Ramen toppings are the accessories that complement the broth and noodles, and complete the dish.
While you can technically use anything as a topping, there are a few garnishes that seem to make an appearance in almost every single bowl of ramen.
The combination of broth and noodles might differ, and you may find an unusual ingredient here and there, but ultimately it’s these classic toppings that make each bowl of ramen so comforting and impossible to resist
Pork Belly (Cha-Siu)
Sliced pork belly, called cha-siu or charsiu, is the quintessential topping you see in almost every single ramen bowl.
The sliced pork belly is cooked in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, mirin, sake, garlic, and ginger, and left to simmer on low for at least an hour. Perfectly cooked cha-siu meat is so tender that it almost melts in your mouth and has the perfect balance of sweet, umami, and savory.
No wonder why it’s become the main topping for ramen all over the world!
Ramen egg is another quintessential topping that takes a simple bowl of noodles to a whole new level of yumminess.
The eggs are cooked until they are soft boiled, peeled, and marinated in a simple mixture of soy sauce, mirin, and sake. The egg is then cut in half to show a soft, almost creamy yolk, and a brown and savory exterior.
Fish Cakes (Kamaboko, Surimi, or Narutomaki)
There are various types of fish cakes you can use for ramen such as chikuwa, white kamaboko, and pink kamaboko (pictured above), but the most popular one is surimi – a white fish cake with a pink swirl in the center. Surimi is made of fish paste and various seasonings that have been rolled and steamed.
While you may think that the name Narutomaki comes from the famous Naruto anime, where the character eats a bowl of ramen with a surimi in it, it’s actually named after the swirl that is found by the Naruto strait, which is located between Awaji island and Shikoku.
The pink swirl was added to the fish cake to signify the swirl in the strait.
Extra firm tofu is often used as the vegetarian substitute for cha-siu pork since the texture can hold its shape when placed in broth.
Instead of serving plain tofu cubes as a topping, ramen tofu toppings are cut into slices about the same thickness as a piece of cha-siu, and marinated in a mixture of ingredients that also mimic the taste of cha-siu pork.
Menma (Preserved Bamboo Shoots – メンマ)
Menma are bamboo shoots that have been dried in the sun, fermented, and seasoned in dashi. They are most often used as a ramen topping but can also be served as a side to a bowl rice, or simply enjoyed on its own.
The shoots are moist yet crunchy and are a little sweet and savory.
Mung Bean Sprouts (Moyashi)
Using mung bean sprouts in ramen adds sweetness and nice refreshing crunch.
They can be added raw or cooked and pair well with all types of ramen.
Chopped scallions are another essential ingredient to a perfect bowl of ramen.
The vibrant green color adds a refreshing look, while the sweetness and crunchy textures marry beautifully with the chewy noodles and savory broth. I recommend chopping the scallions on the bias to make it easier to grab with chopsticks.
Seaweed (Wakame or Nori)
Another essential topping that you will see in every bowl of ramen is seaweed.
It can come in the form of wakame or nori, which both add a briny and mineral taste. Both toppings should be eaten sooner than later for textural reasons – wakame gets slimy if left in water or broth for too long, and nori gets soggy.
Wood Ear Mushrooms (Kikurage)
Kikurage are wood ear mushrooms that have been thinly sliced into sticks and dehydrated. They have a crunchy texture and a mild earthy taste.
They are a very popular topping in Japan, used about as often as a ramen egg or cha-siu slices.
Shiitake mushrooms make a wonderful topping for those who like plenty of umami and earthiness with their ramen. Both fresh or reconstructed dried shiitake mushrooms can be used as toppings.
However, is you are planning to use fresh ones, it’s best to lightly pan fry them to get rid of the spongy texture.
While kimchi isn’t a classic ramen topping, it’s quickly becoming a favorite among those who enjoy a little heat with their noodles.
The kimchi pickling juice can also be added to the broth to give the ramen a Korean flair, making the dish pungent and spicy.
Corn is a popular ramen topping in the northern region of Japan because it’s harvested there.
Fresh or canned corn is added to miso and shio ramen, along with a pat of butter, to add sweetness, saltiness, and a nice crunchy texture.
Butter is added to miso ramen in the northern part of Japan to add creaminess and to make the dish heartier.
Since the winters can be quite harsh, Hokkaido locals prefer a richer broth over a light one to keep them warm and energized.
Sesame Seeds (Goma)
Sesame seeds are ground and sprinkled as a topping to add depth of flavor and nuttiness to ramen. They are used more often in richer broths, such as tonkotsu and miso.
Ichimi or Shichimi Togarashi (Chili Pepper Flakes)
Ichimi or shichimi togarashi are chili pepper flakes that are sprinkled on top of soups, grilled meats, rice, and noodle dishes, to add a little heat and smokiness.