Tag Archives: food

How Ramen Changed My World (and Yours)

by guest contributor Matt Gross, originally published at Tripmaster Monkey

ramen momofuku andoI remember well the moment when I began to understand the awesome power of ramen. It was during college, and I was sharing a dim dorm room with Steve C. Liu, a towering Trekkie whom everyone called “The Admiral.” Steve was a bit weird (I’m thinking of his obsession with Disney heroines), but he was blessed with a Taiwanese mother who regularly delivered him an endless supply of Asian snacks: odd concoctions of dried tofu, vast Tupperware containers of sticky rice, and stack upon stack of dried ramen.

One night, Steve invited me to join him. He boiled some water, dumped dry noodles in a pair of bowls and a few minutes later we were slurping up gorgeously black-pepper-flavored ramen. I think the brand name was, believe it or not, Kung Fu.

From that point on, my life was changed. I stocked up on ramen at nearby Asian grocery stores, buying spicy kimchi ramen from the Koreans and vacuum-packed udon from the Japanese. I learned to crack an egg into the still-bubbling liquid, to shred scallions into the mix, to sprinkle on toasted sesame seeds. I bought bowls specifically designed to hold noodles, and I watched the movie “Tampopo,” a Japanese comedy about the wacky world of noodle-makers, again and again. (My girlfriend eventually named her pet kitten Tampopo.)

My story, of course, is far from unique. You, too, probably first encountered ramen in college, where it kept your belly full for as little as 25 cents a meal. You’ve probably added all sorts of condiments to a basic bowl of broth. But on the occasion of the death of Momofuku Ando, the founder of Nissin and inventor of instant noodles, it’s worth taking a look at his creation’s far-reaching cultural influence.

First, a quick history (culled from Ando’s obits): In 1958, the nearly broke Ando observed that fried noodles reabsorbed liquid very easily, and began experimenting with flash-frying techniques. Soon, he had Chikin Ramen—which sold for six times the price of fresh ramen! The product’s popularity quickly brought the cost down, and soon instant ramen was fulfilling Ando’s greatest wish: “Peace will come to the world when the people have enough to eat.” (Okay, maybe not quite.)

In the 1970s, ramen arrived in the U.S., and by the next decade became shorthand for the impoverished-student experience. Def Leppard released a song called “Pour Some Sugar on Me” that heard-of-hearing stoners misunderstood as “Pour Some Shook-up Ramen.” Cathay Pacific began serving Cup Noodle on long-haul flights. Technology progressed, too: I recently found a tiny, magically hinged plastic spork in a packet of instant pho.

And perhaps most surprising of all, instant ramen paved the way for the hifalutin noodle bars that are the biggest trend in New York dining today (the most popular is, fittingly, named Momofuku). From hunger-killing substitute to gourmet delight—that’s quite a journey in 50 years.

But this week, forgo the fancy, get on down to your local Asian grocery and pick up some tom yum noodles, miso-flavored ramen, or even just plain old chicken Cup Noodles. As the New York Times wrote, “They attain a state of grace through a marriage with nothing but hot water,” so break out the kettle and prepare to slurp-slurp-slurp your way to heaven—where you will, without a doubt, find one very happy Mr. Momofuku Ando.

NYC deli sells sandwich called “The Illegal”

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

the illegal sandwichFirst came Green Card energy drink. Now comes a sandwich called “The Illegal.”

Apparently, there’s a deli across the street from New York City’s Citizenship and Immigration Services headquarters that has begun selling a sandwich by that name:

The “Illegal” — Sausalito turkey, Monterey Jack cheese, lettuce, tomato and a jalapeño-fi red guacamole spread — is not on the menu above but is advertised from its sign in the display case, which also shows a man going through a barbed wire fence.

They’ve been making it for about six months, according to Roberto Agapito, the soup-ladling, cutlet-cutting, potato-chip-scooping Mexican mastermind behind the creation.

If you order an Illegal in Spanish at the Civic, the inevitable ensues.

Customer: “I’ll have an Illegal, please.”

Worker (pointing to guy next to him): “Here’s one.”

Laughter all around.

Agapito, who has been in the United States for 12 years, said he created it to honor the experiences of many of his fellow Latino immigrants.

I’m sure they feel very honored.

Guacamole: Corn syrup, check. Food coloring, check. Avocadoes? Don’t need ’em.

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

avocados - something that Kraft Foods guacamole doesn't have a lot ofEwww… In case you needed convincing that freshly-made guacamole is the best way to go, here comes word that Kraft Foods guacamole, sold in supermarkets, is basically green glue:

No wonder store-bought guacamole tastes like glue: It is glue! Okay, not really, but it certainly isn’t real avocados, either. As Los Angeles resident Brenda Lifsey discovered, the green glop sold by Kraft Foods is primarily composed of staggering amounts of coconut and soybean oils, corn syrup, modified food starch, and food coloring, with a minuscule amount of avocado thrown in. She was so upset that she took Kraft’s ass to court on Wednesday, and her lawyer says other faux-guac purveyors will soon be targeted as well.

Gross! While we’re on the topic, does anyone have a good guacamole recipe they want to share? We’re food lovers here at Racialicious. :)

Kimchi in aisle two!

by Jen Chau
kimchiGood news for you “ethnic” foodies out there! Looks like our tastebuds are changing enough that ethnic grocery stores are being noticed more and more…big supermarkets are even carrying more ethnic foods in order to satisfy our cravings for Chinese, Mexican, Indian, Korean and Cuban cuisine.

Mealmakers across the country are discovering small ethnic grocers that once primarily served immigrant communities. Even in overwhelmingly white regions like Albany, culinary adventurers like DeFrancesco troll the aisles of stores like Lee’s, stocking up on whatever unusual sauces, candies and snacks strike their fancies. Tracking the growth of these grocers is difficult; most of them are scattered wherever immigrant populations appear and want foods familiar to their heritages, says Michael Sansolo, spokesman for the Food Marketing Institute in Washington.

