Like a warming Japanese ramen or Chinese hotpot, instant noodles give us the assurance we need. They only require hot water and have the power to accommodate almost any added ingredient - they might even be one of the best bowls of heady soup one could make with so little stress. Instant ramen-lover Benjamin Law takes us through his wondrous adventures with instant noodles and favourite way to eat them ahead of his snack foods episode on The Cook Up.
“Instant [ramen] is seen as a fast food, which it is, since it’s made in two to three minutes, but for a lot of people with Asian backgrounds it is the base for something much bigger,” says Law.
“It’s quite telling when you go to top-notch restaurants in Australia, like Malaysian or Singaporean restaurants and they’re using instant noodles as the base for their dishes.”
Stand-outs like Sydney’s Hojiak and Shancheng HotPot King are introducing us to the joys of slurping springy noodles with a signature spin.
In many of their Asian homelands, instant noodles, with their deeply flavoured broths and array of fresh ingredients and condiments, are treated with the same favour that Australians hold for barbecues.
“It is a very forgiving meal, even if you make a mistake it would probably still be delicious,” says Law.
In a broad sense, an instant noodle meal is characterised by four main components: seasoning, broth/sauce, noodles and toppings.
Benjamin Law’s favourite addition
Law brings attention to one defining ingredient: “White pepper will enhance any ramen dish. Black pepper goes great with everything, but white peppers gives it the spike to elevate what could easily be an average dish,” he says.
“When you boil instant noodles, you almost want them al dente rather than having it overcooked. It’s almost like steak, I like mine medium-rare.
“…At home, at the bare minimum I chop fresh spring onions on top, fresh greens or even throw in some peas. I love putting kimchi and fresh lettuce in my instant ramen. If I really want to go over the top, I put eggs, fish or any other seafood which can make a really substantial meal.”
At the end of the day, Law says his tip is to experiment. “There are no wrong ingredients to put in a bowl of instant noodles. One of the things I tell people is that they don’t need a spoon, put the bowl to your mouth and slurp away!”
“There are no wrong ingredients to put in a bowl of instant noodles."
Although instant noodles hold a reputation of being a cheap, fast food, they are an evolving pillar of modern Asian societies and are slowly yet certainly becoming submerged into Australian culinary and cultural experiences. While its origins are from the Chinese noodle soup, the instant noodle became pivotal for Japanese food culture after its first appearance in 1958. Since its earliest footprints, it has made its way out of the Asian markets into the aisles of our local grocers like Woolworths and Coles and closer to our homes.
“Some of my earliest childhood memories are of instant ramen,” says Law. “Every family has that one instant ramen brand that they grew up with. We had an onion flavoured Taiwanese branded noodles and the Hong Kong Nissin Demae Iccho ramen that was sesame oil flavoured, which is like Hong Kong’s national dish almost.”
Whether it’s a filler for the days we can’t bring ourselves to cook, a go-to comfort food or simply a noodle obsession, this versatile dish means more than a symbol of frugality and convenience.
“It’s about family connection. You don’t need to be the most supremely talented cook to able to serve your family a decent meal. I think [that’s] why it’s so incredibly democratic. I couldn’t cook fancy meals when I was a kid but I could make instant noodles for my siblings or my parents. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have the skill, it would still work out the same,” he says.
“…Those are my cherished memories, being able to make food for each other in way that’s very simple, very humble and very satisfying.”
Benjamin takes a hefty risk making his own version of ramen for the Ramen King himself, Adam. The dish is quite literally a melting pot as Benjamin incorporates flavours not normally seen in the Japanese dish.
This particular recipe is a bit of a happy accident – it came about one day when I was making Singapore noodles and I spotted a bottle of New York Shuk’s Shawarma spice on the condiment tray next to my wok.
Because chicken wingtips and feet have a high ratio of cartilage and skin to meat and bone, they are perfect for getting a rich, sticky broth.