I know. I know. Food guru Michael Pollan would not approve of eating ramen with a little packet of dried seasoning listing no fewer than 14 ingredients (including MSG).
Just the same, legions of college students have escaped starvation and financial ruin by subsisting on the eight for a buck packages of Maruchan or Nissin Top Ramen noodles. My own finicky daughter started school with a hot meal in her belly, thanks to the Cup Noodles that she slurped every morning in the car for an entire year. (That, no doubt, qualifies me for the parenting hall of shame.)
But me? The one with the discriminating taste buds? The one with the refined palate? No, I wouldn't stoop to slurping the ramen of starving students or the grab-it-and-go breakfast bunch. Thanks to the influence of my Japanese American neighbor, Carol, I suck down Myojo Chukazanmai ramen. At $1.49 a package, Myojo is the gourmet version of instant ramen.
Last Saturday, I pondered the flavor choices on a pilgrimage to Mitsuwa Market in Torrance. I dropped a few packages of soy sauce and soy bean paste flavored ramen packages into my cart. And then came the WTF moment: Oriental flavor ramen.
Why would a Japanese company with a Japanese audience market a vague "Oriental" flavor?
To avoid confusion with the milder "Occidental" flavor? To evoke memories of a favorite Oriental rug? To appeal to foodies looking for a touch of the exotic?
According to this review by NoodleSon, it's the sesame oil and traces of Chinese cabbage that contribute that taste of the Orient.
Whatever you call it, instant ramen can be a bowl of comfort on a cold, wet day. But I'll bet that Michael Pollan still wouldn't call it food.