Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ramen, Expat Style

Ramen soup may be a Japanese invention, nevertheless, the popularity of instant ramen in Korea makes it almost as Korean as kimchi. If school kids sitting in the windows of CU and 7-11 slurping up cup-ramen every night on their way home from school isn't proof enough, try walking into any Korean corner store or grocery. Just the size of the dedicated ramen isle and the variety of flavors on the shelves will show you just how culturally ingrained the spicy soup is.

Instant ramen isn't exactly the healthiest of foods either. The nutrition information on the back of a pack of Ottogi Yeul Ramen (오뚜기 열 라면) says it has 505 calories and 1,830mg of sodium. That is 92 percent of a Korean diet's daily requirement for salt, according to the label. In a country that boasts their healthy cuisine, this makes Korean ramen akin to a native version of the fast food hamburger.

Despite the risks of hypertension, stroke and heart disease, if one lives here long enough, one tends to develop a taste for these dried packs of quick dinners and easy hangover relief. And given that ramen is so easy to make and successfully alter, many expats have shopped, chopped, and chomped their way to delicious but questionably nutritious alternatives to traditional instant ramen.
We've asked a few of those expats to share their ramen twists here.

Whatever Ramen: Michael Farrell, the chief editor here at Eat Korea, has been living in Korea since May 2010. Of his ramen recipe he said (with an attempt at sounding like Dos Equis' Most Interesting Man in the World,) "I rarely cook for myself, so when I do, I use up whatever food is sitting in my refrigerator or it will spoil. As a result, I never make the same ramen twice." He claims, however, that the last bowl he cooked was pretty good, so we have immortalized it here. He will probably never taste it again, but maybe it will live on in someone else's kitchen.
- Any variety of ramen (Michael used Ottogi Yeul Ramen.)
- Half an onion chopped
- A small zucchini or half a full zucchini chopped in big chunks
- Mini oyster mushrooms
- Any lightly flavored sausage chopped
- Processed American or cheddar cheese slices
- Sundubu (Korean soft tofu)
- Butter
- Water
Step 1: Melt some butter in a saucepan and brown the sausage bits
Step 2: While the sausages are browning, sauté the onions, zucchini, and mushrooms. The onions should be translucent and the zucchini slightly firm.
Step 3: Set the sausage-veggie mix aside in a bowl and add a few cups of water to the saucepan and bring it to a boil.
Step 4: Add the noodles and seasoning packs and squeeze in a cup or so of sundubu. Stir, then add the veggies back in and a slice of processed cheese
Step 5: Turn off the heat and stir around to break up the noodles and mix everything.
Step 6: Serve with a slice of processed cheese melted on top.

Trevor's Marvel Vegetarian Ramen: Trevor Owens, a native of California, came to Korea in the summer of 2012. Sharp of wit and never lacking an opinion, this vegetarian whose apartment is
decorated wall-to-wall with Spider-Man memorabilia, searched for over a year before finding a brand of ramen that he could actually eat and still taste good. If you want to make Trevor’s Marvel Vegetarian Ramen, you will need to find Choroc Maeul brand Vegetarian Ramen (초록마을 채식라면). Choroc Maeul is a small, organic-food chain with locations throughout Korea.

- Choroc Maeul Vegetarian Ramen (초록마을 채식라면)
- Diced broccoli, pre-prepared and frozen (Trevor says, “That’s the secret to amazing ramen.”)
- Diced bell pepper, mushroom and spinach
- Cayenne pepper
Step 1: Bring water to a boil.
Step 2: Place the ramen noodles in a large bowl along with half the seasoning pack and enough cayenne pepper to suit your taste.
Step 3: Add the veggies.
Step 4: Slowly pour boiling water over the ingredients in stages, allowing the noodles to soften and the veggies to heat up. The veggies will remain mostly raw.
Step 5: Stir and enjoy.

Sergio's Secret Select: Sergio Cabaruvias has been around a few months longer than Trevor, and he's very particular about the way he makes his ramen. Some, like Trevor, make it in the bowl, but for Sergio ramen has to be made in the pot. His reasons are simple. You can make more and it's harder to reheat a bowl. (Microwaves and ovens are luxuries in the expat community here.) The bowls vs pots issue is one thing, but no ramen remix is worth it's salt without a special ingredient, and Sergio may or may not also add the blood of virgins in his own "secret" ramen recipe.
- Jin Ramen (Sergio's preferred brand)
- Two eggs
- 1-2 tbsp of soy sauce
- Virgin blood (optional)
- Water
Step 1: Bring water to a boil.
Step 2: Add the ramen noodles.
Step 3: Crack two eggs on top of the noodles. This prevents them from burning to the bottom of the pan says Sergio.
Step 4: Cook the eggs until cooked through and then turn off the heat.
Step 5: Add soy sauce, seasoning packet and blood then stir.
Step 6: Serve and enjoy.

James' Texas Dry Ramen: James Tieken, a Texan whose face wouldn't look out of place in a spaghetti western as the cowboy wearing the white hat, is a relative newcomer in comparison to the other expats in this ramen lineup. However, he has the most unique and straight forward recipe for preparing ramen out of the group. In true Texas libertarian style, there aren't any measurements or strict stipulations except that the broth be drained out after cooking. The result is a bowl of "dry" noodles. Without the broth there is still enough flavor for a tasty bowl of noodles, says Tieken. He also claims the lack of broth reduces the sodium content.
- Two packs of ramen (Any kind will do)
- Any kind of hotdog or sausage
- Any processed cheese slice brand or flavor
- Mushrooms (again of any kind)
- Water of any variety (Texans sure aren't picky)
Step 1: Bring water to a boil.
Step 2: Add the ramen noodles and seasoning packets.
Step 3: Cut up the hot dogs and mushrooms and add them to the pot.
Step 4: After the noodles are soft and the sausages are cooked through, turn off the heat and drain out the broth.
Step 5: Serve with as many slices of processed cheese melted into the mix as you like.

If you have your own favorite ramen twist that you'd like to share please post it in the comments below.

(Note: Sergio and Trevor returned to the United States shortly before the publishing of this article. We wish them the best of luck.)

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