From bargain bins to gourmet restaurants: The righteous return of ramen


In the early days of their marriage, my parents lived in Korea, which meant that many of my family's culinary traditions originated in the land of bulgoki, galbi-gui and japchae. Some of my earliest memories involve being dragged by my mother from one foul-smelling, hole-in-the-wall Asian market to another in the fruitless search for some version of dried fish or processed seaweed. An upshot of this was that I grew up eating ramen, which my mother occasionally picked up on her shopping voyages. The Korean "ramyeon" packages that she brought back from the Asian markets usually contained three or four flavoring packets and had bizarre, alien flavors like "sea laver and mushroom." As a kid, I explained away my mother's love of Korean noodles as one of her strange idiosyncracies, like her tendency to eat potato skins and her deep love of chopped liver.

Sometime in the early 1980's, I was visiting my friend Joey and his mom pulled out a packet of top ramen. With a twinkle in her eye, she mixed it up for us. Expecting the spicy flavor of cabbage, chilies and dried fish, I was amazed to discover that Mrs. Schober's ramen tasted like chicken soup. This began a love affair that lasted until my junior year of college, at which time ramen comprised approximately half of my diet.