David Chang’s quarterly food magazine, Lucky Peach is coming soon. An excerpt:
A brand-by-brand instant-ramen taste test with Ruth Reichl
Confession time: Ten years ago, if you had asked my son’s friends what they got for lunch when they came to visit our house, they would all shout “Ramen!” without hesitation.
Okay, so I would throw the disgusting soup packets into the garbage and toss the ramen into homemade broth. (In those days our house was always filled with the comforting scent of simmering stock, because I made gallons of the stuff.) And before serving the soup, I always whipped in a few free-range eggs from our next-door neighbor’s Araucana chickens. (The boys were entranced by their turquoise shells and marigold yolks.) Sometimes I snuck in a few leaves of spinach, too, along with the occasional drop of sesame oil. And for our really adventurous visitors, I’d sprinkle in the dried hot peppers that our local cheese shop imported from Italy.
But the noodles were still the supermarket variety—Top Ramen or Maruchan—the kind that Price Chopper sometimes sells at ten packets for a dollar. Now and then I’d taste them and think, “I should be able to do better than this,” but the boys didn’t seem to mind, and I shrugged it off. At least I was serving those sad, flaccid noodles in a sturdy soup.
Our instant-ramen days are over—Nick outgrew play dates years ago—but the notion that there must be a superior brand of instant ramen still gnaws at me. So last month I set out to explore the wild world of flash-fried noodles.
I had no idea what I was getting into. An afternoon at a Chinese supermarket in the San Gabriel Valley, and another at a Japanese market in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo, opened my eyes. There are hundreds— maybe thousands—of different brands of instant ramen on the market, imported from a dozen different countries. Trying to set a few limits, I ruled out refrigerated ramen, frozen ramen, and the kind that needs no cooking. Still, I managed to spend almost $80. (Considering that most packages of ramen cost considerably less than a dollar will give you an idea of the scope of this mad project.)
I’m not going to bore you with a step-by-step chart of every noodle that I slurped. And I’m not going to pretend that I found some fabulous brand that will make me forget the slithery excitement of Ivan Ramen in Tokyo. But I did find a few that I wish I’d known about all those years ago. The boys would have eaten a whole lot better.