Ramen: a ‘Steaming Bowl of Paradox’

Travel Blog  •  Pam Mandel  •  08.26.14 | 9:36 AM ET

Boxes of Cup Noodles, Costco via Wikimedia (Creative Commons)

A flat of Top Ramen was essential gear during my “living out of a car for months on end” days. Prior to that, ramen was my college survival food of choice. It was cheap, easily supplemented with veggies, and required no complicated kitchen equipment. Ramen was what car campers and poor students ate, in quantity. Affordable, fast, uncomplicated. And, it turns out, culturally significant.

From Pacific Standard:

George Solt’s The Untold History of Ramen is an attempt to show how the dish—hot broth, wheat noodles, and (usually) pork—has become part of Japan’s identity and an international success. Ramen is a steaming bowl of paradox: a Chinese import now considered quintessentially Japanese both at home and abroad, and a workingman’s comfort food that has been refined into haute cuisine among the young and hip. Ramen shops have become a signature of the Japanese urban landscape. The country has over 35,000 of them, including at least four within a five-minute walk of my suburban Tokyo apartment.

Ramen is all the rage in the U.S., too. Ramen cookbooks are finding their way onto bookstore shelves and high-end ramen places are fast becoming as popular as the cheap Japanese noodle joints that crowd university neighborhoods. Eater, The New York Times, The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed have all run features on ramen’s hotness with the hip.

Of course, many people got their introduction to ramen from Cup Noodles. The humble Styrofoam cup now has its own museum in Yokohama, Japan, where you can trace its history and make your own takeaway serving of instant chicken ramen. From budget eats to museum souvenir—a fine illustration of ramen’s rags to riches glory.

And in case you’re wondering… warehouse pricing for a flat of Cup Noodles? About eight bucks.

Pam Mandel is a freelance writer and photographer from Seattle, Washington. Her work has appeared in a variety of print, radio, and web publications and she's contributed to two guidebooks, one on British Columbia and one on Hawaii. She plays the ukulele, has an internal beacon that is surprisingly capable of locating the best baked goods in town, almost any town, and speaks German with a Styrian accent. Learn more on her personal blog at Nerd's Eye View.

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