Monday, March 1, 2010

A Taste of the Orient (aka my WTF food moment)



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.

17 comments:

pasadenapio said...

All those ramen dishes are too salty for me. I'm a wimp.

Ann said...

The generic descriptions, "Oriental flavor ang "Taste of the Orient," have always been a sticking point for me. You have to love the guys that come up with the marketing plans. :)

Susan C said...

PIO, you're so right about the ridiculously high sodium content. Do you like non-packaged ramen? There's a new ramen place in Old Pasadena.

Ann, The whole thing just cracks me up.

I just read on someone else's blog that Applebee's has an "Oriental Chicken Salad." The dressing's main ingredient is mayo. Yea, that sounds real "Oriental."

Trish said...

just what DOES "oriental" taste like????

mayo is oriental? then again applebees is a crock---they have almost nothing I can eat due to my dairy issues---which means there is a whole lot of fat and calories in everything they have, including their "lite" menu.

sheesh.

as to the sodium count---most of my life I've used only 1/2 the seasoning packet (on the other than cup-o, option) and if I'm lucky, have other spices to add if need be.

perchance, someone can introduce the ramen folks to "chinese 5 spice"? ;-)

Lori Webster said...

Ahhhh....Cup O'Noodles and a stick of Cracker Barrel cheddar, the lunch of campions! Adored that combo when I was young but understandably had to give up the habit for health reasons.

I've never eaten at a noodle place, but would love to. We should get a group together and go! I noticed that the Reyn Coffeeshop on Lake Ave. is advertising Vietnamese dishes in addition to their regular menu. I've heard Pho is delicious.

Lori Webster said...

Ok, never type while taking Vicodin for a toothache. That should be "lunch of champions".

altadenahiker said...

Unfortunately, high sodium is a siren song for me.

Cafe Pasadena said...

Isn't there a Mitsuwa in our SGV, SC?

Chrissy said...

hey pasadenapio u can 1/2 the flavor packet, i do... but the best ramen is from scratch... its easy to do...

Susan C said...

Trish, I'm with you. I can't stomach Applebee's. Hey five-spice is about as "Oriental" as you can get.

Lori, I've passed Reyn many times but have never been in there. Just looked them up and see that they sell pho.

You live in the South Bay don't you Lori? You're close to some of the best ramen restaurants in Torrance and Gardena.

AH, Me too. Have always had a salt tooth. Fortunately for me, I have abnormally low blood pressure.

Many ramen joints sells a "Shio Ramen," which is Japanese for Salt Noodles.

CP, Yes, I often go to the San Gabriel Mitsuwa (which I combine with a trip to Golden Deli and Exotic Spa), but the Torrance location is bigger and better. And it's just down the street from Sanuki No Sato, a Japanese restaurant famous for their udon and soba noodles. (I had both on Saturday.)

Chrissy, When you say "from scratch," you don't mean that you make the noodles do you? Would love to have your recipe for the broth.

Susan C said...

Susan, Myojo Chukazanmai brand has Teruko's seal of approval. Our favorite is the Hiyashi Chuka in the blue package. Give that one a whirl!

Also, see if Mitsuwa has Sun Noodle brand ramen in the fresh noodle section. I'd be surprised if they didn't. The owner is friends with my dad and their ramen is ten times better than the Myojo brand. Should I even have told you this? I may be opening up a can of worms here.

Susan C said...

I posted that last comment for my friend Kumie because it contains so many good suggestions.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

SPAM is oriental

Susan C said...

He he. I think Spam might be the one food that can be described as "oriental." Hawaiians, who are a mixed bag of every country and island in the Pacific, can't get enough of the stuff.

Mary said...

Michael Pollan doesn't know everything, he just thinks he does. He probably never pulled an all-nighter before a physics exam or had only five dollars to feed himself for most of the week. The poor man was deprived on one of life's simple pleasures. I still eat ramen when no one is looking. Loved this post. Have a great day...Mary

BaldyLocks said...

I like the spicy beef ramen noodles. MmmmMmmm good stuff. The hilarity of 'Oriental' noodles from Japan is too much!

Ev said...

I actually have a major weakness for Shin Ramyun, the Korean noodles in hot and spicy mushroom flavour. Crack an egg and add some veg and you have yourself and quick lazy meal!