her own unique twists on basic Indian food like chicken kabobs, paneer tikka masala, and spicy masala noodles. Also, it was not until these past few weeks in class have I truly come to value how close-knit Indian families are, and how much they value being together, regardless if it is for a special occasion or not.

From my observations over the past few weeks in class, and from these journal entries, it is very clear to me that there are a lot of commonalities between Chinese and Indian cultures and societies, especially when it comes to food. Like I mentioned above, one of the most common themes between the Chinese and Indian culture is the notion of community and wanting to share meals with one another. They both value meals and meal-time as an opportunity for family members and loved ones to catch up with each other and talk about what is going on in their lives. The most important aspect of meal time is just spending quality time with one another, focusing on just being present in the moment. This cultural DNA is very evident in most cultures around the world, and is not just specific to the Chinese and Indians. Throughout history, we have seen how glamorous banquets have been arranged for families and friends to get together and engage in important discussion. Another important aspect, which I wrote about in great detail in my last journal entry, as well as in my poem, is the notion of how highly versatile the noodle is. Throughout the course, we have read numerous articles and pieces highlighting various types of noodles. In China, there is quite literally a noodle preparation for every special occasion and celebration, and in Italy, we can clearly see how each region produces their own unique take on pasta, and how Italian pasta has been influenced over the years from neighbouring countries. Noodles can be prepared in an authentically Chinese and Italian way, but can also be prepared in a seemingly new, and unique way, as shown in my poem about my grandmother’s special spicy noodles. Noodles are far more than just a simple, bland, piece of dough. Each noodle dish carries with it memories and stories that have been passed on for generations, and serve as a reminder of the importance of family and friends in our lives.

Unfortunately, I could not find a picture of my grandmother’s spicy noodles, but I found this picture online that best represents her dish:

Picture credit:

The Versatility of Noodles (Rohan Khatu)

The time reads 2:00 AM. I plod my way to the kitchen, open the pantry, and grab a packet of MAMA Noodles: Shrimp (Tom Yum) Flavor. I flick on the electric kettle, and cut open the noodles packet, emptying the contents into the bowl next to me. Click! I reach over and grab the handle of the kettle and tilt my head away from the steam as I pour the boiling water into the bowl. Dumping in the spice packet, I mix the noodles around, and saunter back to my desk. Waiting a couple minutes for the noodles to cool down, I twist a good amount on my fork, and take the first bite. Delicious. Now sit back, relax, and let me take you on the thousand-year journey that brought that mouth-watering bite of warm spicy noodles to the comforts of my home.

It was during the Han Dynasty in China that the noodle came to be, however at that time, it was more commonly referred to as cake. In the dynasties that followed, specifically the Wei, Jin, and Northern and Southern Dynasties, the composition and shapes of these noodles slowly increased, paving the way for two very unique kinds of noodles: Shui yin and Bo tuo. Greater varieties of noodles were soon introduced in the Sui, Tang, and Five Dynasty Periods, along with new methods and techniques for cooking these various types of noodles. Many types of exotic noodles emerged, such as Leng tao, which is a cold noodle, and Pig and sheep raw noodles. Some of the more famous noodles were brought to be in the Qing Dynasty, and these were the Five spicy noodles, as well as Eight treasure noodles. According to the article titled “Noodles, traditionally, and today”, these two types of noodles, “…were made of five and eight kinds of animal and plant raw material powder, respectively, and mixed into flour, which were considered top grade noodles” (Zhang 2016, 209).

Noodles in China not only represent the diversity in regions across China, but also the various cultural and traditional values of Chinese society. In China, food is used as a means to celebrate an important event or milestone in one’s life. For example, at birthdays, people usually eat longevity noodles, with the belief that this specific type of noodles will help them live longer. When two people get married, and eventually move in together, they celebrate by eating noodles with gravy which signifies a colorful, and vibrant married life. The Chinese eat different noodles for different occasions, seasons, and festivals. As China covers large territorial ground, and is made up of numerous regions, there are thousands of variations of noodles which are unique to each region. The differences in each noodle is based on the composition of it, the size of it, and the gravy seasoning used. While most noodles are made of flour, in the Southern province of Yunnan, noodles are made from rice. The diversity of Chinese noodles is linked to the diversity of each of its regions, and the people who cook them. Not only are the compositions of noodles varied across regions, but also the thickness of them. They can range from being, “as thick as chopsticks or as thin as hair, such as the dragon beard noodles” (Zhang 2016, 211). Noodles can also be classified by how they are made (i.e. hand-pulled or shaved noodles), as well as by the seasoning used (i.e. Beijing fried bean sauce noodles and Shandong noodles with gravy).

