Ramen is of Chinese origin, however it is unclear when ramen was introduced to Japan. Even the etymology of the word ramen is a topic of debate. One theory is that ramen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese 拉麺 (la mian), meaning “hand-pulled noodles.” A second theory proposes 老麺 (laomian, “old noodles”) as the original form, while another states that ramen was initially 鹵麺 (lǔmiàn), noodles cooked in a thick, starchy sauce. A fourth theory is that the word derives from 撈麵 (lāomiàn, “lo mein”), which in Cantonese 撈 means to “stir”, and the name refers to the method of preparation by stirring the noodles with a sauce.
Until the 1950s, ramen was called shina soba (支那そば, literally “Chinese buckwheat noodle”) but today chūka soba (中華そば, also meaning “Chinese buckwheat noodle”) is more common. In 1958, instant noodles were invented by Momofuku Ando, the Taiwanese-Japanese founder and chairman of Nissin Foods, now run by his son Koki Ando. Named the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th century in a Japanese poll, instant ramen allowed anyone to make this dish simply by adding boiling water. Beginning in the 1980s, ramen became a 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.