Soup base

Soup bases


In your typical ramen shop
in Japan, there are a couple of standard soup bases that are used for
all the noodle soup dishes, and the variations come from the noodles
and the toppings used. Your typical ramen shop is also fiercely protective
of their own particular family recipe, so it can be tricky (if not impossible)
to find out what your favorite soup broth is made of.

For example, the shoyu base
listed below is my own creation based on taste-testing the Arlington
Heights Mitsuwa mall’s kitsune soba and trying to recreate its flavor
at home. The shoyu broth they use there is distinctively sweet, with
the fragrance of sake noticeable; the shoyu soup base at one ramen stall
I ate at in Osaka was less sweet and more dashi-scented and also included
hot peppers and possibly hot sesame oil (a little too much hot stuff
for my personal taste).

I also haven’t tried shio
ramen because I’m not that fond of salty flavors without anything to
counterbalance the salt and had a bad experience, but I’ve heard other
people describe shio ramen as the epitome of ramen arts. In the end
it’s all up to the taster.

The three most popular soup
base flavors are miso, shoyu, and shio, although it’s difficult to say
in what order. Most ramen shops will have either miso and shoyu or miso
and shio. Many also have a meat-based soup stock based on pork, chicken,
or seafood, going by various names depending on the ingredients and

So the samples below are
jumping off points for you to come up with your own favorite blends.
(I started with the shoyu base below and morphed it into a very Thai
flavor with the addition of garlic and shrimp paste to try to mimic
my favorite recipe (ba mee moo dang, barbecued pork with baby bok choy
and noodles) from the now-closed Sukhotai Cafe that used to be on Green
Street. It doesn’t fit the Japanese food description of course, but
I’m tempted to tuck it in under ramblings anyway…)

On with the recipes! I’m
listing everything in the “one serving” types of quantities
because that’s how I’m most used to making them. If you scale up beyond
two or three servings at a time, be particularly sure to taste test
and make sure the flavor suits you.

Shoyu base

Based on the flavor of the
shoyu broth made at the Arlington Heights Mitsuwa food court.

  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp dashi granules
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp mirin (if it has
    a sake fragrance; if it smells mostly of corn syrup or sugar, add another
    1/2 Tbsp sugar and 1 Tbsp sake instead)I often reduce the number
    of pots that have to be washed by cooking my noodles in one pot, dunking
    anything that needs warming (like meat or noodles) in the hot water
    for the last couple seconds, and then dumping the noodle pot through
    a strainer.

    Meanwhile, I’ve put all
    the soup base ingredients listed above (except water) into the bottom
    of a large bowl, and then I run the cup and a half of water through
    my Hot
    to heat it so that it’s warm but not quite tongue-scalding.

    (Japanese tradition has
    people slurping up noodles in broth so hot you have to make a lot
    of noise to not burn your tongue at the same time. I’ve never gotten
    the hang of not burning my tongue on it, so I go for the “less
    than boiling when it hits the bowl” approach myself…)

Miso base

Without the noodles, and
with the addition of things like cubed tofu, wakame seaweed, chopped
green onion, and possibly a scattering of tempura crisps or slices of
abura-age, you have standard miso soup, served at most meals and often
for breakfast.

When you add noodles to it,
it becomes miso ramen/miso soba/miso udon/whichever kind of noodle you’ve

  • 1/4 Tbsp dashi granules
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp(s) miso*
  • 1 1/2 cups water

*The amount of miso will
need to be adjusted upwards or downwards depending on the brand of miso
you buy and whether it’s aka (red – saltier) or shiro (white – less
salty) miso. Start with 1 Tbsp and taste test, then add more if you

Shio base

This is the one I have the
least experience with. The main defining characteristic is that salt
is the dominant flavoring because it contains neither shoyu nor miso.
Some stories say that it’s made from chicken bones without meat, others
that it’s made from dashi or fish bones; I’m sure there are versions
of both out there.

Shio soup base is also different
than osuimono (the clear dashi-based soup broth that is used for artistic
presentation of carefully arranged little carved bits of food — and
the main occasion where I consider starting from katsuo and konbu worth
the effort).

I’ve seen fresh shio ramen
packages available in the Green Onion refrigerator case. I’ve never
been curious enough to try their sauce, largely because I’m a good Scottish
girl and don’t want to pay $4 for 2-3 prepackaged servings when I can
pay $4 for a 5 pound box of dry noodles and make my own sauces and end
up with a couple dozen meals instead of 3; but maybe I’ll try one sometime
soon and make a report on a way to reproduce that particular version
from home ingredients. (I’ve also spotted a Japanese-language book whose
title translates to “Making pro-type ramen for yourself” and
I’m tempted to see if I can get it through… more info
later if I do track it down!)

Meat base

There are probably as many
different meat bases for soup broth as there are ramen shops in Japan.
A frequent addition is simmered yellow chicken fat, in order to bead
on the surface of the soup and make the noodles slippery. (You can ask
for extra, or you can ask for less — I tend to avoid the question altogether
and stick with the dashi-based soups like shoyu and miso.)

Short of becoming a ramen
apprentice for three years, I’d advise starting with your favorite pork
/ chicken / seafood / vegetable stock, adding about 1/2 Tbsp of light
soy sauce, and going from there.

(Beef broth doesn’t show
up nearly as often in Japanese soup bases as pork and chicken broth
do… I’d imagine that’s because for the past couple centuries, most
people could keep a pig or chicken in their backyard, but cows take
a lot more space, and space is one thing Japan has never been long on.)

In my opinion, there’s more
than enough spices and fat clinging to your average piece of chashuu
pork to provide the artistic beads on the soup surface, but if you feel
like adding more, be my guest. (I’m sure Emeril would recommend bacon
drippings if you don’t have any chicken skins around to simmer in the