Ramen Mania Part 1: Instant Ramen

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Ramen is a truly perfect meal. Seriously, can you think of literally anyone you know who doesn’t love it? Of course, most Americans have never had real ramen, unless they live in a city with some authentic restaurants. But, instant ramen is fairly similar and pretty darn delicious in its own right.

Ramen is one of Japan’s favorite meals, with somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 ramen shops in Tokyo alone. Personally, I love ramen. I was lucky enough to have it a few times while I was in Japan. I find it to be one of the most filling and satisfying foods in the world. In fact, I could talk about it for hours. So, I decided to write several blog post covering a range of ramen topics. By the end of the project you should know all about it, even how to make your own authentic ramen at home. But, we’re going to start easy, with instant ramen.

Ramen first made an appearance in Japan in the mid to late 1800s in Yokohama’s Chinatown. The dish was made with Chinese style noodles in a salted broth made with pork bones. It wouldn’t gain its immense popularity until the postwar era when a terrible rice harvest made wheat a more important grain than it ever was before. In 1958, Momofuku Ando invented instant noodles, a dried version of ramen noodles that merely required the addition of hot water to make delicious ramen at home. They were pre-seasoned and took only two minutes to cook. Soon the flavor was improved by packaging the seasoning separately.

Despite the fact that at first they were twice as expensive as frozen noodles, the novelty and convenience of instant ramen assured its success. Of course, the price would soon drop, making instant ramen incredibly inexpensive. It didn’t take long for instant ramen to gain popularity throughout Asia and even the west. Especially after Nissin (the original instant noodle company) introduced ramen cups. Instant Ramen has become so important to Japan that in 2000 it was even voted Japan’s most important invention of the 20th century. Think of all the technological innovations Japan made in that timeframe to put that into perspective.

To illustrate just how delicious instant ramen is, below is a clip from Dragon Ball Super. The premise is that Beerus and Champa (the cats) are gods of destruction from two mirrored universes. Every so often they get together to compete over which universe has the best food. Of course, nothing can beat instant ramen.

In America, instant ramen, or ramen as its most usually called, is still a popular food, especially among students and people living on low incomes. In fact, when I was in high school I patented the perfect method for scamming parents out of extra pocket money. My friends and I would purchase a twelve pack of ramen each on Monday morning and then continue to collect our $5.00 of lunch money everyday for two weeks. This worked especially well since my high school had an open campus, was next door to a grocery store, and had a kitchen the students could use. We used this methods to get extra pocket money for CDs, baggy pants from Hot Topic, batteries for our discmans, and whatever else a teenager might want in the early 2000s.

Today, I don’t eat instant ramen too often. Now that I’ve eaten authentic ramen in Tokyo (la te da) its lost its zip. However, every so often its nice to have a bowl, especially since the closest ramen restaurant is three hours away. But, why have a plain old bowl when you can take it to the next level?

Just like in this scene of Ponyo where Sosuke’s mom makes instant ramen, you can dress up your bowl with some easy and authentic-ish ramen toppings. My go to ramen brand is Sapporo Ichiban, and though when it comes to real ramen I’m all about the tonkotsu (pork bone broth) I always get chicken flavored instant. For toppings I get Canadian bacon, shiitake mushrooms, green onion, nori, and an egg.

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To start, boil your egg, but only for seven minutes, which in my humble opinion makes the perfect egg. Then you can sauté up the sliced shiitake. I like to use sesame oil for this. Cut a few strips of nori seaweed, or use a snack pack of toasted nori strips. Chop up your green onion and cut the Canadian bacon (or deli ham if you prefer) in half. Make the instant ramen according to the package and then put it in a good sized bowl, preferably a deep one with tall sides. Arrange your toppings decoratively on top of the noodles and take some shots for Instagram. Or just eat it, whatever.

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Of course, you can use whatever toppings you like. Pickled ginger is always great and mung beans give a great fresh crunch. If you want to try a Hokkaido inspired ramen you could stir fry up some cabbage and sweet corn. Or if you want something cute you could even make hotdog octopus and crabs. The sky is the limit. Just have fun with it!

Stay tuned for more posts about ramen! If you want to read some more right now, you could try this review of a Ramen Suzukiya. Or you might like this post about Hiyashi Chuka, a cold ramen noodle dish.

Until next time, long live ramen!