Local Food

Published on October 1st, 2013 | by Jesse Yancy


“Brain Food”

JesseRamenHeaderPoverty is endemic among students; tuitions are ridiculous, and booze ain’t cheap, either.

Fortunately for scholars, ramen provides a warm meal that sates and doesn’t drink too deeply of the beer budget. A nice hot cup of chicken ramen will knock out a Heineken hangover in less than an hour (trust me) and you need nothing more than a sack of ramen, a bowl, and hot water. Cheap, fast and simple, ramen is the ultimate convenience food.

Momofuku Ando, a Taiwanese-Japanese entrepreneur, brought ramen to dorm rooms. Ando took issue with the post-war Japanese government’s use of American bread to feed the country’s poverty-stricken populace. The Japanese, Ando reasoned, were more familiar with noodles, so he began to develop their production, eventually perfecting a flash-frying method that allowed him to market packets of precooked instant noodles called “Chikin Ramen”. Ironically, this ramen was considered a luxury item, costing three times as much as traditional noodles. In 1971, Ando began marketing “Cup Noodles” with the master ploy of providing a waterproof polystyrene container for the concoction, and prices plummeted. Worldwide demand reached 98 billion servings in 2007.

Ramen — along with microwave popcorn and breakfast cereal — remains the food item most likely to be found in American dormitory rooms. (Ironically or not, it’s also one of the most popular items in prison commissaries.) Despite its ease of preparation, rumor has it that stoners skip the cooking, shake the seasoning packet on the dried noodles and gnaw them with dazed gusto. Ramen has of late been held up as an example of impoverishment in an insurance commercial citing the example of a “ramen every night” diet for not buying their coverage. Frankly, when it comes down to not having auto insurance or eating ramen every night, I’m going to sell the damn car. I don’t care if Elvis did drive it once.

Having said that, I’ll admit that ramen is a good item to have on hand; noodles in an instant. I keep several packets in a kitchen cabinet alongside my Zatarain’s rice, Sunflower quick grits and Ore-Ida flake potatoes. Purists might deride this cache processed starches, but it’s a sure bet that those who do will have a stock of Bertolli on their shelves. Just use the noodles when you have a need them for any number of dishes and forget about that little packet of salt, food coloring and powdered animals you’ll find packaged with them. Hydrate the noodles, rinse, toss with oil (NOT olive oil, mind you) and set aside in a covered container before use. This preparation might sound unnecessary for instant noodles, but unless you’ve been hitting a bong, you’ll thank me for this advice when using ramen in anything other than hot soup.

Also be advised that you’re going to find that ramen, like so many basic foodstuffs, has not escaped the foodie tendency to turn sows’ ears into a silk purses. Ramen has found itself into hundreds of inappropriate recipes; while I have yet to try ramen pizza or ramen mac and cheese (with ham, no less), the very idea of them makes me wonder about the aberrations of the human mind. Let’s not try to reinvent the wheel; the best way to use ramen is in a dish that echoes its origins and ease of preparation: in a stir-fry. Take one prepared packet of ramen noodles, 1 cup diced chicken (substitute cooked kidney beans if you like) and 1 cup cup sliced vegetables (peppers, onions, celery, etc.) per person. Heat vegetable oil, add a bit of garlic, cook chicken until firm (or heat beans), seasoning with black pepper and lite soy, add vegetables and cook until just done. Toss in your ramen, another dash of soy, and mix well. Then read a good book, for chrissakes.

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About the Author

Jesse Yancy is an editor, writer and photographer living in Jackson, Mississippi. A native of Bruce and a graduate of Ole Miss, Yancy is an 8th generation Mississippian who has lived and worked throughout the state.

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