Ramen is basically long noodles in hot broth, optionally with other toppings such as egg, meat or vegetables. Ramen is generally held to be of Chinese origin, however the term "ramen" all by itself is currently more commonly associated with Japanese ramen than that of any other country.
There are various types of broths, noodles, toppings and preparation styles for ramen. The “ramen” page on Wikipedia (link will open in new window) has a good general overall introduction to ramen styles and terminology. Therefore, I won't repeat everything they've written here, I'll just provide some very basic terms and then some advanced terms that do not appear on the Wikipedia page. I suggest that you read the Wikipedia page above first, and then come back to the Advanced section below.
Other English Tokyo Ramen Links
“ramen” page on Wikipedia
Metropolis magazine review of some ramen shops
Another Metropolis magazine review of some ramen shops
How Does a Ramen Shop Work?
Types Of Ramen Broth ("shiru", soup):
shoyu (醤油) – typically this clear soup stock is made with beef, chicken and/or vegetables and shoyu (soy sauce). May have some fat, onions or garlic added.
miso (味噌) – broth base is soybean and either chicken (usually) or beef stock. Can be salty, although some people believe it has the richest flavor of all the types. Frequently has a lot of garlic. Can be relatively thin, very thick, or anywhere in between.
shio (塩) – clear thin chicken broth, with extra salt added.
tonkotsu (豚骨) – frequently-whitish pork broth, can be thick but is usually thin. Made via long slow cooking of pork bones and fat. Shoyu can be added to provide more flavor and color. Sometimes it is called "Kyushu-style". Whitish color is from connective tissue of pork and bones.
tonkotsu gyoukai (豚骨魚介) - tonkotsu mixed with fish stock - has a very rich taste but can have some texture too
Other Types of Ramen Dishes:
dan-dan men (坦々麺)– spicy sesame flavored broth, sometimes with ground or pork. Also frequently has large green vegetables it it. Can be *extremely* hot and spicy.
tsukemen (つけ麺) – this is a different set-up where the noodles and the broth are delivered separately. The noodles can individually be hot or cold (however the broth is typically warm even in summer). In hotter weather, some people prefer this instead of having their face over a hot bowl of broth. You take the noodles and dip them into the broth and then eat them. Not all ramen shops have tsukemen, and when they do, the broths are typically more flavorful versions of regular shoyu and miso shiryu (and thicker) only, although I have seen shio tsukemen on a couple of occasions. Frequently when the broth is miso flavored, it is also spicy. Tsukemen noodles are sometimes thicker than regular ramen noodes and also a bit firmer (katame or “al dente” and are washed prior to serving, typically by hand). Some places put the toppings on the tsukemen prior to serving.
morisoba (もりそば) - see tsukemen
chashumen (チャーシューメン), or chashu tsukemen – this refers to some sort of the above ramen or tsukemen with extra chashu slices.
abura soba (油そば) - noodles that are cooked and then mixed with oil, and perhaps a little concentrated broth, and toppings. Like tsukemen they are popular as a summer dish. They are meant to be stirred around prior to eating.
hiyashi chuka (冷やし 中華) - cold noodles with vegetables, usually with oilly shoyu or sesame dipping sauce
Advanced Ramen Vocabulary
oyaji (親父) - the main chef or cook at a ramen shop, frequently also the owner. Sometimes has a reputation for being unfriendly, presumably since he is concentrating on the quality of his ramen rather than socializing with customers.
o-mori (大盛) - a large portion of ramen (sometimes just extra noodles), typically for an extra fee, although some shops will provide an omori portion at no extra charge.
buta/chashu (焼豚) - pork, either boiled or grilled. Can be sliced, chopped up or in chunks. Used as a topping for the ramen or a side dish.
yasai (野菜) - "general" vegetables (typically moyashi, cabbage, sometimes onions)
menma (めんま) - bamboo shoots
negi (ねぎ) - onion, usually small thin green onions like scallions, but occasionally can be thin shavings from a large white onion
tamago (卵 or 玉子) - egg, either boiled (yude, ゆで) or raw (nama, 生). Typically sliced in half and placed on top. Sometimes when the yolk is not completely solid it is called an "onsen tamago".
curry or curry powder (カレー) - don't ask me how this got to be a ramen topping (or an ingredient in the soup in some cases) but it is what it is
abura (油 or 脂) - oil or fat. Some places will add extra to the soup or as a topping if you request it.
nori (のり) - dried seaweed, can be in sheets or confetti-style
kamaboku (かまぼこ) - slices of fish cake or processed fish sausage, may be white or pink in color
butter (バター) - just like it sounds
goma (ごま) - sesame seeds, either whole or ground. Popular on Hakata and Kumamoto-style ramen. Sesame oil is also sometimes used as a flavoring for ramen broth.
ninniku (にんにく) - garlic, can be in either slices or freshly chopped up. Some places will provide a huge amount if you want, that can overwhelm the taste of the broth and pork sometimes. It is also sometimes used in the soup (tonkotsu or shoyu) during the preparation process.
kotteri (こってり) - thicker broth, not all places have this
assari (あっさり) - thinner broth
karai (辛い) - spicy
amai (甘い) - sweet
katame (固め) - firm noodles ("al dente"), pronounced kah-tah-may
futsu (普通) - regular or normal (word means "regular")
yawarakame (柔かめ) - soft, pronounced yah-wah-rah-kah-may
futoi (太い) - thick (noodles)
hosoi (細い) - thin (noodles) - in places that have both you may be asked one which you prefer
hashi (はし) – chopsticks, will typically be in a vertical can or horizontal box near your seat.
renge (れんげ) – spoon. Believe it or not, some ramen shops (such as some Ramen Jiro branches) do not provide spoons. I've never seen anyone bring their own but you probably won’t be kicked out of the place for it.
ko-shio (コショウ) – black pepper. Gaban brand seems to be the most popular.
shichimi (七味) - seven-spice powder sometimes provided at ramen shops: shichimi.