How exactly did ramen become trendy?
Back in the 1980s, ramen really started to become part of a lifestyle or fashion item just as much as a food. There were traditional pushcarts that started to disappear and the Chinese restaurants that once sold it were declining. They were replaced by more trendy ramen shops selling speciality dishes and a limited menu at a much higher price. Manual workers were told that the old customer base was a lot less in terms of numbers, with the stereotypical ramen eater turning to a younger, urban generation consumer that was labeled as the “Shinjinrui” or the “new breed”.
For a lot of people, ramen became a type of hobby rather than fuel for tough physical work. It became common enough to wait in line for hours to get your favorite dish at a speciality ramen shop that the patrons who did so were even given their own name of “ramen gyoretsu”. In the 80s, there was also the start of an obsession with regional varieties of ramen. Fans would go long distances to taste a new dish that they had heard about. By the 1990s, ramen actually went Japanese.
Ramen Turns Japanese
With birth as a foreign import, and the centric role that foreign wheat plays in this dish, it is odd that ramen became the symbol of tradition in Japan. However, this is exactly what happened. New customers were born after the period where there was war and post-war hardship. The older association was nothing but purely nostalgic at this point. It was a comfort food that seemed to be native in stark contrast to more elegant European cuisine. The shops stopped having the names and decor that had any Chinese association. No more white and red noren to be seen and the chefs started to dress in a different manner.
In the later half of the 1990s and into the 2000s, younger ramen chefs were inspired by Kawahara Shigemi, who is the founder of the ramen shop known as Ippudo. Shigemi started to wear what resembled work clothing of the Japanese Buddhist, known as the samue. This is something that was normally worn by potters and other practitioners of the traditional arts in Japan. The samue, usually in either black or purple, was worn by the craftsmen around in 18th century Japan. The newer clothing suggests that ramen makers were now considered Japanese craftsman with a sensibility like the Zen Buddhist rather than a traditional Chinese food chef.
Some people started using ramen as a way to argue that western food is said to produce superior people. There were even a number of stories that came out in newspapers and other print mediums to show that the ramen boom had a major impact on the Japanese food world.
Today, we have ramen shops that are appearing as specialty shops in a variety of fashionable cities all over the globe, marking what seems to be a quintessentially Japanese dish.