How a bowl of spicy ramen became my comfort food

How a bowl of spicy ramen became my comfort food

The food tale that starts with spicy Korean ramyeon, kimchi reaches Yachaejeon and beyond

Celebrate noodle week with a ramen tale
Celebrate noodle week with a ramen tale Image Credit: Shutterstock

I was introduced to Korean spicy noodles or ramen/ramyeon/ramyun during my university days by my South Korean roommate in the UK. Her name is Hyosun Kim, but she likes to be known as - Sun.

She would often rustle up ramen, her bowl filled with vegetables and eggs most of the time. She used a burnished metal pot to cook her noodles in and ate right from it.

It's called a Naembi, which translates to ‘casserole’. It's interesting how ramen has such cultural significance in Korea, that there’s a special utensil to make it. Anyway, I digress….

Naembi or ramen pot
Naembi or ramen pot Image Credit: Shutterstock

Back to Sun, every time we bumped into each other in the common kitchen of our apartment, she would generously offer me a taste of her ramen. It was love at first taste, because they were spicy and delicious. Not the green chilly kind of sharpness I was familiar with in Indian cuisine but a much stronger sweet yet piercing flavour. She would often pair her ramen with homemade kimchi. It was the slurp of noodles and the crunch of nappa cabbage that made the whole meal so tempting, just to look at.

A shared love for ramen brought us close, across cultures and geography. This was 2017. Even today, every time I take the first bite of ramen, those joyful memories come flooding back.

How to make instant ramen?

Sun had said, "Just follow the instructions on the packet and you'll learn.” I was soon cooking egg ramen, ramen with vegetables or simply a bowl of soupy ramen on its own. Soon ramen became my go-to meal, too, especially as essay deadlines and dissertation dates neared.

It's simple – bring water to a boil, empty the two sachets – the soup powder and flakes, add the noodles and cook for two minutes. Remember not to break the noodle.

Want some eggs in it? Crack open an egg (at room temperature) right into the ramen pot when the noodles are nearly done. Now leave it covered for 2 minutes. If you are going to add meat and vegetables, sauté in butter in a separate pan and add them to the ramen.

Soupy bowl of ramen with meat and eggs
Soupy bowl of ramen with meat and eggs Image Credit: Shutterstock

For a non-soupy ramen bowl, cook the noodle and drain away excess water. Add the seasoning only after it is cooked and cover it with a lid for one minute. Turns out there is no right or wrong way to making ramen; it's about how you like it. For this, you will have to begin by reading the instructions on the packet – just like what Sun said.

Time takes flight

Two years passed, and we were nearing the completion of our studies. It was 2019. As we packed our bags, Sun was looking forward to her home country, as I was for mine. We bade each other goodbye, promising to visit each other soon, not realizing COVID-19 Would be at our doorstep, soon.

However, before leaving, I made sure my bag had a super pack of five Nongshim instant ramyeon with me. What if I didn't find it back home in India? What if I could never find an instant noodle as good as this again? I did not want to risk it! It was a food crisis of sorts.

Ramen in Dubai

Two years later, I moved to Dubai for an exciting new job, and here I am writing about my first ramen experience because I found myself in the same place as my University days – in search of new and exciting ways to make quick meals.

This time, I found myself surrounded by colleagues who are BTS (Korean band) and K-drama (Korean Television Drama) fans. My editor once got us jars of homemade kimchi, which I devoured for days, and another day she cooked Korean vegetable pancake with sweet potato and onions or Yachaejeon and got it for us. She also ordered the metallic pot – Naembi, and I have now started eating ramyeon right from it, just as Sun used to.

Preparing noodles
Preparing noodles Image Credit: Shutterstock

After all this, I just could not resist the K-drama craze and started my binge-watching journey with the Netflix show – Start-up. And, of course, nothing better than a bowl of hot soupy ramen to slurp on while watching it, especially as today marks the start of global noodle week!

Here are a few different kinds of noodles you could try:

1. Soba: These noodles are made of buckwheat (soba) that gives it a distinct flavour. Some popular soba dishes are – zaru soba, kake soba and kitsune soba to name a few. Soba noodles have a mild brown colour that come with a dense texture.

2. Yakisoba: These noodles are made with wheat flour and just like ramen, are a recent creation to have first appeared in Japan. Traditionally they are served as fried noodles. There is Yakisoba-pan in which they are served lengthwise on a hot dog bun, garnished with pickled ginger and mayonnaise.

3. Somen: This is again a wheat-based noodle and similar to udon noodles but much thinner. Somen is often served as a cold dish, especially during summers. Apart from wheat flour and wheat, they are made of vegetable oil. Traditionally they are served with a dipping sauce called tsuyu.

4. Udon noodles: These noodles are thick and chewy and the most popular noodles. Udon is made from wheat flour and is served cold in summer and hot in winter. It has a neutral flavor, making it great to pair with broths to various vegetables. They are versatile.

Ramen: A ramen is a noodle if is made using wheat flour, salt and alkaline water. The alkaline water gives it a unique taste, making it different from plain noodles. This water is called – kansui originally found in the lakes of Mongoli

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