Updated: September 17, 2019
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All About 'Chashu,' the Delicious, Tender Meat Found on Top of Ramen!

Who doesn't love ramen? It's probably the most popular dish in Japan and is on its way to becoming the most popular Japanese dish outside of Japan as well. One of the most ubiquitous ramen toppings is chashu, the tender and flavorful meat slices that sit on top of the bowl. This article will explain what chashu is and talk about some of the different kinds you'll find in the ramen world.

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What is Chashu?

If you've ever had a bowl of authentic ramen, you've probably tasted chashu, the thinly-sliced, tender pieces of flavored meat (typically pork) that sit on top of the noodles. Chashu is one of the classic ramen toppings that can be found prepared in a wide variety of ways.

'Chashu' (チャーシュー)is how the Chinese word 'char siu' (叉焼)is usually written in Japanese. The original Chinese dish is made by taking a large piece of boneless pork (or other meat) and marinading it in flavoring before grilling it in an oven or over a flame.
Chinese 'char siu'
When the tradition of making chashu was first brought to Japan, this was the way that it was made. However, just like ramen evolved to become a uniquely Japanese dish, so too did Japanese chashu. Ramen chefs found that braising the meat in a pot on the stove instead of roasting it allowed the meat to become more tender and flavorful. Nowadays, the word 'chashu' in Japanese refers to the braised version of the dish, whereas the word 'yakibuta' (焼豚) refers to the roasted Chinese-style chashu.

How Chashu is Made

Chashu is typically prepared by taking a chunk of boneless meat (most commonly pork belly) and grilling it to sear the outside. Traditional chashu often has a round shape, which is achieved by rolling the pork belly into a cylindrical log and fastening it with string, as shown above.
The chashu is then braised for hours in a mixture of seasonings that typically include soy sauce and a sweetener such as honey or sugar.
The resulting chashu is tender and flavorful enough to stand on its own, but also makes the perfect topping for ramen.
In addition to the standard ramen, most ramen shops will also offer 'chashumen' which is ramen with extra chashu. This is usually a very popular item with people who are feeling extra hungry.
The 'Zenbunose Tsukemen' at Matsudo Tomita Menban in Tokyo Station features a plate with 3 types of chashu.
Modern ramen shops are offering more and more complex types of chashu. It's now not at all uncommon for a shop to serve two or more different kinds of chashu such as rare chashu, smoked chashu, seared chashu, chicken chashu, and more.

Many of the top ramen shops that are pushing ramen to the next level have started making chashu using sous vide cookers, ensuring supremely moist, tender chashu with incredible texture.
Shio ramen from 'Sugimoto' in Saginomiya, Tokyo features 2 types of sous vide-cooked chashu.
Chashu is only getting more delicious and diverse, which is great news for all of us ramen lovers! It will be exciting to see what the future has in store for chashu.

Making Chashu at Home

Making delicious chashu at home isn't as hard as you might think! Put it on instant ramen to infinitely enhance your instant ramen eating experience, or eat it over a bowl of rice as 'chashu don!' Check out this video for instructions:

In Closing

Chashu is a delicious and ubiquitous topping for a classic bowl of ramen. Check out some of our articles featuring ramen with awesome chashu:
I live in west Tokyo and spend most of my time thinking about food or going bouldering.

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