Today, ramen is one of Japan's most iconic dishes, a national cuisine of sorts among other popular dishes like sushi and tempura. Originally a colonial Chinese import, ramen has risen to stardom throughout the last century through the help of accessibility, regionalization, and commodification. It's a cheap, filling meal that appealed to the masses of Japan and now exists as a go-to kind of dish that is not only affordable, but highly specialized and delicious. Tokyo alone boasts over 40,000 ramen shops and stalls with a myriad of types of ramen ranging from tonkotsu, miso, shoyu, shio, and everything in between. Ramen has become so regionalized and variant that essentially every town, every neighborhood, and maybe even every household has its own variation, recipe, or derivative of the noodle dish. Clearly, I am not talking about that gross instant noodle kind of ramen-- no, this is the real deal.
I've had the pleasure of living in the global epicenter of ramen itself. One thing I know I'll miss upon my departure is the ability to go to so many different kinds of ramen shops and try different soups, noodles, and dishes at an affordable price. Here, I don't have to venture far. My neighborhood has a couple of ramen shops. The neighborhood of my university has several as well, and they're all great! I can get ramen at my school cafeteria basically every day. It's everywhere. In Tokyo, I've had at least ten different bowls of ramen from different places by now. Honestly, I never tire of it and I probably never will. I know it's not the healthiest thing in the world, but comfort food is comfort food.
From the magical tsukemen I've had by walking into ramen shops randomly to the beautifully prepared tonkotsu broths at other well-known shops, I haven't had a bad bowl to date while here. If interested in a slice of Japan's society, exploring ramen culture might be a great way to enter the world of Japan as its a reflection of socioeconomics, history, anthropology, politics, and gender all in the setting of a little shop and a bowl of crafted deliciousness. Food is so telling of a culture and ramen surely does that of Japan. If ever in Japan, I implore you to go the distance and eat all sorts of food and as much as possible, but especially the ramen-- it's worth it.
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<p>Hi, I'm Alex. I'm a junior at Columbia University majoring in Urban Studies and dabbling in other areas of interest like race & ethnicity studies. Outside of school, I like to eat, cook, take pictures, shop, have long conversations, and travel. Food, fashion, culture, literature, and music are all things I love. Black and gold are my favorite colors. Having lived in New York City for two years now, I feel quite at home. However, living in Japan is something I have wanted to do all my life, so I'm quite excited to finally live out that dream. From the local culture to the food to the fashion, I'm pumped to engage with it all during my semester abroad.</p>