As ramen becomes more mainstream, it's important to note that the food Americans typically call ramen, aka instant noodles, isn't the same as traditional ramen.
Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup. It was originally called shina soba, literally "Chinese soba" because of its origins in China. However, historians aren't sure when the jump to Japan happened.
Ramen is typically made up of hand-pulled wheat noodles in chicken or pork stock, topped with scallions, bamboo shoot, and sliced barbecue pork. But there are a number of regional variations. For example, Sapporo is famous for its miso ramen.
These days, you can find entire restaurants dedicated to ramen, known as ramen shops. My personal favorite is Foo Foo Tei in the Los Angeles area.
On the other hand, instant noodles were invented in 1958 when Momofuku Ando discovered how to dehydrate noodles in his shed.
Believe it or not, when instant noodles were first sold in Japan, they cost slightly more than fresh ramen and were considered a luxury product. Instant noodles became cheaper once Ando was able to mass-produce them.
Now, instant noodles are characterized by a separate seasoning packet and ease of cooking. There's also a variety of instant noodles from bowl and cup noodles to instant udon and soba.
The only similarity between instant noodles and ramen is that they're both noodle soups. Ramen is made fresh while instant noodles include a vast variety of manufactured noodles. The next time you call something ramen, think about it first. Is it really ramen or just instant noodles?