Ramen is synonymous with Japan, but it is commonly thought to have come from China sometime during the Meiji period. The term “ramen” is supposedly the Japanese pronunciation for the Chinese word for pulled noodles, lamian. Additionally, an alternative term for ramen is chuka soba, literally “Chinese noodles.” However, food historians dispute whether there was ever any direct connection between the two. As anyone who has had both ramen and lamian can tell you, the types of noodle dishes are very different.
Even if they are unrelated, I thought it would be interesting to compare the original Chinese “ramen” with the Japanese version that has taken the world by storm. But in a country as obsessed with noodles as Japan, I could not find any restaurants that served fresh, hand-pulled, reasonably authentic lamian.
That is, until now.
Ramen is arguably Japan’s national dish, but it originates from Chinese la-mian (pulled noodles). In fact, another term for ramen in Japan is chuka soba — Chinese noodles. If you’ve been to China or even a local Chinatown, you may have come across a noodle shop where someone made la-mian by taking a big piece of dough and stretch it out with to the full length of his wingspan, separating it into many individual strands in the process, and doing it over and over until he achieves a pile of noodles. Interestingly, I’ve never seen or heard of any la-mian places in Tokyo. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough or perhaps I need to go to a fancy high-end Chinese restaurant. It’s also possible that the demand for la-mian is limited here, overshadowed by the locals’ affinity for their own iconic ramen.
However, what I have found are plenty of noodle joints that serve tantanmen (dandan mian in Chinese), a spicy Sichuanese noodle dish.