Ramen, amen!


Rebecca Flieder

The sodium du jour, garnished with kale leaves

Like every other social media, Pinterest is a veritable black hole of time. Once I click on that little red icon, an afternoon suddenly falls away from me. Where were those hours spent? On recipe/lifestyle/mom blogs reading “5 Hot Tips for Women in their Twenties” and “This recipe for Brownies Will Blow Your Mind!” Were the tips hot? Did the recipe blow my mind? No, but I did learn something interesting. Pinterest has a blind spot, which lands directly in every college student’s wheelhouse: there are very few varying ramen recipes.

Most of these how-tos for “craveable ramen meals you’ll want over and over!” are annoyingly formulaic. Make ramen in hot water. Add seasonings, or the flavor packet, and serve. There’s no finesse, no verve. Nothing about them is revolutionary or particularly interesting at all.

Some recipes I found explained to me how to make instant ramen, as if I was incapable of reading the instructions on the back of the packet. I don’t know who thought rewriting the instructions was a good use of their time, given that there is little deviation. Boil water, add ramen, add flavoring. What more do you need?

No, what I was interested in was the weird, the ridiculous and the awesome. Something that blows regular instant ramen out of its water while still being easy and edible.

I spend too much time on Pinterest– that much is clear. In the interest of being an individual, one who doesn’t follow the pack, it’s time. Time to take a stand against the annoyingly boring monotony of ramen recipes of Pinterest, and by extension, the general internet.

Life is short. Eat dessert first. Though I recommend following it up with ramen. If you can eat them both at the same time, you’re on the A-train to flavortown, buddy.

I found quite a lot of pins with the subject “ice cream ramen,” which sounds vaguely intriguing. The first thing that popped up was a photo of this “dessert ramen,” which looked suspiciously not like ramen, and more like blue jello that had been ribboned and plated over rice with honeydew melon and mango.

Metro.co.uk’s Ellen Scott had the perfect thing to say about this “ramen.” “Now, of course, there has to be at least one wanky thing about every new food trend, no matter how brilliant it appears at first,” she wrote. “Ice cream ramen’s wanky thing is its name. You guys, ice cream ramen doesn’t contain ice cream OR ramen.”

Cut to me, being pissed off.

After a few rabid minutes of searching, I found a recipe for peanut butter chocolate ramen bars from a lifestyle blog called Simply Stacie. The eponymous Stacie, of course, is a mom, and her blog has all the annoying qualities of one of these kinds of websites. That cursive font used for kitchen signs that say “Live Laugh Love,” a pastel color scheme, far too much chatter in every article and too many ads on either side of each page.

While I want to credit Ms. Stacie for her recipe, I took large liberties in an effort to improve upon the original. Grabbing a medium bowl, I put in the brick of uncooked ramen and used a can of sweetened condensed milk to smash it into bits. I highly recommend this exercise for anger management, even if you don’t actually eat any ramen.

Once that was finished, I dumped in 10 oz (by weight) of sweetened condensed milk and a half-cup each of smooth peanut butter and powdered sugar. I added a tablespoon of vanilla extract and an added 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar to thicken the mix, deviating from the recipe.

A note– powdered sugar is actually the devil. It aerates itself much more than flour, and it really doesn’t taste that good alone. It’s got an almost-chemical undercurrent to the straight-sugar on the palate. If I could go back in time to before I’d made the bars, I would say to my stupid hungry sugar goblin self, “don’t eat a whole spoonful of it, you stupid hungry sugar goblin. Have a bagel.”

The initial mix is difficult to stir, but comes together nicely. Using a greased spatula, I pressed it into an also-greased 10-inch circular pie dish. I tried a bit with a spoon, and I’m not going to lie– it was weird.
Imagine peanut butter fudge, but room-temperature and softer than fudge should reasonably be. Then add crunchy and near-flavorless bits to the mix. I’m going to be honest, it wasn’t good.

