I remember my first real experience waiting for a bowl of ramen. It was freshman year at Columbia… my first true winter. A friend that lived on the same floor as me somehow managed to convince me to trek out in the snow with her and her boyfriend at the time to taste a bowl of ramen at one of her favorite spots: Totto. Up until this point, I was rather naive about how ramen could be any more complicated than the stuff you buy in a cup at the grocery store. After the first hour, my friend was having her doubts; there didn’t seem to be any convenient space for three people. However, I wasn’t a quitter. I told her that we had waited that long, so we might as well stay; they’d have to seat us any minute. Hour two soon greeted us, making us question our decision to freeze ourselves just for a chance for what I thought was simply soup, some noodles, and some fancy toppings at the time. And after what seemed like an eternity, hour three finally came, and so did the waitress with good news: it was time to eat. I took my seat at the Totto counter, already decided on what I wanted to order having studied the menu during hour two outside. I had a bowl of the spicy paitan, hoping to warm myself up after making what anyone would consider a terrible decision. Not much long after the order, we received our bowls, and I wasted no time digging into soup. And boy was I not prepared.
I felt so naive to think that the ramen that I was paying far more money than I was used to tasted exponentially better than I expected. I knew that a restaurant selling ramen had to have some secret to making it taste somewhat better than the Nissin cups and Nongshim bowls I was used to warming up at two in the morning while I did a problem set. However this… this was something I didn’t anticipate. There was more going on in my bowl that just some fried-and-dried noodles with some spices at the bottom of the bowl. There was depth and richness to the broth; the noodles also had more life and paired rather well with the soup they bathed in. To be slightly corny, I was in love at first bite: the dish I was looking to merely warm me up had opened my eyes to the possibility that there was a lot more to ramen than just adding hot water and heating for a couple of minutes. Though I didn’t know that I’d fall in love with the dish at the time, I did conclude that I had to taste more. Many bowls later, here I am, recalling a culinary love story that compelled me to deviate from my usual task of writing code to write blog posts about food.
While I ultimately hope that you also share my appreciation and love for ramen, please understand that this experience led me to feel rather particularly about food and its role in our world. While typical questions around a dish are “What ingredients did you use?” and “What creates this certain taste?”, I want to go a step further when discussing dishes and learn about the “Why does this dish use this certain ingredient?” and “What is the inspiration for the dish?” I feel like in addition to learning how our favorite foods are prepared, we gain a bit more insight and appreciation for the dish by learning its history and methods to its madness.
As a reader of Ramenthusiast, I honestly hope that you are able to join me on my journey to find amazing food, learn about its history, and even get in the kitchen to try our hand at making a meal or two. I hope you’re ready to ask the hard questions with me, and get to know more about both food and its world than you would have thought you’d ever know. Enjoying reading, and happy eating!