It’s been rainy (there’d better be May flowers for all this April rain), and we’ve been eating instant noodles for the past few days. As I was slurping away the rich, salty soup, I wondered if this is what it felt like when a health-conscious American eats an occasional hamburger. At least I can tell myself, it’s just carb, and salt. And maybe some…seasoning, hopefully not all fake. This is the slightly fancier kind you can only find at Asian markets, and not just any market, a big Korean market (H-mart)! Even if Japan has the best real ramen, Korea wins in my book for making the most awesome instant ramyun.
Ever heard of Nongshim’s shinramyun? They have ALL kinds. We had – get this – “black” shinramyun with ox bone soup base. REALLY YUMMY, with a poached egg, some mustard greens, and some green onions. It’s just so…flavorful (MSG?), fast, and easy. We do make the laborious pork-based Japanese ramen sometimes, but coming home at 7pm, waiting 20 hours for a broth pot to cook is the last thing we want to do.
Incidentally, I’m also reading David Chang’s book on his opening of Momofuku, originally a ramen joint. He said it didn’t quite succeed at first, so he expanded, made buns and kimchi and bo ssam. I guess Americans didn’t grow up going to tiny ramen shops that sell only ramen and little more, much like the many Vietnamese joints that sell pho and pho only. When we were in Japan, we had to go home to eat with our host families, but every outing we’d invariably end up at either a ramen place or yakiniku. It was a glorious time.
This is by faaaaaaaaaaar, my favorite ramen of all time-space continuum: Ippudo’s Akamaru ramen. My heart broke a little when I saw Ippudo in Osaka, Tokyo, and even a card advertising the one in NYC (which I eventually went to as well)! We thought it was our own beloved Kyoto joint, and we ate there sooo often thinking we’d never have this chance again. Akamaru is a tonkontsu (pork) ramen with burnt garlic sauce (the exact recipe is a secret). The broth is rich and complex, and you can’t help drinking it even as your life flashes by, the heart attack feeling more real with every salty and fatty slurp you take. It’s THAT good.
While in Japan, we also had time to spare on other kinds of noodles. We had a lot of Udon at school (it was the cheapest dish), while travelling (every region has its own udon style, and we had to try), and even at home (in nabe). Udon is really the quintessential Japanese noodles. It resembles so many other things Japanese: so simple, but so good. The noodle is thick and smooth, the broth is clean and clear. The broth is usually just kombu (dry seaweed), fish stock, and soy sauce. The toppings can be seafood, or veggies, although the best udon I’ve ever had was topped with ginger and scallion and nothing else.
Above was one of the many many bowls of udon we ate in Shikoku, famous for their thick handcut udon.
And then there’s soba, which is even more simple. If they’re not in a kombu-fish soup, you can eat it cold with soy sauce, ginger, and scallion.
A trip to Kobe rewarded us with Korean restaurants and their interesting naeng myun (cold noodles). It takes some getting used to (ice cold broth? hmm), but the flavor is subtle, clean, and addicting.
I wish I took more pictures of all the amazing noodles that we had. In Japan, you’d be hard pressed to find a bad noodle place. There’s a noodle dish for every season, hot or cold, north or south. I wish I could describe the weirdly composed (strange ingredients) yet familiar (rich pork broth!) Okinawan noodles, or even MS-Paint the straightforward somen I had occasionally at home. One of the best memories of the last spring at college, when it got stuffy hot, was making nagashi somen in my very own house in the US with a friend from the same Japanese program. On hot summer days, like normal Japanese kids, we foreigners also dream of the flowing noodles.
On rainy days like this, I dream of steamy instant noodles.