A traditional shop lantern with ramen written on it

Ramen Basics: Types of Ramen You Need to Know

Have you ever wondered how many types of ramen there are out there? Or maybe you have trouble keeping all of them straight. Ramen is experiencing a boom worldwide, and if you want to make an informed decision about which local ramen shop to try, you should to get to know the bases and which ones you prefer or want to try. You don’t want to go to a shio shop when you really meant to go to a shoyu one, right?

So let us help lead you through your ramen journey with this guide to the different types of ramen. We’re going to tell you about the main types and a few major regional varieties that you can try on your next trip to Japan.

The Four Main Types of Ramen

A bowl of Shoyu RamenShoyu is a classic flavor, but new shops are putting great spins on this classic. Image via Unsplash

Let’s start with one of the most popular noodle flavors in the West. Shoyu, or soy sauce, is a base with a clear, brown broth. The soy sauce creates a flavorful broth that is salty and tangy without being too heavy. It’s also known for having curly noodles that holds this particular broth style well.

This ramen style is well-loved in Western countries for two reasons. First is that it has a very familiar East Asian taste. The second reason is actually its consistency. People know what to expect and what they’re going to get from shoyu ramen.

For Japan, Tokyo is often the place most associated with shoyu ramen. This is because the typical Tokyo style is a chicken shoyu ramen, with chicken bones added to shoyu to make a delicious soup.


Shio ramen with bamboo and porkShio ramen can be a bit cloudy or clear based on how you order it. Image via Instagram (@sironekoramen)

Shio is the salt-base ramen with a signature pale, yellowish color. Salt is a common seasoning and common ingredient for soups, so you might think Shio is a common ramen type. However, it’s actually quite complex and it takes a lot to balance the flavors in the soup.

Shio ramen broth sometimes includes pork bones to help balance the flavor, while some shops include seafood broths made from fish like clams or sea bream to create a light, tasty soup. However, one thing is usually the case and that is that the noodles are straight and carry the soup perfectly.

The color of the broth is usually determined by how you order it. Kotteri (thick broth) means that it will be a bit thicker and cloudier. But ordering it assari will give you a clearer broth. That being said, this ramen might not be the best for those watching their sodium intake though.

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A bowl of miso ramen with corn on top
Miso has a rich taste that is very popular, especially in Hokkaido. Image via Unsplash

Pop quiz: what is miso made of? If you answered ‘fermented soybeans’, you’d be correct. This fermented soybean paste is what gives miso ramen its signature cloudy brown broth and strong, slightly nutty flavor. This base mixes really well with pork bone, chicken and fish bases that help to add more depth and fullness to the miso flavor.

Some say it was invented when some customers at a shop asked for noodles in their miso soup. Now, however, it is a very popular style, most popular in Hokkaido, where the Sapporo style makes full use of this broth. Nowadays, within the miso category, you can find different types of ramen like butter ramen, spicy miso, and more.


Tonkotsu Ramen from FukuokaTonkotsu is great because it pairs well with other types to create hybrids. Image via Unsplash

Tonkotsu is a pork bone base broth, with tonkotsu literally meaning ‘pork bone’. This broth is white and cloudy with an almost milky look and a deep meaty flavor. This is because of the cooking process which sees the bones boiled on high heat over a long period of time. The noodles for this broth are usually thin so they cook super quickly.

The broth itself mixes very well with the other types of ramen listed above, but most shops only use shoyu, miso and shio very sparingly to let the tonkotsu broth be the star it deserves to be.

Tonkotsu has actually become synonymous with Hakata ramen since it is really what popularized this style both around the world. However, many say that tonkotsu originated in Kurume, made its way to Hakata and was changed to what it is now. Either way, just know that Hakata ramen or Hakata style ramen is tonkotsu and is now one of the most popular styles outside of Japan.


Tsukemen noodles and toppings next to the soupThis ramen type is great for those who want their ramen cool. Image via Instagram (@saporin_0109)

Unlike the other styles, this one is more of a serving and eating method for ramen. Invented in 1961, tsukemen is cold ramen noodles served separately alongside a warm, concentrated version of the soup in a separate container. The idea is that you dip a mouthful of noodles and toppings into the soup and eat the dipped noodles. The soup can really be any of the four types of ramen or any combination of them.

This style is well-loved in Japan and just like regular ramen, you can add various ingredients to the soup, like garlic. When the noodles are all gone, just grab the hot water usually given to you by the staff, pour it into the concentrated broth, and drink the now less concentrated soup. It really is a delicious way to eat ramen and allows those who eat it to take in the full flavor of the broth and the noodles.

Regional Ramen Varieties

We’ve gone over the main types of ramen out there, but from those main types come plenty of unique spins on each one. That’s where regional ramen styles come in. With each area of Japan having different resources, histories and unique situations, different regions create delicious ramen variations that are sometimes only found in that area.

Some great examples include the popular Yokohama Iekei, the varied Hokkaido ramen types, Kitakata ramen and Kurume ramen. Yokohama Iekei is the delicious hybrid of Tokyo Chicken Shoyu and Hakata Tonkotsu. Meanwhile, Hokkaido has several local varieties, including Sapporo miso, Asahikawa style, and Hakodate style, all with different bases.

A bowl of ramen from Ichiran RamenFun Fact: As a Hakata brand, Ichiran's famous ramen is specifically Hakata's Tonkotsu style. Image via Unsplash

Kitakata is a popular one from Fukuoka that incorporates shoyu ramen with pork bone and/or sardines in the broth for a uniquely tasty flavor. And we can’t forget Kurume ramen, which is a tonkotsu ramen that is said to be the actual origin of Hakata style tonkotsu but has a distinctly different taste.

Here are the types of ramen you need to know. There are actually plenty more regional ramen styles and restaurant specialties that put modern twists on the ramen types we listed here, so if you come to Japan, make sure to try plenty of local shops.

What’s your favorite type of ramen? Are there any that you just can’t get into? Let us know in the comments below!

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