Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Things we're eating: Ramen Bar

One of our favorite meals around here is something I call Ramen Bar. All I have to do is call out, "Ramen Bar" around dinnertime, and everyone stops what they're doing and comes running. And by 'come running' I mean they actually put their cell phones down and make their way to the kitchen.

When I've mentioned to people that I'm making ramen for dinner, I've gotten some judgy questions: "Is a 25¢ block of noodles really a sufficient meal?" "What about all that sodium? " "You're Asian, isn't ramen for dinner just a cop-out and a cliché?"

Once I've given them some serious side-eye, I explain that this isn't your dorm-room ramen. These are fresh noodles that you purchase from an Asian market, and with a bunch of different toppings – all fresh ingredients – laid out that everyone can choose themselves. My teens and their friends seem to especially like this – it's about time we let them make their own decisions, and there's nothing like being the boss of your soup.

Start with fresh noodles - you can find these in the refrigerated section of most Asian markets. Each package has two servings. Or only one if you want a larger portion. Our local ramen shop offers a 'large order' that comes in a bowl the size of a child's wading pool.

They usually have three different flavors available: Shoyu (soy sauce), Miso and Spicy Sesame. The  flavor refers to the broth packet that comes in the package, but this isn't the usual powder that comes in a foil packet that comes with Top Ramen – it's a liquid, slightly oily paste that you mix with boiling water to make your broth. If you're a purist you can even make your own (here's a good recipe from momofuku) but honestly I've been-there-done-that and the broth that comes with these fresh noodles is really good, so why bother? Use the extra time for sipping some cold saké.

Sidenote: While you're at the Asian market you should really pick up some of these to reward yourelf for all of your hard work:

Back to our ramen: Next, lay out a bunch of toppings. I've used slices of chicken, hard-boiled or fried eggs, tofu, cilantro, basil, sliced jalapeño, shredded cabbage, green onions and lime. This is probably more of a ramen/pho mashup of toppings – more traditional ramen toppings would be bean sprouts, sliced shiitake mushrooms, spinach, nori (seaweed), kamaboko (fish cake) and char siu (barbecued pork.) Really, the sky's the limit – just don't do anything weird like french fries or Oreos because then I'll have to send the Asian police to your door.

The broth concentrate goes into your bowl and covered with boiling water. Meanwhile, cook your noodles for 2 minutes, drain, and serve up into the broth with the toppings nearby. Yell out, "Ramen Bar" and watch your hungry family stampede over. Sort of.

(Not to imply that those store-bought, hard bricks of noodles don't have their place. This video of Hayao Miyazaki making ramen for his staff is one of my favorites. If Top Ramen is good enough for the director of 'Totoro', it's good enough for me.)

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I signed up to do NaBloPoMo (short for National Blog Posting Month) which is an online event where bloggers are challenged to post every single day of the month. This is only my third post out of twelve days, which is bad no matter how you do the math.

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  1. Do you serve the noodles in the broth or separately? My family (two teen boys) loves doing meals that are assemble-your-own such as tacos and ramen. I've started serving the noodles & broth separately because the noodles seem to get mushy & overlooked if left in the broth for too long. Thanks. I really liked your post on teen parties.

    1. I cook noodles and broth separately, and serve them up together in the same bowl but JUST before serving. Yes, keeping them in the broth too long will overcook them – nothing worse than a mushy noodle!

      My kids love a taco bar, too – I've done that at kids' parties as well. Did you see my post above about pasta bars? I find this one the easiest.

      (Thanks for reading my posts!)


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