Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ramen - a guest post from Jamie of Insomniac Scribbles

Jamie writes Insomniac Scribbles, and I asked her to do a guest post many months back. Then I got overwhelmed and never got around to posting it. Jamie I am very sorry that this took me so long to get put up.

So, without any more adieu, here it is.

Top Ramen, the sustenance of American college students. Easy to make; just plop it in a bowel with enough water to cover the square of dehydrated noddles and nuke it for about 2:00 minutes or until the noddles have re-hydrated. Rip open the flavor pac (I always liked to drain out the water and just stir the flavor pac with the noddles), available in either chicken, oriental, or beef, stir and voila~ a filling, sodium packed carbohydrate bowel of satisfaction; all for only 10 cents a package. Or perhaps you're the kind that rips open the pack with the sole intention of only using the noodles to add a little crunch to your salad, some substance to that casserole, or whatever else you can think of that requires low quality dehydrated noodles.  

But where did this affordable deliciousness come from? How do they eat it there? Is it even really Asian? 

Well my friends, I have your answer! There are two main companies that sell these packs of noddles and neither of them are American but in fact from Japan. 

Everyone's favorite (or at least it was the one I always bought), Top Ramen:
Wow, they have Teriyaki flavor now?!

And the runner up (but probably no one even knew there are two separate brands because the two companies decided to confuse us with similar packaging), Maruchan :

Pork flavor too? Where have I been??? 

And yeah, they do sell both brands in Japan (or at least they sell Maruchan; now that I think of it, i've never seen Top Ramen here). 

Now, i've already explained how to prepare your average American ramen meal and here what it should look like (sorry, all of these pictures are off the web; no first hand here):

Although most of us probably eat it with a fork...

Or how I used to like it without the soup (dear god, lime chili shrimp?!?)

But back to the big question; how do they eat it in Japan? Nothing like the above, let me tell you. 

Here is what a typical bowel of homemade Japanese ramen looks like: 

These noodles are actually different but I couldn't find a good picture
with maruchan noodles.

As you can see, the main difference is embellishments. Now, how to get from your American microwaved mess to that? Simple. 

1. Pack of either Top Ramen or Maruchan
2. egg
3. dried seaweed
4. imitation fish (that white and pink circle thing)
5. Ta-ke ( pickled bamboo shoots)
6. Thinly sliced meat (beef, pork, what have you; cubed chicken would even work, though i've never tired it).
7. Sesame seeds
8. Choice of stock. 

I can already tell what you are thinking though; "where am I going to find bamboo shoots and dried seaweed??". Well if you have an Asian supermarket nearby then go there. If not, they might have these items in the ethnic section of any grocery. But pretty much you can substitute these things for items more to your liking ( pickled bamboo shoot is sort of an acquired taste). You should have any probably with the imitation fish, just ask the fish department and they can point you in the right direction. Here are some alternatives that I think might be tasty:

1. Imitation crab (instead of the pink swirly thing)
2. nix the dried seaweed and add green onions (or leaks) instead
3. Shrimp instead of meat (or shitake mushrooms for you vegetarians out there)
4. Carrots, bell peper, corn, red radish,broccoli even would be good.

You mainly want to pay attention to the flavor of the soup when adding in the other ingredients, which leads me to my next section; the soup.

You can use the flavor pacs but I recommend going the extra mile and using your own stock; the lesser the sodium the better. Chicken, beef, pork, vegetable, fish; all acceptable. Or if you're into Miso soup you can even make a Miso Ramen which is the recipe that I'll provide.

Recipe courtesy of of (slightly modified)

Ramen noodles (one pack)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons white miso paste
1/4 teaspoon hondashi (Japanese fish stock)
1 hard-boiled eggs
1 narutomaki (Japanese fish cake with a pink swirl)
1/2 stalk scallion (finely chopped)
1/2 tablespoon white sesame seeds (for topping)
Light soy sauce to taste (optional)
Some seasoned roasted seaweed (cut into thin strips)


Bring the water to boil and then add in the miso paste, hondashi, eggs. Bring the soup base to a boil. Add in soy sauce to taste. 

Put the ramen noodles in a separate pot of boiling water until they are cooked. Rinse with cold running water, drain, and set aside.

In a serving bowl, add the noodles and then take out the hard-boiled egg (sliced in half), narutomaki and chopped scallion from the soup base and top the noodles. Then pour the miso soup into the bowl and add the roasted seaweed and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

See, not so hard. Although a little bit more expensive than your average bowl of ramen it is 10x tastier. 

I thank you Jessica, for giving me the opportunity to share the secretes of Japanese cooking with your lovely audience.


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