This diversity in noodles across the regions is not just unique to China; in fact, noodles in Italy are as diverse as they are in China. According to the article, Italy’s Cultural Heritage, “the most deeply rooted aspect of Italian cooking is that of its regional differences”. In the 8th Century, Arabic invasions of the Southern Peninsula of Italy greatly influenced the pasta in regions like Sicily. Many Sicilian pasta recipes incorporate predominantly Middle Eastern ingredients such as raisins and cinnamon, thanks to the presence of Arabic people in the South. As pasta spread to the mainland thanks to the abundance of durum wheat, the types of pasta that each region produced were varied. While the Romans unified Italy politically and via a common language, the regions of Italy remained unique in their, “local customs and provincial languages” (Italy’s Cultural Heritage). From the North to the South of Italy, the shapes and way pasta was cooked differed greatly. Nowadays there are over 300 different shapes and varieties of dry pasta across the Italian peninsula. According to the article, History of Pasta, the shapes of dry pasta range from tubes to bow ties, and even to shapes such as tennis rackets. These types of dry pasta were specifically designed for the purpose of grabbing and holding onto the rich, creamy sauces. Along with dry pasta, came fresh pasta which were made with slightly different ingredients. In the Northern regions of Italy, fresh pasta is prepared using all-purpose flour and eggs, whereas in the Southern regions, it is prepared using semolina and water. This only goes to further showcase the diversity in pasta across Italy. Not only is the way the pasta is prepared unique to the specific region of Italy, but so is the sauce used on the pasta. Fresh pasta is usually served with cream sauces, and a light tomato sauce for summer months, however in the Piedmont region, fresh pasta is usually served with a butter sauce complimented with local black truffles. The most important rule of Italian cooking is using fresh local ingredients, and this only further enhances the uniqueness of each pasta dish as the fresh ingredients used in each pasta dish is unique to the region they are grown in.

Similar to that of China and Italy, the type of noodle that one eats in India varies from region to region. However, unlike the noodles of China and Italy, which are usually cooked in boiling water, this specific type of Indian noodles is fried. Sev is a popular Indian snack food which consists of crunch fried noodles made from chickpea flour paste and seasoned with traditional Indian spices such as turmeric and ajwain. While they all can vary in thickness, similar to various types of pastas in Italy and China, sev is unique as it is deep-fried in oil to create that crunchy texture. The types of sev also vary from region to region in India. In Northern India, one would usually find sev mixed with chili powder, nuts and lentils, however in the Southern regions of India, sev is popularly mixed with sesame seeds and honey. Much like the noodles of Italy and China, the preparation, thickness, and taste of sev is unique to the region and people that make it.

I find it rather difficult coming up with a definition of noodles that successfully encompasses all the unique traditional, cultural and societal traits of China, Italy, India, and other countries that have adapted their own take on what the noodle is. However, for the sake of this assignment, I will do my best to define what noodles are. In my opinion, noodles are the glue that holds societies together. The glue that keeps traditions and cultures alive. The glue that defines differences, as well as similarities, in regions of countries. Lastly, the noodle is the glue that unites the world as it takes on various forms, shapes, sizes, textures, and most importantly, names.

Now on to the second bite of my delicious MAMA noodles…

The image that I chose represents the various shapes and sizes of pasta across the Italian peninsula. I found this image fascinating as it also highlights the versatility of pasta and the dishes that can be produced from the various local ingredients unique to regions in Italy.

Works Cited

Begg, Peter. “The Ultimate Guide to Pasta Shapes: Features: Jamie Oliver.” Jamie Oliver, Jamie Oliver, 12 June 2019,

Dada. “Sev.” Cuizine Maurice, 17 Sept. 2017,

“History of Pasta.” Life in Italy, 5 Nov. 2018,

“Italy’s Cultural Heritage.” The Classic Italian Cookbook, by Julia Della Croce, Reader’s Digest Association (Canada), 1996, pp. 8–17.

