NOTE: This article is in desperate need of help from an expert in dried/dehydrated noodles and/or ramen. What I have typed is a bar, of sorts, to start from. If you are knowledgeable in these foods, please feel free to edit this as you wish, or even remove some sections and rebuild this from the ground up. If you are not knowledgeable, feel free to edit this anyway.
When you hear the word "ramen," what do you think of? If you are American, chances are you think of dried noodles with some strange powder, servedin a styrofoam cup. You pour boiling water into the cup, wait for three minutes, and serve. Which companies and brands you see most often will depend on the country you're from:
However, these two types make up only a tiny fraction of a whole variety of foods.
We shall begin with dehydrated noodles, as this is more familiar to a westerner than fresh ramen. While "ramen" refers strictly to a specific type of Japanese noodle soup, the term is also used by supermarkets, both Asian and non-Asian, to refer to any package of dehydrated noodles with seasonings for a single serving.
The concept of dehydrating noodles is pretty recent; it was developed to create efficient meals for potential space travelers. You may have seen astronaut ice cream, peaches, and the like; the concept is the same here. The noodles have been freeze-dried to remove the moisture out of them with minimal harm to their texture, flavor, and nutritional content (yes, it exists). Space programs in Asia never really took off (pardon the pun), but the manufacturers realized that what they had just created was easy and convenient to transport, was dirt-cheap to produce, and could be turned into a meal by even those with no kitchen talent whatsoever.
Maruchan and Nissin were the only two companies to have since broken into foreign markets (Nong Shim is arguably doing so right now, having gained a foothold in southern California), though they are far from the only companies to make dehydrated noodles. There are in fact dozens of companies creating literally hundreds of different sorts, with at least one representative from every Oriental country. Step into an Asian supermarket, and you will see an entire aisle devoted to these noodles, usually spanning both sides. Dehydrated noodles exists for Indonesian mi goreng
, Vietnamese pho
, Japanese udon
, Thai tom yum
and pad Thai
, Korean jjajang
, Chinese wor wonton
, and so forth. Udon
is an odd case in that the noodles do not dehydrate properly, so they are normally shipped undehydrated and stored refrigerated, separate from the other types of ramen. Nevertheless, preparation techniques are the same as their dehydrated kin.
What you will not see, however, are styrofoam cups, which are a specific only to American varieties. The "ramen" in these aisles will most commonly come in bags, which are meant to be prepared at home; but some will come in plastic bowls or buckets, which are meant to be prepared at school or at work. Most will cook in the same way as the familiar cup noodles (immerse the noodles in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes, then uncover), though you should expect to see separate packets for the soup powder, as well as the occasional packets for chili powder, hot sauce, oil, soy sauce, fried garlic, vegetables, and/or vinegar, in addition to the brick of noodles. Some require you remove the brick and place it directly in a pot of boiling water, then drained. One brand requires no preparation at all--you'd eat the dehydrated noodles as they are. The approach depends largely on the manufacturer, rather than the type of dish.
What all dehydrated noodles have in common, however, no matter what country they're from, is that they're symbolic of poverty. Whether it's the starving university student, people living alone flooded in debt, or folks who have fallen on hard times, whenever you see someone in fiction pouring boiling water into a brick of rock-hard noodles, you can tell they're hungry for money as well as food.
Dehydrated noodles as seen in media
Anime and Manga
- The heroes in Cowboy Bebop always find themselves eating dried noodles of various types due to their constant lack of money. It becomes a Running Gag.
- In The Tomorrow Series, city girl Fi is entirely unfamiliar with Two-Minute Noodles. Jack tells her about him subsisting on Two-Minute Noodles for a whole week when living with his father before the war.
- In Red Dwarf, Lister refers to "Pot Noodles" as a meal of last resort.
- In Ace Attorney, Dick Gumshoe frequently finds himself eating ramen.
- The students in PHD feed off of dried ramen and free food.
(The section for fresh ramen will go here--Can someone please help me on this?)
Fresh ramen as seen in media
Anime and Manga
- The titular character in Naruto is a fan of ramen, referring specifically to the fresh kind. The series has a ramen bar, Ichiraku Ramen, that's internationally famous.
- Ramen Fighter Miki focuses on competing ramen delivery services.
- In One Piece, Wanze fights using ramen noodles as armor and as grappling.
- In The World Ends with You, there's a ramen restaurant (Ramen Don)whose food affects the player characters' stats. In Week 2, Day 3, a mission revolves around Ramen Don and a rival ramen shop which opens a few doors down.