The first time I came to Nagoya and saw a restaurant with a sign outside that said “Taiwan Ramen”, my first reaction was “I didn’t know there is a thing called Taiwan ramen”. You have to be sceptical when you see a Chinese food in Japan with a dish that you have never heard of, or when you see a cuisine that is named after an entire country. Such like Americanized Chinese food, the Chinese food here are rarely genuinely Chinese, even at restaurants managed by Chinese people. More about that in another article (stay tuned!). The Taiwanese noodles I am very familiarized with are the Taiwanese beef noodles, but I was very certain that this was different. The next label I saw down the street said “Taiwan ramen, the popular Nagoya cuisine” and that confirmed my initial suspicion.
As a person who has ramen broth for blood, I searched up a place that specializes in this type of ramen near my house and decided to give it a try.
First off, a quick history lesson. Taiwan ramen was invented by a Taiwanese Chef from the Chikusa district of Nagoya in the 1970s. The dish was inspired by Tantanmen (a type of Chinese spicy noodles) and its spicy nature. It grew more popular across the entire Nagoya during the mid 1980s spicy boom, which was a diet movement to get thinner by eating food with toukarashi (chili peppers). This spicy boom also gave Taiwan ramen a spotlight on the media, attracting people who enjoy dinning spicy or wanting to get thin in a delicious way. Nowadays, Taiwan ramen is commonly found all over Aichi and occasionally its nearby prefectures.
The concept of Taiwan ramen isn’t all too complex:
1. Stir-fry a mixture of minced pork, garlic, toukarashi (chili peppers), green onion and bean sprout.
2. Boil up some chopped nira (Chinese chives).
3. Cook ramen, typically chuuka-men (中華麺) or other types with regular thickness and firmness.
4. Prepare a shoyu based ramen soup.
5. Place noodles, nira and the stir-fry mixture into the soup.
6. Vala! Mix and enjoy.
The most important element of Taiwan ramen is the stir-try mixture. It adds the taste of meat and garlic into the noodles. The mixture also brings in various ingredients to make the overall texture more interesting. Instead of just the noodles, you get the crunch of the garlic and the chewiness of the meat. The spiciness of the noodles also depends on this mixture. How much chili pepper was mixed in determines how spicy the bowl of Taiwan ramen is. Most ramen shops tend to charge extra for “extra spicy Taiwan ramen”. The whole spiciness, garlic and pork combination is the reason why Taiwan ramen is considered a “stamina food”.
Nira (Chinese chives) is also essential to Taiwan ramen. I have never seen nira in any other types of ramen, and I have never seen a bowl of Taiwan ramen without nira. It brings a strong but fresh taste into the bowl that I thoroughly enjoy. Combined with the garlic though, you might want to bring a breath-fresher of some kind. And unless your partner likes spicy food and doesn’t mind stinky breath, this is also not the best food for a date.
The thin shoyu soup is rather dull and plain until you begin spreading the mixture. The soup then turns evenly red. Personally, I enjoy adding more garlic and raayu (chili oil) into the noodles to bring in different kinds of spiciness. Occasionally putting vinegar into a spoonful of noodles makes an interesting change of taste too.
The focus of this ramen is on its spiciness and stimulating ingredients. Good news is that since it doesn’t necessarily take tens of ingredients plus tens of hours to prepare the soup, Taiwan ramen is not too expensive. You can usually find them between 500 to 750 yen, depending on the quality of the ramen. Taiwan ramen is as Taiwanese as French fries are French, and they are both delicious. If you are a fan of ramen and/or spicy food, please do give it a try!
Guest post written by Jackson Lee.