On Starting Somewhere: Ramen

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Ramen noodle soup is the first thing I ever cooked by myself. I dropped frozen peas and hot dog slices into boiling water and then added instant ramen and the salty spice pack.

My brothers and I slurped the whole thing down while watching Little House on the Prarie re-runs. You gotta start somewhere, right?

Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen noodles, died last week at the age of 96. As the US struggles with childhood obesity and too much industrialized food, we're still stopping for a shout-out to Momofuku -- the man, not the Manhattan noodle bar -- because for me and many new cooks, his invention gave us the confidence and curiosity to start cooking.

Unlike Hot Pockets or Easy Mac, instant ramen leaves a little room for the imagination. An editor at The Fresno Bee mentions a college friend "who also kept a small chile pepper plant in a pot on his dorm room. If memory serves, they were pequin peppers, tiny and fiery hot. We'd pluck a few to stir into the boiled noodles."

I experimented too, adding soy sauce instead of the contents of the little silver pack. Soon, I was on to cooking with water chestnuts (an odd obsession!), then baking bread, and on and on.

His invention is, as The New York Times said in their Appreciation, "a dish of effortless purity. Like the egg, or tea, they attain a state of grace through a marriage with nothing but hot water."

Knowing that one man invented instant ramen and turned his idea into Nissin, a company that sent 46.3 billion packs and cups around the world last year while earning $131 million in profits, is comforting too. It sends me looking for the next food visionary. We need someone who will overcome industrial food scientists, anxious marketers, exacting retailers and everyone else with a hand in today's freaky food chain.

Where will the next tasty, simple, and hopefully healthy food that will invite more people to cook come from?