Instant gratification, slightly delayed, with rice cakesWe’ve all heard about the catastrophes that will take place in our bodies because of the years we’ve spent eating ramyeon, or instant noodles. In the medical sector, they’re known as “cancer noodles.” Today, someone told me that the amount of preservatives contained in ramyeon might be enough to keep a body from decaying for several years after death.
This is probably true. By all available evidence, ramyeon has almost zero nutrition, is high in calories and contains a large amount of sodium, which can lead to diabetes and high blood pressure. This, again, is common knowledge. Most of us are well aware of what we’re doing to ourselves when we open that noodle package with the long list of chemicals on the back.
But for some people, cutting down on ramyeon seems just as difficult as quitting smoking. Ramyeon is quick and filling, offering instant pleasure. There is also something strangely nostalgic about the experience of slurping noodles at night while watching T.V. Some things are just hard to give up.
There are people whose affection for ramyeon goes even further. Last year I met two winners of a recipe contest sponsored by an instant noodle company. One of them, Lee Chang-heon, was a cook in the Korean navy. The other, Chae Han-na, was studying to be a pastry chef.
Ms. Chae came in second place; her all-ramyeon menu consisted of noodles simmered in cream for an appetizer, an entree of noodles mixed with minced beef and, for dessert, “ramyeon jelly,” noodles creatively mixed with strawberry yogurt.
Mr. Lee, who said he eats instant noodles five times in an average week, won first prize in the contest for his seafood and mushroom ramyeon stew.
According to medical experts, Mr. Lee’s stomach should be fermented with sodium and MSG by now. But he seemed rather healthy, boasting about his heavy-duty military experience with visible pride.
As it turns out, he had his own approach to making ramyeon ― one designed to make it at least somewhat less nutritionally disastrous.
Mr. Lee said he boils his noodles in a separate pot from the soup. He does this so he can wash off the oil in which the noodles were fried.
In the other pot, he pours the savory packet that comes with the noodles, as well as whatever extra ingredients he wants to add ― vegetables, eggs, dumplings, rice cakes and so on.
It takes a little more work. But he says it really does make a difference in the taste. He said it tastes much cleaner.
Here’s a recipe for tteok (rice cake) ramyeon, borrowing Mr. Lee’s two-pot method. It’s not much more complicated than standard ramyeon-cooking, but it should make you feel noticably less guilty. If you want to add yet another variation, my aunt recommends using just half of the savory packet and adding half a teaspoon of soy sauce.
How to Cook
Ingredients: 1 package of ramyeon noodles; diced green onions; 1 egg; rice cakes
1. Boil the noodles for 8 to 10 minutes and let them drain in a strainer.
2. In a separate pot, bring 2 cups of water to boil. Add the noodles and the contents of the savory packet from the package, and cook for 5 minutes.
3. Add the egg and diced onions and rice cakes as desired.
4. Serve with kimchi.
by Park Soo-mee