REALITY CHECK: Diplomacy happens one noodle at a time

Reality Check | Mike Taylor

Ramen figures prominently in my diet. I’m a single guy, so this is in keeping with the established order of things.

It’s not that I’m particularly poor (though I am) or uncreative in the kitchen. I was raised in the restaurant business and have been cooking for decades. I can make a quiche that’s lighter than air, stir fry Szechuan that’ll bring tears to your eyes, create an awesome venison stew, all without cracking a cook book.

But I don’t.

Because I’m single, the kids are grown and moved out, and ramen noodles are ready in three minutes. I usually toss in whatever leftover bits of vegetables and/or meat products I have in the refrigerator — the ones that have yet to sprout green hair — and voila! Dinner is served and I can go fishing.

I assume the nutritional value of ramen is roughly the same as the packaging it comes in, but I don’t care. I take a vitamin every day (purchased from the same dollar store at which I buy the ramen) so I’m all set with regard to health issues.

The taste of ramen is OK; nothing to write home about, but I never wrote home about food anyway, or anything else, now that I think about it.

The different flavors concern me, though. I mean, the chicken flavor is (supposedly) flavored with real chicken; the beef and shrimp flavors with real beef or shrimp. Which leaves one to wonder what they use to season the Chinese flavor. Real Chinese? I hope not, but things are different there; there is no FDA and China’s population tops 1.35 billion. Who really knows what sort of Soylent Green stratagem noodle manufacturers have come up with to turn a buck?

Most Americans think ramen tastes pretty much the same from brand to brand, from flavor to flavor. This is because it does. The Asian palate, however, is far more discriminating, at least when it comes to noodles.

Toshio Yamamoto, a computer hardware engineer from Japan, recently announced he has spent the past 15 years cataloguing all the Japanese ramen he could find. His noodle database offers information on texture, price, flavor and ingredients for over 4,300 different brands and types of noodles.

From this we may discern that Yamamoto is a) an idiot, b) likely to remain single for life, and c) a man in need of a real hobby.

Because of his diligent work, however, we can now check to see, conclusively, if Chinese people are actually an ingredient in any ramen noodles. Or rather we could, if we could read Japanese, which we cannot. (And when I say “we” I mean “me.”)

To me, Japanese writing looks like beautiful, elegant, squiggly lines. When I hit the Google “translate” button, some of the squiggly lines change shape slightly, but remain unintelligible to my round, western eyes.

I have a couple Japanese friends in Detroit who could probably help me with this, but I haven’t seen them in a while. Besides, asking them if there are Chinese people in their noodles might be perceived as racist. Being a liberal Gaijin, I can’t let that happen.

So for now, I think I’ll just stick with the chicken flavor and avoid an international incident.

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