I don’t really understand noodles. They’re rather like rice, not anything I grew up with. Yep I know how to make them, I’ve cooked them, I’ve followed detailed recipes from Harold McGee to make proper alkaline noodles to go in Tonkotsu broth lovingly distilled from a shit load of bones. This doesn’t mean I get them; it doesn’t confer upon me an appreciation of their finer subtleties.
Many moons ago I when I worked at Oddbins people would come in and ask for Champagne for special celebrations and the like, they’d ask about Dom Perignon or Krug, and I’d question them as to whether they thought it’d be money well spent? Did they drink Champagne enough to really justify all that extra cost, wouldn’t they prefer to buy a couple of bottles of Bollinger Grande Annee for the same price? I wasn’t trying to make people feel foolish, I was just worried that as we get to the higher price points the law of diminishing returns starts to gnaw away at the obvious differences, leaving subtleties. And the one thing I do know about subtleties, is how easy they are to miss. Just talk to me about interpersonal relations for a pretty swift demonstration of that.
So anyway, I’ve read loads about Ramen noodles, pretty much the whole of the first issue of Lucky Peach was one long soggy love letter to them. They sounded awesome. David Chang outlined their sheer wondrous brilliance in many a third person piece, and I wanted in on all this good stuff. But where was I to cut my teeth?
A full day’s worth of boiling, kneading, chopping and, well actually more boiling again, supplied me with a bowl of steaming porky, fatty broth. Rustically cut noodles curled around my fork (I didn’t have any chop sticks), the still ever so viscous yolk of my soft boiled egg leaked dangerously into the soup whiule scattered herbs and spring onions gleamed emerald round the puddles of fat languorously coalescing on the surface. Yet still I didn’t really feel that I’d got it. It was nice, I had a glorious sense of satisfaction over a dish well made, but it didn’t feel like it was mine to love. There was no tugging at heartstrings, no moments of wistful reminiscence; I just didn’t have any context. Not having grown up eating noodles, I didn’t really have a backlog of flavour memories with which to compare what I’d made. It was frustrating; deep down I knew that if it had been roast potatoes, I’d have had an opinion. Fuck yes I would have done, and I’d not have been backward about coming forward with it. You’d have known, because I’d have told you, how much better, or indeed worse, I could have done the potatoes. But with these noodles I was silent.
When you’re mighty geeky like I am, there’s a certain helplessness about being confronted by things that you can’t judge flavour wise. It’s sad, but I’ll admit to liking to know about what I’m eating, I feel a little lost at sea when I don’t, that little boy lost in China town not knowing what in the world to order.
Btw, read into this whatever you will….