How To Tell The Difference Between Ramen And Udon

Delicious noodles from Japan and what tastes they have to offer

Japanese food has an overwhelming presence worldwide. Two of the popular dishes spread across the world are ramen and udon. While they look similar at face value, these two Japanese noodle dishes had a variety of notable differences. Let's explore what these subtle but important differences are in these classic Japanese dishes!

What is Ramen?


1. Ramen is a variety of ingredients

Ramen is a Japanese dish that contains thin and curled wheat noodles with a broth typically made of either miso, Shoyu (soy sauce), or a pork bone broth called Tonkotsu. It's a popular dish due to its inexpensive yet filling nature and comes with a variety of different potential toppings. This is including but not limited to pork slices, seaweed, eggs, or a type of sliced fish cake known as Kamaboku. In some restaurants, the customer can even dictate to the chef the shape and doneness they want in their noodles. 

Source: SeriousEats

2. Ramen is most often in a broth

While ramen noodles are normally served in a warm broth, there is an exception in the broth-less 'cold ramen' that is typically eaten in the hot Japanese summers.

Cold ramen, also known as summer ramen or Hiyashi Chuka, has many of the same fixings as regular ramen but is laid out more like a salad than a soup. It often contains ingredients not typically used in regular ramens, like cold sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. It may also often come with a garnish to the side of sesame sauce or soy sauce, to dip the noodles into. 

Ramen are think and elastic
Source: SeriousEats

3. Ramen contains thin noodles

As mentioned previously, ramen exclusively has a thin type of noodle. These noodles are made from a wheat base and typically are slightly elastic. Due to this, ramen has flexibility when it is cooked properly. Not every ramen noodle is going to taste the same as every dish will have an influence from the chef's choices about the proper noodle size or the proper firmness of the cooked noodle. 

What is Udon?

Source: ProportionalPlate

1. Udon has a variety of dishes served both hot and cold

Similar to ramen, udon is a form of Japanese wheat noodle that has a variety of different usages. While it is likely best known in the western world for the popular soup that it is used in, udon has a variety of different usages in its country of origin. Many of them are in soups but it is also well known for its presence in Zaru udon, a simple dish including the cool noodles being placed on a mat next to a dipping sauce. 

hot and cold udon
Source: Asahi Imports

Udon comes in a wide variety of options. There is Kake udon, a dish of udon noodles in a hot broth with green onions. There is curry udon, a dish where the noodles and broth are combined with curry. There is Nabeyaki udon, a dish similar to a hot pot where the noodles and vegetables included are cooked by the heat of the broth itself.

The latter is only served during the coldest months of the season, while a dish like Zaru udon is typically served only during the warmest. 

udon low in ingredients
Source: ProportionalPlate

2. Udon is relatively low on ingredients 

Udon, on the other hand, typically has an ingredient list that does not go much further than the noodles, one or two extra additions, and the broth--and even the latter is not necessarily always a function of the recipe. Many udon soups can be expected to only have one or two supporting flavors, as opposed to ramen's larger selection. There are of course exceptions to this, in the form of the earlier mentioned Nabeyaki udon, but the typical udon may only be broth and noodles with a garnish of tofu or some form of meat. 

Udon has also been known to be used for stir fry dishes, and several regional variants are served only at certain times of the year such as ise udon.

3. Udon noodles are thick and absorbent

Udon noodles are thick and absorbent, tending to absorb the flavor of whatever broth or sauce they are being served with. As they are thicker and larger, udon noodles tend to be chewier. The girth of the noodle compensates for the lesser variety in garnishing, as these wheat noodles can be quite filling just on their own. While udon has yet to gain the amount of following that ramen has in the United States, it still has a devoted audience that loves these thick and chewy noodles. 

So What Is The Difference Between Ramen and Udon?

It can be said that the difference between udon and ramen lies in size and scale. One dish goes big, while the other tends to stick to simplicity.

Ramen typically has a wide variety of ingredients as listed above. Meanwhile, udon tends to stick with just the noodles, the broth, and one or two additional ingredients. Ramen noodles are thin and elastic, while udon noodles are thick and absorbent. Udon noodles also have more variety in recipes, being used in far more cooled dishes than ramen, which mainly only has one non-soup variety. However, even in its varieties, udon tends to stick to simple setups, while the occasional varieties in ramen contain a bevy of ingredients just like the regular soup itself.

Both simple flavor profiles and complex ones can be delicious, while also providing a completely different tasting experience. Now that you know the difference between the two, the best thing that you can do is try both dishes yourself. Each one has a completely different palette pleaser to offer. A lover of food could come to love both dishes in the end.

A writer located in the lush Redwood forests of Northern California who loves animation and food.

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