So, are we the only ones that still eat ramen noodles simply because we like them…this was one of the many random questions I recently found myself discussing with my husband. Don’t get it twisted–I’m not talking about the steamy bowl you get from a swanky ramen bar. I’m talking about that 20 cents pack of instant goodness most people now refer to as a #strugglemeal. I needed answers. Was everyone truly burned out? Are there others out there snacking on packs of ramen by choice? Or has everyone simply elevated their game to Friday date nights at their favorite local ramen bar?
If we’re going on a ramen journey, let’s devote time to learning what it is. In the beginning…PSYCH. Sorry, you will not receive an in-depth history lesson in ramen here. The skinny of it is, based on whom you ask or what you read; you’ll get a number of stories that touch on the birth and evolution of ramen. Though definitely a staple of Japan, Linda Lombardi notes that our tasty friend may be an immigrant, as there was a period of time where kitchens across Japan began to infuse Chinese noodles (or chuka soba) into their soups. But keep that on the low, we’d hate to look up and see the orange one signing a ridiculous executive order banning ramen. Another quick tidbit you need to know is, there’s a whole museum devoted to ramen. Y’all, please believe a visit to CUPNOODLES Museum will be a top priority should I ever have the opportunity to travel to Yokohama.
Growing up in a single-parent home, we were well acquainted with making something out of nothing, which included jazzing up some of the most basic things such as toast, rice, bologna and hotdogs. But I don’t think I began adding extras to my ramen until some time in high school when my stepdad joined our family. One night he made a huge pot of this well-balanced, yet delicious, ramen concoction that included a California blend vegetable medley, cheese, some type of meat (I can’t remember if it was chicken or ham) and packs of chicken flavored ramen. From then on I had the code to preparing a quick personal bowl of “hook em’ up” ramen anytime. And I honestly don’t think I ever dreaded whipping up a bowl. While I didn’t include every ingredient each time, at minimum my must haves are a pack of chicken flavored ramen (always the pack, never the cup), along with a slice of cheese and crushed red pepper.
Today, when I enjoy the occasional pack it’s usually the pared down minimal version. I’m not sure why, but I’m just not sick of ramen and thought for sure my husband and I weren’t alone. Turns out…we actually may be the minority on this matter. In an informal polling of friends, I found that the majority were in fact burned out on ramen while in college. I even had one friend tell me she never had ramen because she hated the smell–mind.officially.blown.
Since we were indeed the odd balls we thought it was appropriate to give fancy ramen a chance, so we ventured out to a few local bars. So far we’ve visited four, and while there were a couple of things I liked at some of these fine establishments, I’ve still not found a spot I absolutely love. In the spirit of good vibes and light I’ll share a few positive things I discovered: 1. Bōru Ramen Bar has an undeniable pork belly stemmed boa – y’all, I legit could’ve eaten a plate full of these and been completely satisfied. 2. Shio Ramen Shop has a must try KC Strip Ramen. This thing is bursting with so much flavor, yet my bowl did not overfloweth with a bunch of unnecessary extras, like pink and white pressed fish cake (sorry, those things just creep me out). Also, I’m no expert in feng shui but I appreciate the purposeful usage of every inch of this cozy mid-town gem, I mean even the tiny restroom was pristine, offering a rather impressive moment of solitude. 3. I’m in love with the 7-minute egg. Prior to delving into this world of proper ramen, if I made a soft-boiled egg it was entirely on accident (if you read my last piece you know my struggle). I actually tried to send a bowl back at one establishment who served up my ramen with an egg that was pretty much hard-boiled. However, I was quickly schooled on a couple of their norms which also included the fact that my cold pork would be warmed by my piping hot broth momentarily, but I digress since I promised to be positive.
Although I came across a couple of great restaurants, I was still left a little unfulfilled so an old friend suggested I try to make my own from scratch. I thought sure, how hard could it be to mix a few veggies, noodles and broth? Silly me. This venture to homemade ramen stressed.me.the.fuck.out. Not only did I have to go to three different stores to find the ingredients I needed but once I got them all home and on my counter, I was completely overwhelmed. There were entirely too many steps even in the recipe I found which claims to be simple, linked here if you’d like to give it a try. I only had bone-in thighs on hand so I prepared those a bit differently than the recipe by searing on top of the stove and then baking until done. While the chicken baked, I prepared the soup almost as directed–I eyeballed many of the measurements, went heavy on the garlic chili sauce and forgot to purchase fish sauce so we made it work without it. This was my first experience with bok choy and I didn’t have the slightest clue on how to handle it. First of all, the only store in my area that carried it didn’t have the baby bok choy so I had to chop up mama bok, and boy was it BIG. Thank God for Google, which enlightened me on how both the leaf and stalk are edible. Once I finally finished the soup portion, I moved on to the egg and noodles since they wouldn’t take long to prep. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I totally axed the whole overnight marinating of the egg because I just didn’t have time to entertain all of that extraness. I had a plain 7-minute ramen egg and it was just fine, and if I can’t call it a “ramen egg” because it didn’t marinate, oh well I’m doing it anyway. Now y’all the funniest part of this whole experience was preparing the noodles, which I purchased from the Chinatown Food Market. The online recipe instructs me to just follow the package instructions for preparing the noodles, which was all good until I whipped the package out and realized I couldn’t read it!!
At this point I was so ready to be done and completely over the homemade ramen experience. The only thing I continuously told myself was this shit better be good. I prepared a couple of bowls of my laborious ramen for my husband and I, and to my surprise I was pleased. The dish was bursting with flavor and the bit of heat from the garlic chili sauce was perfect. But what truly made me smile from ear to ear was hearing my husband say, “Babe, you did it!” followed by a high five. I was so happy it turned out well, and that we both genuinely enjoyed it. We’ll have to cherish that moment and the leftovers–because please believe it’ll be a while before I ever do that again. Hit me up if you need some bok choy, I’ve got plenty.