The History of Ramen in Japan (Carlos)

Cultural significance can be found in noodles from around the world in different shapes, forms, and sizes. From cultural traditions in China such as the Long Life Noodle to the historical references in Italy such as the Regine pasta, the noodle has extended its reach across many continents and countries forming deep roots in many of these cultures. Without a doubt, the noodle has successfully managed to form intimate relationships with Japan’s culture and history as well. One bond can be analyzed through a specific form of noodle dish, the ramen. When a person thinks about ramen, one cannot prevent but to associate this dish with Japan as well. Ramen has come to be identified with Japan’s culture the most. Ramen has a long history in Japan, changing as the state of the country changed as well. This essay seeks to analyze how the ramen transformed into a staple dish in Japan’s culture and the history behind the transformation.

To begin with, the origin of the first ramen is unknown, but a fact is that ramen came from an immigrant dish borrowed from China. Myths and mystery cloud the origin of the ramen and its boom. Academic historian and author George Solt presents three origin myths about ramen in his book The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze. The first myth establishes Shu Shunsui, a scholar from China, as the one who brought the ramen recipe to Japan. Shu Shunsui was a Chinese refugee of the Ming government who came to serve as an advisor to the Japanese feudal lord Tokugawa Mitsukuni. Historical records state that Shu Shunsui adviced Mitsukini on what to add to his udon soup to make it taste better. This dish is rumored to be the first ramen ever made and established Tokugawa Mitsukini as the first person to eat ramen in Japan. While it is true that Chinese culture heavily influenced Japanese culture at the time, a historical record of Mitsukini cooking ramen does not exist.

The next myth connects the origin of ramen to Japan opening its ports to the outside world. Japan’s ports attracted Chinese travelers, and a Chinese noodle soup called laa-mein was brought into Japan. This dish serves as a potential predecessor to the ramen today although laa-mein did not have any toppings and was not a meal in itself much unlike the modern ramen.

The last and most plausible theory associates the origin of the ramen to a shop called Rai Rai Ken in Tokyo during the 1900s. Rai Rai Ken employed Chinese workers and served a noodle dish called Shina Soba. Shina Soba incorporated ingredients that resembles todays ramen such as roasted pork, Japanese fish cake, and nori seaweed into one dish.  Interestingly, Japan was becoming industrialized and more urbanized during this time period. Japan’s industrialization and urbanization helped to popularize ramen. Shina soba was cheap and filling, providing plenty of calories for Japanese urban workers. In addition, mechanical noodle-making machines were in general use by this time. These machines shortened the time to prepare the noodles. All of these conditions made ramen the perfect food to eat. It was the right food at the right time. Ramen became integrated into Japanese modern urban life making it’s first deep roots in Japanese culture and history.

Although ramen was engraved deeply in urban life during the early 1900s, ramen almost disappeared during world war 2. Rationing in Japan during world war 2 did not allow ramen to be consumed or sold as it was seen as a luxury for eating out. Food shortages and famines made the government place heavy regulations on food supplies, and profits on selling food was prohibited. This time period was one of the worst period of hunger in Japan’s history. Unavoidably, black market food stands sprang up even after the war ended, although it was still illegal. This was due to the United States continuing food rationing during their time of occupation in Japan. Unemployed workers who tried to sell ramen could potentially and did go to jail. During this time of famine and hunger, ramen came to represent an opposite view of what it represents today. It was seen as a symbol of a time of need and the basic necessities of life. One could not afford to eat luxurious foods such as ramen.

Following world war 2, Japan underwent a prosperous economic boom. This period of rapid economic growth and development contributed to the revitalization of the ramen. The numerous construction projects required huge numbers of construction workers. Construction workers consumed large quantities of bowls of ramen. Ramen contained many healthy ingredients that would provide sufficient energy to keep the workers properly fed and energized. Many restaurants that specialized only in ramen became increasingly popular in Japan. Ramen once again became a staple dish in the rapid growing country that Japan has become.

In addition, a new form of ramen emerged following world war 2. Momofuku Ando surveyed the devasting aftereffects of the war. Many people suffered from hunger, and it was an issue he determined to be the biggest problem in Japan. He was inspired to create a food that would end the hunger in his country. He set out to make a food that would be nonperishable, economical, fast and easy to make. Already having witnessed the success of the ramen in the past, Ando aimed to create a ramen of his own. The end result was instant ramen! Instant ramen was a success as people could now enjoy delicious ramen at their own homes for a relatively cheap price. Ando set on his goal to end hunger with ramen!

