Ramen (ラーメン), which is pronounced "Ramion" in Korean and "Lo Mein" in Chinese, comes from the compound characters 撈麵 (in Cantonese) that stand for "stirred" and "noodles." In Japan where I grew up, I had the genuine Japanese version of the dish years before I ran into the instant "Oodles-of-Noodles" stuff that has the nutritional equivalent of cardboard. (To be fair, it will do in a pinch as a comfort food, if prepared right -- which I say only because I knew a student at Chapel Hill who would pull the dry noodles out of the plastic wrap and spread peanut butter on it, which is definitely not right.) When I was in junior high school in Sapporo, we could put in an order for Ramen for lunch and have it delivered to us at our school for exactly 60 yen (when the exchange rate was $1.00 US Dollar = 360.00 Japanese Yen); and a bowl of "Soba" (buckwheat noodles) or "Udon" (fat, flat bleached wheat noodles) was only 40 yen. But that's all ancient history.
It was with a pang of nostalgia, then, that I read the "Ramen Adventures" (New York Times, January 29, 2010) diary of a blogger helping the Frugal Traveler, Matt Gross, with an article he was writing (Christopher Blosser had sent me an email with the link). The photos and descriptions were more than enough to get my mouth watering, as would be case too, I'm sure, for any Japanese expatriate in this country. Have a look. If you like Vietnamese Pho, this is a distant cousin, and one well worth getting to know.
If you enjoy this Ramen genera, thereis a movie you are sure to enjoy if you haven't already seen it, called "Tampopo"(タンポポ, literally "dandelion"), a 1985 Japanese comedy film by director Juzo Itami, starring Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto and Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Memoirs of a Geisha), sportingly referred by publicity as the first Japanese noodle Western. The story centers on two truck drivers happening into a roadside Ramen shop, getting into a fight, then helping the proprietress turn her shop, which isn't doing too well, into the Grand Ramen-Daddy of noodle shops. Somewhat in the manner of Like Water for Chocolate or Mostly Martha, the narrative focuses on the subtleties of delectable culinary delights with a tease of romance in the subscript.
[Hat tip to C.B.]