The Truth About Pasta. The International Pasta Organization, 2016,

Zhang, Na, and Guansheng Ma. “Noodles, Traditionally and Today.” Journal of Ethnic Foods, vol. 3, no. 3, 2016, pp. 209–212., doi:10.1016/j.jef.2016.08.003.


Not Your Average Dining Table (Rohan Khatu)

His dining table was surely hard to miss. While most families relax and spend time in the living room together, Michelangelo’s family would gather in the dining room. Each time, I noticed the dining table being particularly used for activities other than eating. Michelangelo, a close friend of mine from Emory University, comes from a very artistic family, and last Spring when I visited his home, I noticed his talented younger sister painting the Atlanta skyline on a large white canvas. Most families associate the dining table as a place of gathering at the end of the day, after a long day at work, or a tough day at school away from family—but not Michelangelo’s. As both of Michelangelo’s parents work from home and he and his sister attend universities in Atlanta as commuter students, they all spend a great deal of time in the comforts of their own home. In this study, I would like to investigate how Michelangelo’s dining table is used as a place of gathering in a home in which the members spend most of their time at home. 

I called Michelangelo and explained the nature of my investigation. I delved into the material of the course, and to my surprise, Michelangelo knew all about anthropological methods. He told me how he took a class last year at Emory University called Food, Culture, and Society, where they discussed similar topics. Without hesitation, Michelangelo invited me over for dinner with his family to allow me to observe their habits and engage with them. In this study, I will be utilizing anthropological methods such as observational methods and participant observation. As an observational method, I conducted a one-on-one interview with Michelangelo in order to learn more about his dining table, and what it means to his family. In order to undergo participant observation, I observed the members in the family and ate the food that was provided, in an effort to, “gain an insider’s or emic perspective on a culture”, while also applying an outsiders perspective to, “draw wider conclusions about how the culture and society works” (Crowther, 2013). I chose these two particular anthropological methods because interviewing Michelangelo face-to-face was only possible given that we both live in the same city. In the future, I hope to study the same topic but from a non-participant observational standpoint. This particular method was not possible, as it would have been rude to solely observe the family eating without actually joining them in the practice myself.

As Michelangelo is aware that I do not have a car, he offered to pick me up from my apartment at around 5pm. When we arrived at his home 40 minutes later, he walked in, took off his shoes, and headed straight towards the dining table, where he kissed his mom hello. The table was set unlike I have ever seen it before. Gold brimmed floral plates sat atop burlap placemats. The beautiful, mahogany, long, rectangular table seats twelve. The table had an airy silhouette, a mixture of Tuscan and mid-century Scandinavian design. In order to be polite, I waited until after dinner to write down all my observational notes. Michelangelo’s father and sister meticulously walked to a specific seat. I noticed that the seat Michelangelo’s sister sat in was the same seat I previously had seen her sit in while she was painting. His mother sat down several cork coasters. The way everything on the table was aesthetically matching was not surprising to me as his mother is an interior designer. Being as they are part Italian, his mother prepared her classic carbonara—a dish that I heard Michelangelo rave about for years! Surprisingly, she also brought out a tray full of garlic bread. I found this particularly interesting especially since we just learned about common Italian-American stereotypes in class last week—garlic bread being one of the biggest ones. Even though his family had spent the majority of their lives living in America, the carbonara was made the classic Italian way. I have noticed that even in many “authentic” Italian restaurants in America, carbonara is almost always unauthentically prepared with a heavy, milky sauce, and I have even once seen it prepared with a sunny-side egg on top. However, in his mother’s dish, the bacon was cooked to perfection, and the pasta had a thin, silky sauce with an egg incorporated in it. The mannerisms at the table were very free-flowing, there was a lot of laughter, and everyone was chatting with one another. There were never side conversations, every member of the family was engaged in what was being said at the moment. 

