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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What's Your Perfect (Instant) Ramen?

Ramen is such a quintessential and ubiquitous part of the Asian culinary life; it's our comfort go-to food from childhood well into the present day.  Even after we have sampled more exotic and sophisticated dishes and ingredients in our adult years, time and again, we come back, like a bassist to a familiar chord, to the unassuming deep-fried instant noodles, in packet or cup form, complete with the MSG-laden soup mix and freeze-dried petrified "vegetables" (or, worse in some cases, "seafood.")

Even in this recent New York Times article about Roy Choi's own instant noodle recipe (and of course Momofuku's David Chang has often rhapsodized about ramen as well, and in fact, aguably built his career empire upon those noodles,) this dish can be served in a multitude of ways.  This was brought home to me when, during a casual chat my friends and I were having about how we cook our instant noodles, it became a passionate discourse on the intricacies involved in making the broth, to the complexities of the noodles' density and firmness (or lack thereof,) to the palatable advantages (or blasphemy) of adding certain condiments.

To settle our arguments in the tried and true put-up-or-shut-up fashion, we decided to have an instant ramen cook-off last weekend.

Our weapons of choice.

Each of us prepared our own noodles in our own special way and had a sample of everyone else's creation.  In the end, whilst there were some shows of appreciation and expressions of incredulity ("you put spam, egg and soy sauce in yours?") everyone, not surprisingly, declared their own as the best.

Here's what we made:

My Aussie friend Betty's perfect ramen recipe involves seafood flavoured noodles from Nissin (the pioneering mother of all instant noodle companies,) generously garnished with a can of spam, two whole eggs, soy sauce (because luncheon meat doesn't have enough sodium??), Chinese cabbage and enoki mushrooms.
Betty's creation.  I have to admit, that spam was a deliciously hedonistic touch.  And yes, it was salty as hell.
Evelyn opted for the same enoki mushrooms and Chinese cabbage, then added a whole whisked egg and prawn wontons to her Thai-based Mama-branded clear tom yum soup broth and noodles.

Harvard-bound Sarah kept it simple with egg and beef balls with her chicken-flavoured Nissin noodles.

This is, by far, my favourite condiment for instant noodles.  Heck, it's my favourite condiment for everything.
So this is my own instant ramen creation - a combination of brown and white enoki mushrooms, pork balls, and a whole lot of choy sum. My noodle of choice: Koka, made in Singapore, with allegedly no MSG.  

"Me and MEE" x 7

So it's true what Chef Choi said; making your own instant noodles is truly "your own personal journey."  Here's his take on his own favourite instant noodle recipe.


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