Ramen varies greatly in its home country due to climate, local ingredients and regional preferences. For general classification purposes, ramen can be found in three basic broth types: shoyu (soy sauce), miso (fermented soy bean paste) and shio (salt). Other common styles are tonkotsu, which derives its richness from pork bones, and tantanmen, also pork-based but with the addition Chinese-inflected ground pork and chile oil. The noodles vary in thickness, elasticity and curl, but the key is that they're made with an alkaline water solution to give them bounce and a basic (as opposed to acidic) mouthfeel.
With this week's blast of single-digit temperatures, it's the perfect time to explore Denver's steamy ramen dens and brimming bowls. To provide a taste of Denver's ramen scene, we visited five local restaurants to try their special noodle dishes.5) Sakura House Tonkotsu Sakura House took over the Yoko's Express space in Sakura Square two years ago and began serving ramen. The kitchen offers a long list of ramen types and toppings, including tonkotsu ramen. The spartan but tidy restaurant serves a fairly light but flavorful tonkotsu with a tangle of thin, wavy noodles, a couple of slices of tender pork and a hard-boiled egg. Avid ramen slurpers will note the sticky feeling the broth leaves on your lips; that's the collagen drawn out from hours of simmering pork bones. Strands of seaweed, slices of mushroom and a raft of scallions round out the deep-flavored but not overwhelmingly rich bowl. The ramen here is a bargain: The tonkotsu will set you back just $8.50. 4) Bones Lobster Ramen Frank Bonanno has proven his affinity for lobster with his lobster macaroni and cheese at Mizuna, just down the street from Bones. So it's not surprising that the ramen at his take on a pan-Asian noodle house would also feature big chunks of the succulent, pink seafood. He didn't invent lobster ramen, but his version — with miso broth and edamame — is certainly a Denver rarity. At $20, it's not a cheap, ramen-shop slurper, but if you're in the mood for a spurge, this noodle soup delivers with enough flavor and complexity to stand up to tradition. And if you really want a deep dive into Japanese noodles, Bones is offering a ramen class later this month.
Keep reading for more ramen samples.