When dinner came to an end, I helped clear the table, and wash the dishes, something Crowther would describe as an ideal participant observational practice. I pulled Michelangelo aside to conduct the one-on-one interview. He asked if we should conduct it at the dining room table, and I politely asked if there was another place we could do it given that the dining room table seems to be his family’s hangout spot. He led me into his bedroom, and we conducted the interview there. I asked a variety of questions to gain further insight regarding how the dining table is utilized amongst the members of his family. Michelangelo told me that his father is a consultant, and would spend most of his days taking phone calls and typing on the computer on the dining table in the same spot that he ate dinner at. Usually he stops working around 5pm, which is when he removes all of his stuff on the table and helps set the table for dinner. He also mentioned that his mother utilizes the table the most, usually covering three-fourths of the table with her blueprints throughout the day. As far as his sister goes, she chooses to paint at the table as she enjoys being around her parents. Michelangelo utilizes the table only after dinner for school work. He mentioned that during lunch, they all usually eat while they are working on the dining table, a concept that is particularly foreign to me. Unexpectedly, for breakfast, they all take their coffee, eggs, and toast in the living room on the couches, while watching the morning news. This is a routine that has been followed ever since Michelangelo’s’ father started working from home, which was when he was around twelve years old.

Through this study I learned that for Michelangelo and his family, the dining table represents a place of constant gathering, not just a place for gathering at the end of the day like most families associate it with. His dining table represents traditions that are now engraved in their family values. It is not only a place of having meals with family, but has become a place of work, hobbies, and overall enjoyment for all members of the family. Conducting this study has furthered my interest in how the significance of cultural artifacts can change overtime.

Works Cited

Crowther, Gillian. Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food. University of Toronto Press, 2013.

Journal #1: Rajma

Rajma is my identity, culture, and a representation of myself. Okay, wow, that’s a bold statement. Sure it is, but give me the next couple minutes to explain myself, starting with where I was born. I was born in 1996, in Mumbai, India, to a Punjabi mother and a Maharashtrian father. While they were both Indian, they grew up in different regions each with their own unique cultural upbringings. One of the biggest differences was not in what they wore, what language they spoke, or even what God they worshipped, rather it was in their food.

One of the most popular traditional dishes in India is rajma, which is essentially red kidney beans in a thick gravy. Sounds rather mundane right? Well, the beauty and uniqueness of rajma lies in the spices used. As my mother is Punjabi, the spices that her family used were native to the Northern region of India, and my Nani (grandmother) on my mother’s side used Punjabi spices like black cardamom, black cumin, nigella seeds, and mace in their rajma preparation. This added a spicy kick to the dish, usually leaving me chugging cups of water and milk. On the other hand, my father’s Maharashtrian family were more accustomed to preparing their rajma with milder, but richer spices, such as turmeric, basil, fresh coriander, and saffron. Each side of the family would put their own traditional twist on it, resulting in vibrant, aromatic flavors representative of both the Northern and Western regions of India. On both sides of my family, the recipe for making rajma had been passed down for generations, evolving over time, and as a result, no one preparation of rajma in India tastes the same. When I was a child, I remember being fascinated by stories of how the rajma that I eat at home today is a mixture of both my mother and father’s sides of the family. It is essentially a middle ground between each of my grandmother’s recipes. Between you and I, the rajma I eat today is really 30% of my dad’s recipe and 70% of my mum’s recipe. My mum hates to admit it, but she just can’t live without her nigella seeds and mace, which add the biggest kick of flavor and heat to any dish I have ever eaten.

Contrary to popular belief, the red kidney bean stew is not actually traditional to India, in fact, this bean was brought over to India by Portuguese traders. The original rajma bean is native to the New World: Mexico and Guatemala. In the 15th Century, when Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors occupied territories in the New World, they brought back this delicious bean to Europe. These beans, rich in protein for sailors, were soon carried to Portuguese outposts in Africa and Asia. But Rohan, how does this have anything to do with your identity?After I was born in India, my family and I moved around and lived in several different countries. As a result, I gained a significant amount of cultural awareness, and understanding of my cultural identity. Just as how the red kidney bean stew had travelled from Mexico to India, its recipe changing over time, I too have traveled from country to country, broadening my cultural awareness and establishing my cultural identity. As much of a stretch as this may seem, I am the rajma in this story.