Today ramen has become a symbol and historical figure of Japanese culture and history. Ramen has extended it’s reach globally around the world. Traditional ramen remains integral in Japanese culture but more shops in prominent cities in the United States that specialize in ramen have opened up. Nonetheless it its still hard to get authentic Japanese ramen unless one is near the large diverse cities. On the other hand, instant noodles have become available almost everywhere in the world. They can be found at almost any supermarket store. Instant noodles are especially prominent among college students since it is cheap and affordable to get. Although ramen has now become a global trend, its deep roots will always be attached to Japan’s history. Ramen has come to be what it is today thanks to the historical events that have occurred in Japan, and the people inspired by those events.

Traditions (Carlos Rayon)

When a new life begins,

Or when a year is obtained,

A long-life noodle will be made.

The longer the noodle,

The longer the life.

Prosperity and abundance by your side


When the Spring Festival arrives,

And friends and families reunite,

Boiled dumplings will be made.

Farewell to the old & welcome in the new,

As dumplings are filled with coins.


When the Mid-Autumn Festival arrives,

And when the moon covers the sky,

The mooncake will complement the sky.

Roundness will symbolize completeness,

As friends and families sit side by side.

Prosperity and reunion, togetherness.



  1. I chose to imitate Rhapsody on Pasta.
  2. I chose Rhapsody on Pasta because I really enjoyed how the author connected a specific type of noodle to a particular season. This inspired my poem as I too connected a specific noodle to a particular tradition in Chinese culture.
  3. The culture of the original author is astounding. The author is definitely experienced when it comes to the different types of noodles, their uses, and the way noodles are cooked. The author gives us his honest opinion from his experience as to what noodle is best served during each season. The audience can infer this from his choice of word and imagery as it portrays his personal emotions. Although the author makes suggestions, he is not demanding and sends a message that it is alright if noodles are not eaten at specific seasons. Noodles are meant to be enjoyed.
  4. As I came up with the topic of my poem on specific pasta, I realized how before taking this class, I was one of the people that didn’t think much of pasta and took it for granted. I have become aware now that I have had pasta many times in my life. One of my favorites is instant ramen! Although I love instant ramen, I now yearn for the authentic ramen I have seen many times on food animations. There is something about the colorful display of miso ramen that speaks strongly about culture.
  5. There is definitely cultural DNA embedded in the piece I read and in the piece I wrote. Culture manifests in the piece I read by the author’s sharing of Chinese noodles to eat at particular seasons. This tells us that each noodle and each way it is cooked has a particular purpose. For example, the boiled dumpling in his piece serves to warm the body against the cold of the winter. In my piece, I included cultural Chinese traditions that have been practiced for many years and are deeply rooted in their culture. These types of tradition are what identify a culture and separate it from the rest.

The Cultural Significance of the Noodle (Carlos)

The noodle is an integral part of various cultures around the world. This particular food has a long and complicated history and has deep roots especially in China and Italy, both being large consumers of pasta. Blogger Justin Demetri writes how it is a myth that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy from China, a statement believed by many people in the world. In fact, from reading other sources, one can find that pasta actually appeared spontaneously in different parts of the world. Pasta was already popular in Italy among Etruscans and Romans. They called their pasta “lagane.” On the other hand, in China, records indicate that pasta emerged during the time of the Han dynasty. In this dynasty pasta was called “cake.” In both of these countries, the noodle has come to reflect the culture, regions, cities, and people that cook them. It has gained an individual identity while at the same time multiple identities.

The noodle reflects many characteristics of the Italian culture and history. For example, one way the noodle does this is through the name specific pasta is given. Some pasta names commemorate Italy’s war in Africa. The tripoline pasta was Libya inspired while the bengasini pasta was inspired by Benghazi. Also, some pasta have been named to honor the House of Savoy, the Italian throne from the unification before world war 2. Mafaldine pasta was named after Princess Mafalda and the Regine pasta was named to reflect the name queen. Its shape also reflects its name through its ruffled like edges like a queen’s crown. Industrialization also is reflected through pasta’s names as some have been named after machinery. The route pasta was named and shaped after the wheel while the eliche pasta was named after propellers. Pasta names were also being linked to city names. Prosperity and living conditions could be inferred from ingredients used in local pasta. For example, in Piedmont wealth could be observed in the tajarin pasta which was rich in egg. Noodles in Italy reflect a lot of the country’s history. Throughout the years, the noodle has come to symbolize unification in Italy as well as to embrace each distinct region.

