Unfortunately, my exposure to ramen was also exclusively limited to the Top Ramen lineup: chicken, beef, or shrimp.
It was a pivital moment when Chef began preparing a cup of ramen for his lunch. Knowing him to be extremely particular about food, I called his bluff. "You're joking. You're not going to eat that!"
A boyish grin came across his face, "Yes I am....It's good!"
I eyed him dubiously.
With a walk-in cooler filled with the finest gourmet ingredients....Chef actually chose to eat ramen! Granted, the package instructs you to guild the ramen lilly by adding an egg--he used a duck egg...but no other modifications were necessary.
Watching him happily slurp long strands of noodles....clearly, I needed to investigate.
Could there be good ramen?
My ramen quest brought me to Seattle's Uwajimaya. This place is a culinary wonderland of Asian ingredients. You can find durian, bitter melon, live abalone as well as countless types of nori, tofu, chilies...and yes, ramen.
The ramen isle at Seattle's Uwajimaya
The selection of ramen at Uwajimaya is staggering. Less than 20% of the packaging has English...but thankfully, many of them feature pictorial diagrams. Smiling cartoon characters with the occasional pig or chicken depiction...provided a clue about the contents.
And if the selection above isn't overwhelming enough...that's just the varieties that don't come in a cup or a bowl! The other side of the isle features this bountiful selection:
Luckily, ramen is also cheap. Good packaged ramen may cost a little more...but it's still usually under $1.
I tried several different varieties and they were all much better than the ramen I remembered. Most varieties had the familiar spice packet...but some featured an additional packet with optional chili oil or spices for an extra kick. No doubt, these ramen were much more flavorful.
Further research revealed a whole world of ramen I knew nothing about....blogs dedicated to ramen here and if you want recipes with your ramen...check out this site.
I also discovered lovely trivia:
Maruchan, the manufactuer of Top Ramen, makes the equivalent of 81 million miles of ramen, annually. It's mind-boggling when you think...in one year, Maruchan cranks out enough ramen to circumnaviate the earth 3,253 times!
Not long after I began exploring ramen, I learned of a museum in Japan that was dedicated to the stuff. The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum features the historical development of instant ramen. The walls are lined with examples of ramen packets and commercials from around the world. They even have ramen-themed video games!
Finally, I learned that the history of Japanese ramen is really quite fascinating. After WWII, Japan was experiencing food shortages. As part of post-war reparations, the US gave wheat to the Japanese. An inventor named Ando decided if they could use the wheat to make noodles---instead of bread, people could eat a more well-balanced meal.
Ando explored noodles that were dried and then could simply be rehydrated. But then, after watching his wife cook tempura, he was inspired to make a noodle that was fried, then dried. Ando found that when reheated, the fried noodles would absorb broth and as a result, make a more flavorful noodle. He was the inventor of what ultimately became "Cup of Noodles," which spurned a myriad of instant noodle choices.
Now, turning the tables....I'm curious. Dear reader, fess up! How do YOU like your ramen????