Nevertheless, she persisted. For science! (I was informed later that this is a common thing with fudge, but having never made it before I didn’t have a clue.)

I poured a cup of chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl, plus the four extra ounces of sweetened condensed milk from the can, then microwaved until the chocolate melted and it stirred together into a ganache-like texture.

I used my spatula to spread it over the first layer, and then popped it in the freezer for an hour.

The freezer is a magical place for fixing consistency issues, and what came out of it was a million percent better than what had gone in. It was all the excellent parts of peanut butter fudge, plus a smooth chocolate ganache on top. Add to that the crunch of ramen, and I would call these a 9/10 for taste, consistency, and convenience. They’re like Reese’s cups but better. I took off one point for a mishap where I nearly inhaled a good cloud of powdered sugar.

After dessert, of course, comes lunch. Another recipe for garlic sesame ramen was annoyingly lacking. Its method of improving upon ramen was to use sesame oil, garlic and soy sauce, and then toss the noodles and serve. While that would be delicious, I used a couple more ingredients to make it more tasty and filling.

I added a quarter cup of sesame oil to a hot pan on medium heat, then added a teaspoon of garlic powder. Once that was a little warmed up, I added two large white button mushrooms finely diced. While those cooked, I added two tablespoons of dark brown sugar, one tablespoon of honey, two tablespoons of soy sauce, three tablespoons of mirin and a teaspoon of chili paste.

After I stirred that all together and set it on low heat, I put the ramen block into a bowl of boiling water and let it sit for 5 minutes while the mushroom mix started to caramelize.

I am a strong proponent of tasting food while it’s cooking. If something isn’t punchy enough or there’s not enough garlic, this recipe is very forgiving.

I took some tongs and pulled the ramen out of the water and added it straight to the pan, stirring the softened-but-not-mushy noodles into the sauce.

I turned the heat down low and cracked an egg into the pan, then broke the yolk immediately, scrambling the egg into the noodles. Scrambling at a lower heat creates a smaller curd, and the noodles stick together in a little cake of soft, creamy sauce and mushroomy goodness.

It is utterly delicious. I would expect this kind of thing to be a $20 dish at a fancy asian restaurant, and not a less-than-five-dollar dish I could make at home. My partner, who tasted it with me, said, “I would kill someone for that. Seriously.”

I probably should have reminded him that it’s very easy to make and nobody needs to die. But I was too preoccupied with eating the delicious ramen.

And delicious it was. Until it hit my digestive tract.

Rebecca Flieder

Turns out that instant ramen contains a substance called TBHQ, short for Tertiary butylhydroquinone, which is arguably a larger and harder-to-swallow mouthful than the ramen itself. According to an article published in the Electronic Journal of Biology in 2017, “TBHQ is in fact a chemical preservative which is a form of butane. It is used in food products; it greatly extends the shelf life of foods and delays the onset of rancidness.”

Super cool, but is it safe? The short answer is, well, maybe? Because it’s a derivative of butane, it isn’t allowed in high dosages. The FDA allows only .02% of the oils in any given food to be TBHQ, and the authors of the paper seem to indicate that any butane-based ingredient really isn’t great to consume.
They go on to state, high dosages… can bring about sickness, incoherence, fall, tinnitus… and retching.” I originally thought that this TBHQ might be the reason that I was so sick the following days. After all, I did eat the equivalent of about three packets in a very short period of time.

Then I discovered a video of half of a block of undigested ramen in the stomach after nearly 15 hours there, filmed by an endoscopic camera down a patient’s throat. I understood all at once. I don’t have a strong stomach to begin with, and the inundation of ramen must have overwhelmed my poor system entirely.

Thus concluded my foray into experimentation with poorly-written ramen recipes on Pinterest, and I learned quite a lot of things over my afternoon of exploration. Ramen is simultaneously very bad for the digestive tract and yet oh-so tasty; a great calamity of the universe. It’s good with peanut butter and mushrooms, but not really at the same time. Most importantly, though, don’t knock it ‘til you put it in the freezer!