It has got to be one of the longest relationships I’ve had with only one major breakup. It was an introduction by my mom and dad when I was young. In fact, it was something that my mom made sure I could depend on – instant ramen. There were always a bunch of 10 cent packages in the pantry, and if I was at home alone, it was my go to. My mom even showed me how to enhance the noodles with lunch meat, a hardboiled egg, and some lettuce. There was never any stigma against it due to the high amounts of MSG or that it is highly processed. I was told that it was MSG that made it taste so good.
There were also plenty of packages of ramen in college to be cooked in the electric hot pot at any hour of the day. In San Diego, with the guidance of my California resident suite mates, I learned about the variety of brands of instant ramen at the numerous Asian markets. My goal was to try as many different flavors and brands as possible to find my favorites versus the typical pork Maruchan brand. Quite frankly, it was an inexpensive research project.
When I moved to Boston for optometry school, I was on a student loan budget so ramen was a staple in my diet. This is the time that I built my meal creativity. I became good at stir fried noodles, crispy noodle dishes, as well as different soups. It was also a pivotal time when I concluded that when I became a doctor and started making money, I would cease eating ramen as a sign of success. A few of my friends admitted that they also had this commitment to shed their associated poor man’s food once they were finished with grad school. One included chicken wings and another was pasta with Ragu spaghetti sauce.
So I probably stopped buying and eating instant ramen noodle for about 10 years as a symbolic gesture. It was a big break up. And I didn’t miss it one bit. There would be the occasional mention – like when I bought a hot pot as a gift along with a case of ramen noodles for a college freshman, but nothing in my home. It wasn’t until I decided to stock my office drawer with snacks and foods. I bought nuts, chips, teas, and cookies. This was a good variety of foods, but nothing that I could call lunch. I finally broke down and bought a few packets of ramen noodles. Once it became part of my office arsenal, it was something i actually looked forward to making and eating. I once again added leftover meats, veggies, and my favorite, eggs.
To compound my eternal love of ramen, I started packing noodles for international trips. They are easy to make on a flight as well as in a hotel room. This is especially true in the middle of the night when my stomach is growling, and breakfast at the hotel cafe is a couple hours away until opening. There has been a huge surge in ramen joints everywhere so my craving for ramen is satisfied by REAL ramen. Near my office, there are 4 places that serve amazing ramen with excellent broths and cha siu. I’ve also experienced the slurping in Tokyo and across the US.
Recently, I was in India in which I ate Indian food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a solid week. Although it was delicious, I had a craving for something else, so a package of ramen made it to breakfast with the addition of some chicken sausage, egg, and some cabbage from the buffet. It actually made me happy (above photo is my ramen in India).
I certainly do not think I am alone with my love for ramen. David Chang’s “Mind of a Chef” addresses noodles and included a scientific segment on MSG that had me watching that episode twice. It’s always good to give props to something/someone who makes my life easier AND better. As silly as it sounds, I’m so glad you are in my life, ramen.