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Put another way, if I am served curly ramen noodles in a restaurant or for take-out, does that mean they are necessarily instant noodles? If there are fresh noodles that are curly, can someone provide a reference?

Here's a picture of what I mean. I don't eat instant ramen often, but they look as curly as instant noodles that I have eaten. Has this place served up instant ramen?

enter image description here

Picture from Wikipedia of which I am referring to as 'fresh ramen', distinct from the fried dried stuff coming in packages, which I don't think would cook up the same way:

enter image description here

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The second picture appears cooked (probably fried, possibly baked) from the way the noodles are stiff (see the little hook shaped noodle off the lower left corner, whose tip is sticking up in the air, for example) and from the browned color. –  SAJ14SAJ Jun 22 '13 at 14:39

4 Answers 4

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The short answer is yes, they can come in a curly form. There are several types of fresh noodle used in Rāmen, which can be classified mainly according to thickness and shape.

Noodles are classified in shape into the straight sutorēto-men (ストレート麺), the curly chijire-men(縮れ面), and the more rare flat hirauchi-men(平打ち麺) . With the exception of the flat type, these are further divided into several degrees of thickness: the extra thick gokubuto-men(極太麺), the thick futo-men(太麺), the middle thick chūbuto-men(中太麺), the middle thin chūboso-men(中細麺), the thin hoso-men(細麺), and the extra thin gokuboso-men(極細麺). The thin types are also further differentiated in the amount of water they have in their dough.

Which shape and thickness of noodle is used depends on the style of ramen and on the chef's preference. For example, hakata rāmen(博多ラーメン), of the sorts served by Ippūdō in their Japanese stores, usually uses straight gokuboso type, but the same franchise uses chijire gokuboso type for their spicy rāmen and chijire gokubuto for their tsukemen. Likewise, yokohama tonkotsu-shōyu (横浜豚骨醤油), also known as ie-kei(家系), uses chijire-gokubuto.

The choice of noodle is related to many factors, but cooking time is an important one. In hakata rāmen, where the practice of topping up your noodles (kaedama/替え玉) is common, one has to be able to cook the noodle quickly, and hence the very thin noodle. Thicker types of noodle need longer cooking time (aprox. 10 min for gokubuto-men), and are only used by rāmen traditions that do not offer a noodle refill.

Another factor affecting the noodle type is the type of broth. Thicker broths ask for straight type of noodles, and thinner broths for curly noodles.

These are not rules etched in stone, however, as rāmen itself is a sort of creole food born from a mix of Japanese and Chinese cuisines. Some would say that there is not right or wrong in rāmen, and that anything is possible. However, what I have described above is what is customary and what you will find if you go to rāmen shops in Japan.

By the way, not all rāmen dishes in Japan use fresh noodles. There is a type of rāmen that originates from Chiba prefecture and is called takeoka rāmen(竹岡ラーメン), which was originally cooked by part-timer old ladies hired from the neighbourhood, and uses dried (what you would call instant) noodles because they are easier to cook.

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For those that might not believe -- there was an article/video released today on Sun Noodle, a company that makes fresh ramen, and at 2:05 they show it going through a machine to add the curl : eater.com/archives/2014/07/22/… –  Joe Jul 23 at 1:26

I once made an egg-based pasta recipe, meant to be spaghetti, which I didn't allow to dry to rest long enough. Texturally, the result was identical to ramen (even without the kansui, or bicarbonate solution) because the noodles were cooked so moist.

The pasta stayed pretty curly after cooking, most likely because it wasn't dried over a rack; it was just rested for a short time in flour-dusted clumps, the flour there to keep each noodle from sticking together. My wife, who has spent a pretty substantial amount of her life in ramen shops in Japan, was commenting that we seemed to have produced ramen with tomato sauce.

Real ramen noodles tend to cook fairly curly in my experience. Normally, they are made with water, flour, and kansui, and like my hurried pasta are typically dusted with flour and allowed to sit already slightly twisted together before cooking (you might have seen racks of ramen outside a shop in the movie Tampopo). I'm not sure what the root cause is, but I'm fairly confident that you won't be able to recognize instant ramen purely from the fact that it's curly when cooked.

The better indicator is probably oiliness. In "real" ramen, the broth tends to be super oily, typically from pork fat; the noodles are low in fat. In instant ramen, the noodles are very high in fat because of that pre-frying stage, and they can only fit so much fat in those little soup packets, so the soup itself is not that fatty. (Some ship with an extra flavored oil packet to get an appearance and aroma that Japanese, Korean and Chinese instant ramen customers want). If the noodles aren't overcooked and they are greasy, that's a better indication than the shape of the result. To me, the instant ones have a fairly distinctive smell, but I'm not sure everyone could recognize it. Additionally, well-made fresh ramen have a textural "bite" that's hard to describe but easy to recognize if you've had it.

The noodles in your first picture are white enough that I'm not sure there's any (or much) kansui in them. But I couldn't say conclusively whether they are instant or not from looking at them. I'd probably be able to tell from the texture if eating them. The lack of golden color suggest that they could just be a locally available fresh noodle but not actually ramen.

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What you have in that bowl there is udon. Also, fresh ramen noodles can be bought at an Asian grocery - look for sun noodle or yamachan.

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Sorry, but that is most definitely not udon. I know what udon looks like, and unless there is a skinny, wimpy noodle that is a poor excuse for udon, that is not it. –  Andrew Mao Jun 22 '13 at 21:18

Ramen are a pre-cooked noodle. That is, they are usually deep fried (or less often, baked) before even being delivered to the home cook or restaurant that will serve them. You can even eat them straight out of the package if you want.

While straight ramen noodles do exist, most are curly.

So I am not sure what "instant" ramen means--by their very nature ramen are instant in that they are precooked, and only need to boil or simmer long enough to get soft and hot.

I would not read anything in to the fact that your restaurant is serving you curly looking ramen.

On the other hand, if they were making their broth from a little powder packet, I would be upset.

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"instant" probably means packaged and costing 29 cents at the local Asian mart. –  AAA Jun 18 '13 at 18:38
    
Darn, I have been overpaying at $5 for a package of 12! –  SAJ14SAJ Jun 18 '13 at 18:38
    
Are you sure about the claim that they're generally precooked, at least with more traditional Japanese ramen (as opposed to Americanized versions, including instant ramen)? There are a lot of ramen places around here, and I'm pretty sure some of the good ones make their own noodles. –  Jefromi Jun 18 '13 at 18:55
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I'm not sure if your answer is accurate. If I went to a restaurant that was serving this, of which there are plenty in New York City, I don't think my soup would have looked like the picture I showed. Are you saying all ramen is the same as the pre-fried ones that come in the plastic packages? –  Andrew Mao Jun 18 '13 at 22:40
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Instant ramen, namely the stuff that comes out of those packages that are pre-fried as you described, are a facsimile of real, fresh, ramen. Fresh ramen have a much longer history than instant ramen; in many parts of the world, though, few people have tried the "real" thing. This answer is only correct in describing instant ramen, not the type that Japanese ramen shops make. –  JasonTrue Jun 22 '13 at 14:59

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