Dennis Haysbert: "Emily is just starting out—and on a budget. Like a ramen-noodle-every-night budget. She thought Allstate car insurance was out of her reach."
When you hear the word "ramen," what do you think of? If you are a Westerner, chances are you think of dried noodles with some strange powder, served in a styrofoam cup. You pour boiling water into the cup, wait for three minutes, and serve. Ramen is also usually inexpensive, leading to the quote above where having to eat ramen on a daily basis is an implication that you're close to broke. Which companies and brands you see most often will depend on the country you're from:
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 (often in soup), the term is also used to refer to any package of dehydrated noodles with seasonings for a single serving. On the other hand, recently many producers started to differentiate between various type of noodles, so one can encounter amusing combinations like "udon instant ramen".note
Instant noodles were invented by a guy named Momofuku Ando, a naturalized Taiwanese immigrant who, among his many commercial ventures, was once a successful salt merchant and knew the food industry inside out. Once in 1947, at the height of the postwar poverty in Japan, he saw a long line to the ramen shop in Osaka, and thought that it'd be nice if the people wouldn't need to wait outside for hours to eat. He then went to experiment in his storage-shed-turned-a-lab in his backyard, and after 11 years of experiments finally found a solution: fry the freshly boiled ramen in palm oil until crisp to remove moisture, then pour concentrated chicken stock over, dry it off and sell. So in 1958 his first product, Nissin Chicken Ramen, was out. Later, he or one of his employees invented a styrofoam cup, and so Nissin Cup Ramen was born. Ando died in 2007, at the ripe old age of 96 (eating his invention everyday, mind you), but Nissin Food, his company, remains the largest player on the market up to this day.
There are dozens of companies creating literally hundreds of different sorts, with at least one representative from every Oriental country. Step into an Asian (or even a general) 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, or simply vacuum-packed, though in this case it's better to check the expiration date carefully — they have somewhat shorter shelf life. Nevertheless, preparation techniques are the same as their dehydrated kin.
But the familiar styrofoam cups are not a given: they are characteristically Japanese and in foreign markets managed to get a hold mainly in US, so in other countries cup ramen would most probably be imported. The cheaper varieties will most commonly come in bags, which are meant to be prepared at home; but some more upscale types will come in plastic/cardboard 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 3-5 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, vinegar, etc., in addition to the brick of noodles. Some require you to soak the noodles, drain, and then
season them. Some brands require no preparation at all—you'd eat the dehydrated noodles as they are (actually most could be, as they're all ready to eat, rehydration just makes them more palatable). The approach depends both on the manufacturer and 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 — or, at least, not exactly stable life. Which is somewhat ironic, given that initially instant ramen was seen as an upscale product, and cost significantly more than the real stuff. Things changed since, though, and now 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. Quite Truth in Television
, as instant noodles are quite cheap and can be prepared quickly. The somewhat more nutritionally conscious might put in some veggies and an egg.
Very likely to be Trademark Favorite Food
for characters in media like manga. Interestingly, in manga and related media nowadays, there is a tendency to depict ramen as Trademark Favorite Food
for even rich and high class people, or at least as some kind of delicacy to them.
Dehydrated noodles as seen in media
Anime and Manga
- Part of Haruhi's "commoner food" in Ouran High School Host Club.
- 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. This being the future, the cups have a little steam-making device built into them.
- Lucky Star has a few scenes with instant ramen, discussing the tendency to forget about it while it's cooling.
- Noblesse has the main character having ramen as his Trademark Favorite Food despite his high-class background.
- Resident ojou of Seitokai Yakuindomo also appears to be quite fond of ramen.
- One of the Project X nonfiction business documentary mangas is about Nissin and the creation of the Cup Noodle.
- In one episode of Patlabor, the prince of a Middle Eastern nation comes to visit Japan to check out their mecha police program. After becoming friends with the show's police squad he becomes enamored with "commoner" food and demands to be provided with every flavor of dried noodles they can find.
- Despite living with a very good cook, Kazuki Yotsuga and Ken Sanada of Parallel Trouble Adventure Dual wind up sneaking instant ramen at midnight, saying they need that cheap junk food taste.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, Cup Ramen is specifically stated to be Jack Atlas' Trademark Favorite Food. Justified, in the sense that he (along with Yusei and Crow) grew up as an poor orphan in Satellite, and they were so deprived that even eating cheap Cup Ramen is a considerable luxury for them.
- A specific brand, Red Demon's Noodle (a reference to his Signature Card) was a focal point in one episode.
- In Uglies, they have tons of types of dehydrated meals, many involving noodles, which are all written in CamelCase, and so would all be Wiki Word-ed here.
- 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. He eats dog food over them in "Marooned", and in "Angels and Demons", when on a "perfected" version of the Red Dwarf, he tests its perfection by ordering Pot Noodles from the food dispenser.
- In a first-season episode of Breaking Bad, Walter White gives a pack of ramen to his old business partner Elliott Schwartz as a memento from their days working together as struggling graduate students.
- An early episode of ER had Dr. Ross catching Dr. Carter preparing to feast on a cup of instant noodles, despite being from a very wealthy family. Turns out, his family cut him off due to a disagreement.
- In Ace Attorney, Dick Gumshoe frequently finds himself eating ramen... when he can afford it.
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater takes place in 1964, and ramen is an uncommon item that offers excellent stamina recovery, and doesn't rot like other foods.
- One subplot in Yakuza 3 revolves around a food conglomerate trying to replicate the signature dish at local ramen restaurant in instant form.
- Cup 'O Ramen is a very cheap quick meal available in The Sims 2 University.
- The students in PHD feed off of dried ramen and free food.
- Despite being French, Mona Montrois in C'est la Vie is incapable of cooking: she appears to live on cigarettes, strong drink and pot noodles (instant ramen).
Of course, the media also depicts fresh ramen as well. The restaurant-quality stuff may have been right under your nose among the things you've watched, read, played, or otherwise consumed.
Fresh ramen as seen in media
Anime and Manga
- The eponymous character in Naruto is a fan of ramen, referring specifically to the fresh kind (and the dehydrated one, too, which he eats on a daily basis). 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.
- Oishinbo has devoted chapters here and there to ramen and other noodles.
- AIR: Kunisaki Yukito is dirt-poor, third-rate street performer who will do anything for a bowl of real ramen.
- Tampopo is considered the classic Japanese ramen movie.
- The Ramen Girl, a movie about an American woman who follows her boyfriend to Japan, ends up getting dumped by him and left stranded there, and later drowns her sorrows at a local ramen restaurant. To cope with the loss, she vows to become an expert ramen cook and convinces the restaurant owner to train her in cooking ramen. For some reason she also gains the ability to create empathetic food in one scene. The ability is never referenced again.
- 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.
- Persona 3 had Hagakure Ramen as a typical hangout location, usually important for Social Links.
- Ramen has apparently become an Earth delicacy in the Mass Effect universe by the time of Mass Effect 2. Kasumi speaks about her grandmother preparing it, and a cook at a restaurant on the Citadel can also be overheard talking about it. Alternatively, the chef is trying to con some Citadel tourists into eating "genuine" Earth cuisine.
- In one of the levels of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan the cheerleading squad has to help the owner of a failing ramen shop revitalize his establishment.