|Bon appétit! - photo|
America, freshman year of college, 2003. This was my first experience with ramen. You know, the cheap brick of noodles you can buy in economy packs. I remember the high-sodium seasoning packets, stepping on dropped and forgotten noodle bits, and dorm room arguments about whether ramen was meant to be a soup or a pasta dish. I even remember ramen bargains dropping somewhere around 15 cents an individual package! My understanding of ramen has come a long way since then.
Ramen is basically a Japanese noodle dish appropriated from Chinese hand-pulled noodles (hence its katakana/loan word writing (ラーメン). Its original name, "shina soba", was actually an ethnic slur. That's a good change, good change. Ramen as we know it today was first produced by Nissin Food Products who still have the majority of the market at 40 percent. Ramen was especially popularized in Japan after WWII with the influx of cheap flour from the US and the subsequent return of Japanese soldiers from East Asia countries with a taste for the noodles.
|Normal ramen in Japan. Whaddya think, 15 bucks or so? 110? photo|
In Japanese ramen restaurants it isn’t uncommon for a quality bowl of the noodles/soup to run somewhere between 10 and 20 dollars. An average bowl includes bean sprouts, green onions and a few slices of pork. The list of uncommon ingredients is infinite, spanning from hard-boiled egg halves to fish cakes to cheese and curry. The most expensive bowl of ramen tops at about $110 a bowl in Tokyo at Fujimaki Gekijo which consists of 20 different ingredients (the actual noodles being free).
Of course, Japan has the square blocks like Maruchan and Top Ramen as well as cheaper $3-a-bowl restaurants. But you can see how some things have been appropriated and/or lost in translation. Peering back stateside, there is actually a big community of people who invent new recipes with ramen. Imagine: the ramen burger, ramen spaghetti, ramen pizza, ramen hotdogs, etc. Yeah, that definitely sounds like the good ol’ US of A. I'm not sure I'd hop on this bandwagon though, considering that most packets of ramen come close to (or exceed) the recommended dietary allowance of sodium in a day. Yikes.
If you're still interested in the starchy dish, peruse this endless blog of "official" ramen news, miscellany and DIY recipes.