Ramen is one of Japan’s most popular foods today, with over 10,000 ramen shops in Tokyo alone. However, ramen wasn’t always so ubiquitous in Japanese society. Chinese immigrants introduced it to Japan in the late 19th century. It was originally made with noodles in broth, topped with Chinese-style roast pork. It became an important part of Japanese cuisine in the years immediately after the Second World War.
In December 1945, Japan had its worst rice harvest in 42 years. As a result, the American occupying forces imported large quantities of wheat into Japan, which was used not only for bread, but also to make noodles for ramen, which most Japanese ate at illegal food vendors. Many people relied heavily on the illegal food vendors to survive as the government food distribution system ran up to 20 days behind schedule.
At that time, ramen was simple, unlike the myriad variations that exist today. As reported by Jonathan Garcia, a ramen class instructor at Osakana in Brooklyn, New York, ramen was a soy sauce-based soup made with pork, chicken, and dried sardines.