Nowadays, every time I visit my grandmothers in India, instead of them making their rajma dishes for me, my parents and I make our fusion rajma dish for them. Not only have they appreciated the role reversal, but they love watching how our family recipe has changed and developed over time, incorporating spices from each side of the family, as well as spices from each country we have lived in. At its core, red kidney bean stew is such a versatile dish, and every culture has put their own twist on it. For a majority of the Western world, the red kidney bean presents itself in the form of the delicious all-time favorite breakfast dish: baked beans. Whereas in Mexico, the red kidney bean is used in popular dishes such as chili con carne. Everywhere I lived and travelled, I tried each countries unique version of the red kidney bean stew. While I enjoyed immersing in their culture, and tasting their exotic take on this delicious dish, my true identity lies with my family’s version of rajma.

Unfortunately, over the past few years, I have found it difficult to travel back to India and spend time with both my grandmothers. I miss them both very much, but thanks to my mum’s frozen food care-packages, my grandmothers don’t seem that far away. Whenever I miss my family back in India, I walk to the fridge and heat up a delicious, bowl of rajma. Tasting each scoop is like traveling back in time to all the countries I have ever lived in, finally landing back to my roots in my grandmothers Punjabi and Maharashtrian recipes. One day, I look forward to seeing how my family’s rajma recipe alters to incorporate the culture of my future life-partner. I am proud of my family’s recipe, and I will cherish the memories that were created because of this dish. Rajma will forever be my identity, culture, and a representation of myself.  



To boil:

  • 1 cup red kidney beans (rajma), washed and soaked overnight
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 green cardamom
  • 3 black cardamom
  • 6-8 cloves
  • 1-2 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 cups water

For the masala:

  • 2 small or 1 big onion, grated
  • 1 tbsp ginger paste
  • 1 tbsp garlic paste
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3 roma tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp cilantro leaves
  • 3-4 green chillies
  • ½ tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp aamchoor powder
  • 1 tbsp rajma masala/ garam masala
  • 1 tbsp kasoori methi, crushed
  • 1 tbsp clarified butter/ghee, optional


For the Kidney beans:

  1. Soak the red kidney beans overnight. Drain the water and wash them. In a pressure cooker, add the red kidney beans, 3.5 cups water, bay leaf, cardamom, black cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick. Pressure cook with 1 tsp salt till the beans are soft. It usually takes 1-2 whistles for me, but depending on how long you soak the beans and your cooker, it might take more whistles.

The slow cooker version:

  1. If you hate cleaning the pressure cooker like I do, I have now started making this in the slow cooker. I am yet to try a version where I dump everything in the slow cooker and let it do all the work, but I do the final part of the cooking in the slow cooker. I do boil the beans with the whole spices on the stove first for 15 minutes to avoid red bean poisoning. Once boiled, I put them with the spice and water in the slow cooker and cook on high with the cooked masala added.

For the masala:

  1. In a blender, puree together the tomatoes, coriander leaves and the green chillies.
  2. In a wok (kadhai), heat 2 tbsp oil. Add the cumin seeds and let sizzle. Add the grated onions and fry till golden brown, about 8 minutes on medium flame. Add the ginger-garlic paste, turmeric powder, red chilli powder and coriander powder. Sauté for a minute or two on medium flame.
  3. Add the pureed tomato mixture and fry till the oil separates (can take about 15-20 minutes). At this point, you can freeze this masala and use it later.

Putting it all together

  1. Pour the cooked rajma masala in the cooker with the boiled rajma. Mix. Mash some beans with the back of your ladle. Add salt, if necessary. Add the rajma masala/garam masala powder and the amchoor powder, and 1 tbsp ghee (optional). Add the kasoori methi.
  2. Once the masala is poured in with the boiled rajma, you should let cook on medium flame for about 10-15 minutes for all the flavors to be soaked in by the kidney beans.

If using the slow cooker:

  1. Add the rajma masala to the partially boiled beans in the slow cooker. Cook on high for 6 hours.
  2. Garnish with coriander/cilantro leaves. Serve hot with rice and curd.

Recipe courtesy of:

Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of the rajma my family has cooked, but for your reference, this is a picture of a full preparation of rajma (I wish I could make something that aesthetically pleasing).

Picture credits:

The following is a picture of my Nani (from my mother’s side) and I in our house in Mumbai, India. I am guessing her big smile is from the delicious rajma I just made for her!