Ramen was brought by Chinese immigrants to Japan in the late 1800s, and it soon became a staple of their culinary culture. After the instant variety was created in 1958, it also grew in popularity in America, with the word consistently increasing in usage. It was actually more commonly referred to as shina soba ("Chinese soba") in Japan until the 1950s, but then shina became sort of pejorative so they switched over. The word ramen is a borrowing from Chinese lamian, the source of lo mein; the l to r switch occurred because the Japanese r sound is an alveolar tap halfway between the phonemes. The first part of that, la, meant "pull" or "stretch", and the second bit, mian, meant "noodle", so lo mein and ramen both mean "stretchy noodles". That would be from Middle Chinese and eventually Sino-Tibetan.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a rising junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.