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The noodle revolution is well and truly underway, or as it has been interestingly described in the states, Ramengeddon. The transformation of the humble ramen in the UK from a lowly student packet staple to an authentic delight obsessed over by noodle nerds, clearly demonstrates that, alongside the growing popularity of Japanese cuisine, our palate has developed a sophisticated understanding of the delights of this East Asian soul food. So what’s all the fuss about?

Far from the powdered 50p ramen noodles found in your local oriental supermarket, the art of authentic ramen, like all Japanese cooking, is in its commitment to detail. Pork or chicken bones are specially selected, roasted for a specific amount of time, and must be boiled for over 10 hours to create a perfectly concentrated and full bodied broth. Noodles must have the perfect bite, bounce and consistency. Additions to the broth such as chashu pork, hanjuku egg and nori, must balance perfectly with the hearty liquid that engulfs it. With over 34,000 ramen shops in Japan, the dish is rigidly scrutinised and even obsessed over in its home country. Holding a special place in the culinary heart of Japan, ramen has a cult like status, inspiring popular culture with museums, magazines and more than one movie created in its honour.

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Although growing in popularity, it appears the UK is late to the noodle soup party. Like many UK trends, we have taken note from our cousins across the pond; who, aided by a much larger Japanese population, have been slurping down ramens for a while now. Unlike Japan, where regionality and tradition dictate ramenography more rigidly, innovation is unbound in the land of the free. Eminent noodle masters such as New York’s Ivan Orkin have been pushing the boundaries with new flavour combinations, such as his mozzarella and roasted tomato shio ramen. The ramen obsession reached new heights in March as punters queued round the block for the first taste of Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Burger, a noodle encased pork patty. As is often the case, the UK followed, with Yo Sushi offering its own Ramen Burger last summer, and a string of both highly authentic and innovative ramen joints like Kanada-Ya and Bone Daddies opening up.

It appears that the UK’s taste for ramen is growing day by day, as Wagamama is about to be joined by one of Japans most famous chains, Ippudo. For both consumers and producers, ramen appears to be a real winner.  The relaxed nature of slurping a hot bowl of this Japanese soup fulfils consumer’s growing calls for informed yet informal dining. As the public begins to eat out more frequently, their want for fast yet high quality food is growing. The popularity of street food continues to contend that consumers, despite becoming more discerning, have an appetite for no frills, quick dishes. The homeliness of a warming ramen offers a distinctively different option to often calorific fast food.

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For restaurateurs, the economies of ramen are enticing. Gross profit margins can be as high as 85%, with a bowl of chicken, noodles and broth demanding a price sometimes upward of £10, and costing around a measly £2 to produce. So with such an insatiable market for noodles at the moment, it’s easy to see how the lowly pot noodle is being joined by pimped up premium retail offerings. With Clearspring producing a £4.45 healthy, organic noodle pot (two words not usually in the same sentence as pot noodle);  Itsu, Kabuto and Innocent have also recently released products to challenge Pot Noodle’s 45% market share.

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The ramen revolution appears to have intersected all levels of the food industry, and our avid appetite for noodle slurping doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Perhaps in the coming years dishes such as Vietnamese pho and Malaysian laksa will fulfil the nation’s appetite for novel noodle soups, but for now it appears the ramen rules the roost.

Author – Jack Cliffe – Marketing and NPD Assistant

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