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The wonderful world of ramen

"For all that Japan has invented in the 20th century, the digital clock, Walkman, Nintendo and Pokemon, the Japanese consider their number one contributor to be the Ramen noodle." Impact Data

Today is International Ramen Day. How do I know? Well I went looking for ideas, and this time checked out what International Food Day was happening. You would be amazed at how many there are. Anyway as it was International Ramen Day I decided to run with that.

Well - I have had quite a lot of fun looking into this, and actually have rather too much to write about. Today's main topic will be cup noodles which is not what today is all about. Cup noodles have their own day on August 25th. However, as soon as you start looking into ramen you come up against cup noodles and it spirals everywhere from there. The other reason for going with cup noodles is that it's on my to-do list so it was a bit of a serendipitous moment.

I suspect I have dealt with some of this before, but just in case here is a tiny bit of introduction to the world of cup noodles.

Cup noodles were invented by Momofuku Ando. He was born in Taiwan - still part of the Japanese Empire - in 1910, to a wealthy industrial family. He went to university in Japan and had various early, possibly dodgy business ventures. After the WW2 there were huge food shortages in Japan - particularly of rice but there was wheat supplied by the Americans. They encouraged the Japanese to eat bread, but they preferred noodles. However, supply of noodles was a bit erratic, so Momofuku Ando saw his opportunity and in 1958 developed a method of providing instant noodles in bulk:

"After cooking, the noodles had been "watered" with chicken soup, seasoned with plenty of monosodium glutamate, then fried in palm oil to dehydrate them. Three minutes in boiling water and they were ready to eat at home" Tom Jaine - The Guardian.

He is, however, also credited with wanting to feed the starving Japanese cheaply, saying at one point:

"Peace will come to the world when the people have enough to eat."

He then discovered that people were putting them in a cup, pouring boiling water over them and eating them as a snack, which gave him the inspiration of selling the noodles in one portion quantities, that could be brought to life in a specially designed cup. The company he founded - Nissin - is huge although these days there is lots of competition. And there is a mind-blowing array of flavours available. The figures for how many cup noodles are consumed each year are absolutely mind-boggling. In the billions.

I have to say, food snob that I am, that I have never tasted cup noodles. Cup of soup - yes - way back in the past, but not cup noodles. I automatically assume that they are bad, bad, bad I suppose. The ultimate convenience food. I am also not much of a fan of this kind of food, though to be honest I don't know why, because I love spaghetti - more to come on that.

However, when I started to look into it I found that some highly regarded chefs and foodies are into cup noodles, and this is where the fun began.

I first found Felicity Cloake showing us how to upgrade a packet of instant ramen noodles - yes they come in packets too. The method she chose is one that is very common all over the web. Basically you 'cook' your noodles and then top it with other things - thinly sliced meat, eggs, vegetables, pickles, sauce, nuts ... Whatever you fancy. And there are numerous examples out there. Below is Felicity Cloake's.

Eggs by the way are a common addition, often in their hard-boiled form, but you could also try this rather more sophisticated looking version with a poached egg from Roy Choi - an American chef I think. Simultaneously more sophisticated and simpler. As they say in the article in which it is featured it is hardly a recipe at all and yet it is apparently one the most popular recipes ever published in The New York Times - so here it is:

"Make some instant ramen. Slide an egg into the hot broth, then some butter. Crown the steaming noodles with slices of cheese. Scatter a bunch of toasted sesame seeds and chopped scallions across the top, if you want to."

Then Serious Eats - a very serious publication, and its head writer J. Kenji Lòpez-Alt offers 38 ways to spruce up a packet of instant ramen. I have to say they are mostly variations on Felicity Cloake's version but there is lots of good advice in there. Then there is his companion writer Daniel Gritzer who, in a rather nice video, shows you how to make a stir fry with a cup of noodles - either plain or in a style called omurice - topped with an omelette and ketchup.

I could go on forever virtually on what you can do with a packet or cup of instant ramen noodles - it's a very trendy thing. The 2022 Adelaide Food Festival even had a session with various name chefs on ideas for them. The one at right is from Dan Hong and here is how you make this cheese toasty:

“Cook instant noodles, then drain, add flavour sachet. Add chopped frankfurts or any leftover meat, and some chopped kimchi. Put it between two slices of bread with whatever leftover cheese there is, then butter heavily. Put in jaffle maker or toasted sandwich press.”

And incidentally it's Grilled cheese sandwich day coming up too - on April 12th. I might think about that one too.

I will close however, with the ultimate in a way - Instant ramen cacio e pepe as cooked by David Chang of the world-renowned Momofuku restaurants. After all, as he points out in the video to anyone who might be offended by the whole idea of cacio e pepe - a favourite pasta of mine by the way - The Asians invented noodles. It's quick and easy and looks pretty good. And a fun video that's worth a look. It's not long. Around 3 minutes I think. Lots of butter though!

So happy Ramen noodle day. We won't be having any I'm afraid. I'm still ploughing through a whole lot of leftovers and will be until the end of the week.

There's a whole lot more to be said about ramen, Momofuku and cup noodles come to that. Not to mention cheese toasties. And I didn't even mention spam. It was fun. Food should be fun. So maybe I should give them a go sometime.

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