But the growth hasn’t gone unnoticed. Major supermarket chains are dedicating more space to ethnic foods, Sansolo says. It’s an attempt to draw shoppers who may otherwise head for these specialty markets.

Demographically, it makes sense. Hispanics and Asians now represent about 18 percent of the U.S. population, and account for more than half of the nation’s population growth since the start of the decade, according to the Census Bureau.

Basically, at this point, we still see that anything aside from apple pie and hot dogs is relegated to “ethnic food” aisles. It would be nice to see a bit more integration at the grocery store ;), but perhaps it will take a while since clearly, the way that we discuss ethnic cuisine sets it apart. Certain ingredients are easily labeled “unusual,” with only “culinary adventurers” as takers (Are they really that unusual? Perhaps people who find themselves closed to trying food “not their own” are the unusual elements here?? :)).

Ok, perhaps this is a small (even petty) thing to be analyzing, but I do think that this speaks to how Americans tend to be so confined in our thinking. So, if you are X ethnicity you are only meant to eat X food? And if you stray from that, then WHOA! You sure are adventurous!? I think I probably just take for granted that I live in a very diverse neighborhood where you can’t help but get familiar with a variety of cuisines….but I do recognize this is not the norm for others. Anyone want to head over to Stop and Shop, get some spicy daal, cilantro, dumplings, and have a wild and adventurous night? 😉

Foods that aren’t really “ethnic”

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

fortune cookieGrowing up in Hong Kong, I watched a lot of American sitcoms. I was always fascinated by things American families had on these shows that we didn’t have. Of course, Hong Kong’s technology was always at least 5 years ahead of the U.S., but there were certain gadgets we just didn’t have because there was no demand for them. Things like refrigerators with ice makers (so cool!) and wall-mounted phones in the kitchen with extra-long cords (how I longed to hide in the closet to chat on the phone!).

But I remember being particularly fascinated by episodes in which people would order Chinese food. What on earth were those cardboard contraptions with the wire handles? Or those things they called fortune cookies?

Most of you probably know (I hope!) that fortune cookies are about as Chinese as as a Burger King Whopper. But there are a lot of other foods marketed as “ethnic” that actually aren’t at all. Check out this interesting article from Chow.com. Here are some of the foods they “out:”

Navajo Frybread
What it is: Thick, round lard-fried dough, served with honey or powdered sugar, or wrapped around ground beef, taco seasoning, and shredded cheese (called an Indian Taco)
Faux origin: Navajo, traditional
Real origin: White U.S. influence, mid-19th century

Fried Chow Mein
What it is: Fried preboiled egg noodles, often served with vegetables and meat
Faux origin: Chinese
Real origin: Chinese-American, mid-19th century

Chicken Tikka Masala
What it is: Chicken pieces cooked in a tomato gravy, often containing cream
Faux origin: Indian
Real origin: British, 1950s–70s

Hibachi
What it is: Americans use hibachi to refer to two distinct things: a small aluminum charcoal grill, and the large multiperson hot-plate cooking technique used in certain Japanese-American restaurants.
Faux origin: Japanese
Real origin: Part Japanese, part 1960s American, with Japanese mistranslated origins

Pasta Primavera
What it is: Spaghetti with assorted vegetables, often in a heavy cream sauce
Faux origin: Italian
Real origin: Created by Le Cirque owner and maitre d’ Sirio Maccioni in 1976

Fortune Cookie
What it is: Thin, lightly sugared dough folded around a slip of paper
Faux origin: Chinese
Real origin: U.S. West Coast, early- to mid-20th century

Would you like a nunchuck with that spicy tuna roll?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

ninja new york restaurantIf the whole New Demographic thing doesn’t work out for me and Jen, it’s good to know that we have backup options. Like working at Ninja New York, for example, a (I kid you not) ninja-themed restaurant here in the city. Yeah yeah neither of us are Japanese, but we’re yellow enough to contribute to the super-authentic dining experience of the losers who would dine there. From Grub Street:

Nina Cha found her calling when she answered a Craigslist ad that read, “WANTED: Ninjas who do magic.” We asked her about her qualifications, and she told us about her brushes with Frank Bruni’s wrath and Tara Reid’s posse.

Nina Cha
Ninja New York
25 Hudson St., nr. Reade St.; 212-274-8500

What kind of training did you get?
There were two months of extensive training before we opened. The first week they gave us the history of ninjas and what’s thought to be myth and legend. We had magic classes once or twice a week. And tastings.

Do kids get scared?
Some do, because it’s very dark and we have ninjas popping in and out.

The dumpling manifesto

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

dumplingsTim Wu just wrote a hilariously obsessive column for Slate bemoaning the poor quality of dumplings available in the U.S.

Jen, I feel like this is such a you kind of post. Not only is it about food, but it’s just begging for some of Jen Chau’s patented corny puns. 😉

Dumpling rage, like road rage, strikes without warning. My first attack came in my mid-20s, while dining at Raku, a Washington, D.C., “pan-Asian” restaurant. I made the mistake of ordering something called Chinese dumplings. Out came a bamboo steamer containing what resembled aged marshmallows—dumplings cooked so long they were practically glued to the bottom of the container. Try as I might, I could not pry them loose, until one ripped in half, yielding a small meatball of dubious composition.

It was an outrage. To my friends’ embarrassment, I stood up and shouted at our waiter:

“What are these?”

“Dumplings,” he said.

“These,” I said, “are not dumplings. The skin is too thick. The meat is too small. It’s been cooked too long. The folding is done all wrong.” My friends begged me to stop, and the manager threatened to call the police.