As with many famous foods, the origin story of ramen is murky.
What most experts seem to agree on is the dish is, in fact, based on a Chinese noodle soup, although no one really knows how it made the jump to Japan. However, Japanese ramen first appeared anywhere from the 17th to 20th centuries, depending on who you believe.
One story says a scholar named Shu Shunsui brought ramen to Japan when he escaped China, but there is no recorded instance of the scholar cooking ramen. Some say the story involving a restaurant called Rai-Rai Ken in Tokyo in 1910 is more plausible.
As it goes, an entrepreneur who worked in China came to Tokyo and opened a new restaurant employing Chinese cooks. They combined the Japanese noodle dish called soba with their Chinese culinary traditions, and the dish became incredibly popular with the local working class as it would fill you up on the cheap.
However, in 1937, Japan occupied China and the Chinese noodle dish took on a more political meaning in Japan. It was eaten as an expression of pride in Japan’s military success.
After World War II ended in defeat for the Japanese, ramen was all but obliterated due to food shortages. Then, by the 1970s, ramen fueled the country’s remarkable economic boom, and slowly developed into the national dish that has since been exported around the world.
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