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11/15/2017

~ Confessions from an Instant Ramen Noodle Junkie ~

IMG_0495While watching a late-night episode of "Locked Up" on MSNBC last night, I learned an interesting fact about those super-curly square-block instant ramen noodles:  They are the #1 selling item in prison commissaries.  That didn't surprise me as much as the reason:  Prisoners buy them for the seasoning packets, not the noodles.  It seems that prison cafeteria food is so lacking in salt, those packets get sprinkled on or stirred into almost everything.  Get in my my soup!  I learn something new every day (or night).  In my kitchen, we use the noodles, not the seasoning packets.

IMG_0502Amongst other things, in the course of a year, I make several soup stocks:  beef, chicken, Thai chicken, veal, shrimp and vegetable.  They're carefully-simmered, seasoned to suit my palate, portioned into containers and stacked neatly in my freezer.  As every well-seasoned cook will tell you, homemade stock turns an ordinary meal into an extraordinary one.  There's more:  If I get a soup craving, I thaw a 2-cup container of stock, simmer it with a handful or two of frozen mixed vegetables, then, I drop a square block of ramen noodles into the saucepan.

  2 cups soup stock + 2 handfuls of frozen mixed vegetables +

IMG_0526a block of instant ramen = (3 minutes later), a luscious lunch. 

Perhaps it's because I never had to live on instant ramen noodles in college that I agree with a Japanese poll done in 2000:  They voted "dried noodle blocks" their best invention of the 20th century -- noodles that simply need to be cooked or soaked in boiling water before eating.  The main ingredients used in dried noodles are usually wheat flour, palm oil and salt.  The ingredients in the seasoning packets are salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), seasonings and sugar.  

Invented by Momofuku Ando of Nissin Foods in 1958, these inexpensive (cheap) dried noodle blocks are created by flash-frying cooked noodles (the main method used in Asian countries), and, air-drying (to sell to Western countries).  Both types have a shelf-life of well over a year, and, while they might not look like it in their dry state, they have higher elasticity than other types of noodles (like udon or flat noodles).  They cook up perfectly in a short 3-4 minutes too.

51rTOVjBYwL._SY450_Instant Ramen Trivia includes: When first introduced, instant ramen was considered a luxury item in supermarkets.  It's the #1 selling item in prison commissaries, and, guards are permitted to provide hot water to cook them in the cells. Only "Oriental" and "Chili" flavors of Nissin ramen are vegetarian.  David Chang, founder of the Momofuku restaurant empire, reminisces about uncooked ramen sprinkled with seasoning as an after-school snack. "Ramen" is the Japanese word for the Chinese word "lo mein".  China consumes more instant ramen than any other country.  The Japanese consider ramen their best invention. It would cost about $150 to eat instant ramen for every meal.  There is a museum in Yokohama, Japan, dedicated to the history of "cup noodles", called The Cup of Noodles Museum.  The first noodles eaten in space were instant ramen noodles.

Three minute instant ramen noodles...

IMG_0514... sans the seasoning packet:  Get in my soup! 

IMG_0519Confessions from an Instant Ramen Noodle Junkie:  Recipe yields 2, 2 cup servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan; colander (optional); soup ladle

IMG_9113Cook's Note:  Much like learning to make sushi, learning to make real-deal ramen noodles is a highly-respected art form in Japan.  I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to experience both of them on a trip to Tokyo back in the 1990's.  To learn a bit more about the rich history of real-deal, scratch-made ramen, read my recipe for ~ Cooking 101 for One: Asian Ramen & Steak Salad ~. This cold salad is another one of my favorite quick-to-make lunches (when I've got some leftover steak).

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

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