It's an interesting question at what point a variation of a dish has been stretched so far that it can no longer be considered a member of that dish set. A recent article in the Seattle Times referenced a blog post by Jay Friedman proposing that we distinguish between ramen, which is to be "authentic" (my quotation marks), versus Wramen, for when someone is trying to create something new.
Now, I definitely have strong puristic tendencies and appreciate the desire make such a distinction. You get into a bit of eye-rolling territory when restaurants slap together their own me-too fancy or homey high-concept versions of whatever is the latest hip dish or cuisine without really appreciating what actually goes into traditional versions of that dish and its culinary context. Ramen is the obvious example, but consider also maki sushi (which Friedman also mentions), tacos, pizza, and I think bibimbap shows potential to have this trend, too.
However, I also highly value creativity and appreciate the arbitrary nature of setting down bright line definitions of dishes and cuisines. The same dish will vary between individuals, and approaches evolve even within one individual over the course of time and as we are exposed to new things. I'm glad Friedman makes sure to express that he likes both ramen and Wramen.
It's not that taking foods and ideas out of their existing boxes is a
bad thing. Rather, there's a point beyond which you can't really call a
noodle dish "ramen" anymore. Or beyond which you can't call a dish
"Chinese food" anymore. Or beyond which a dish is really a variation of a
hamburger steak or a sandwich and no longer a "hamburger". And of
course the next question is "where is that point?" And that's another subjective and arbitrary question to ponder.
But wait, you say, pizza, in all its crazy diffusion has become a unique American product distinct from its Italian prototypes. And that, I think, is exactly what Friedman wants to distinguish: American takes on ramen, or Wramen, as opposed to traditional versions of it.
Where I think Friedman runs into trouble, though, is the question of why it is that all the creative exploration and evolution of ramen in Japan--which is ongoing--is all automatically "authentic" while foreign explorations are not. If a Japanese chef adds real Chinese cha shao (which is roasted) to a ramen instead of Japanese cha shuu (which is braised and actually is a sweeter version of what is called kong rou in Chinese), would it be "authentic"? Because Friedman calls out one Seattle chef's take on ramen that has Chinese cha shao and kimchi brussels sprouts as being Wramen. Or was it the kimchi brussels sprouts that made it Wramen? If a Japanese chef had put that together would it still be Wramen? Or would that be Jramen? Or ramen?
Ultimately nomenclature and classification is useful in that it enables us to discuss and compare things meaningfully. But I'm not sure getting people to say "ramen" and "Wramen" is going to help.