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The origin of Ramen is unclear. Some sources say it is of Chinese origin. Other sources say it was invented in Japan in the early 20th century.

The name ramen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese Lamian. Until the 1950s, Ramen was called Shina Soba, literally "Chinese Soba" but today Chuka Soba, also meaning "Chinese Soba" or just Ramen are more common, as the work "Shina" meaning China has acquired a pejorative connotation.

By 1900, restaurants serving Chinese cuisine from Canton and Shangbai offered a simple ramen dish of noodles (cut rather than pulled), a few toppings and broth flavored with salt and pork bones. many Chinese living in Japan also pulled portable food stalls, selling Ramen Gyoza dumplings to workers. By the mid-1900, these stalls used a typed of musical born called a Charimera, (a similar classical wind instrument from Portugal Charamela) to advertise their presence, a practice some vendors still retain via a loudspeaker and lopped recording. By the early Showa period, Ramen had become a popular dish when eating out.

According to Ramen expert Hiroshi Osaki, the first specialized Ramen shop opened in Yokohama in 1910. After World War II, cheap flour imported from the United States swept the Japanese market. At the same time, millions of Japanese troops had returned from China and continental East Asia from their posts in second Sino Japanese War.  Many of these returnees had become familiar with Chinese cuisine and subsequently set up Chinese restaurants across Japan.  Eating Ramen while popular, was still a special occasion that required going out.

Beginning in the 1980, Ramen became Japanese cultural icon and was studied around the world from many perspectives. At the same time, local varieties of Ramen were hitting the national market and could even be ordered by their regional names. A Ramen Museum opened in Yokohama in 1994.

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