In China, the noodle reflects culture through its heavy presence in Chinese traditions and stories. For example, longevity noodles are eaten on birthdays and the length of the noodle is used to represent prosperity and long life. Noodles with gravy are eaten during marriage or when a family moves to a new house as a symbol of flavored life. During the lunar new year on February 2nd, dragon head whisker noodles are eaten to ask for good weather. Sweet dumplings are eaten in the western festival, and rice-puddings in the Dragon boat festival. Some noodle names originated from folklore in China. For example, the dutiful son’s noodles were named after a son cured his sick mother by feeding her noodles. In another story, old friend noodles were used to cure a friend and has now come to symbolize friendship. In a story called Crossing the Bridge, the noodle demonstrates a chef’s resolve to feed his isolated master in an island. The story also highlights the noodles length and characteristics to serve as the foundation for other ingredients. Through these stories and traditions in China, we can see how the noodle shapes China’s beliefs and customs. The noodle is an integral part of their culture.

The noodle plays such an integral role in the food culture of both China and Italy due to its versatility and health benefits. Naturally coming from semolina or flour, pasta is a complex carbohydrate food that digests slowly. This offers a slow and steady source of energy that keeps a person full longer. Its versatility allows pasta to be paired with other ingredients in many different ways. Due to this reason, it has become a foundation for famous diets such as the Mediterranean Diet. On the larger scale, pasta benefits are heightened by the ingredients it can be paired with such as vegetables, sauces, and other proteins to create a balanced and heathy meal. This I believe is what makes pasta so great and used in many meals throughout the world.

Most dictionaries define the noodle in the normal technical way as something made from wheat or flour mixed with water and or eggs. Whiles this covers the technical part of the noodle, it fails to define the noodle’s cultural significance around the world and what it has become to this day. The noodle is no longer an individual being but has become part of a greater whole. If I were to define the noodle, I would use something close to Chef Felipe Rojas Lombardi’s definition, “a universal food, complimentary to many other foods, and adaptable to many cuisines around the world.”

I chose this image to represent the noodle because it demonstrates many things about the noodle. To begin with, it demonstrates the various shapes and sizes of the different kinds of noodles. Each noodle is unique in its shape and the place where it comes from. It also demonstrates the noodle’s ability as a whole, to be paired with many different ingredients to create unique and delicious dishes. Lastly, this image demonstrates that the noodle is universal, as these dishes are from various countries and not only from China and Italy.

The Noodle of My Culture

One of the important food items that represents my family and cultural background is the tortilla. Being born in Mexico and immigrated into the United States, I remember the tortilla being a critical part of my everyday life. At my home tortillas accompany our meals for dinner practically each day. The tortilla definitely is a big part of Hispanic cultures, it is the noodle of our culture. What is amazing about the tortilla is that we can use it in many different ways and forms. For example, a renowned food in Hispanic cultures that uses tortillas is the taco. The foundation for the famous taco is the tortilla as it is what holds the ingredients in place. Each taco is named differently based on the ingredients it contains. One of the famous tacos is named tacos de lengua. The main ingredient in this taco is beef tongue. Another traditional Mexican dish where the basis is the tortilla is chilaquiles. Chilaquiles is made up of broken pieces of tortillas with salsa, cream, and cheese. More ingredients can be added. In other dished, tortillas does not have to be the basis but can serve as a complementary. For example, in traditional Mexican dishes that contains beans or rice, tortillas can be used to scoop up these ingredients. In my family, the tortillas has often come to replace traditional eating utensils such as a spoon and a fork. It serves many functions.

On a personal level, one reason I believe we eat tortillas so much is because it helps us fill our stomachs faster. This would make sense since there is a lot of poverty in Mexico and the area where I come from. It was hard to keep food on the table. I can notice the difference when I eat my beans and rice with tortillas and without tortillas. If I eat without tortillas, I remain hungry and in need of more food. Tortillas are relatively cheap to make so many families in Mexico use them in their dishes. Although I believe this, there is more to tortillas than just the cheap cost as a replacement meal. It is significant in our culture because it talks about who we are. The tortilla has definitely influenced who I am as a person and the way I grew up. It has taught me to always remain humble and grateful for what I have. It tells me to appreciate any meal that I have on my table. The tortilla is significant in our culture because it allows for families to have food on their table.

I personally have not been able to explore Atlanta much to know a whole lot about ethnic communities there. From what I know is that there is a lot of diversity in Atlanta as it is a busy and heavily populated city. From the little experiences I have had, one fun thing is that students in Atlanta as a whole currently have a crave for bubble tea, a Taiwanese drink made from milk and tapioca. Interestingly, although people from the area have turned the drink into a whole big thing, Taiwanese students don’t seem to be as affectionate towards the drink as other students. It would be intriguing to learn more about this drink and how it is view from the eyes of Taiwanese people and foreigners.

 Tacos de Lengua

 Chilaquiles Tortillas!