essay, Food

Ramen: A Story of Independence


Americans celebrated their Independence Day earlier this month, and that annual event came with a new realization for me this year about my first significant steps toward independence.

I was a latchkey kid. I had a key that I fastened to my clothes with a safety pin so I wouldn’t lose it during the day. When the school bus dropped me off, I would take the short walk toward home. I would turn the key in the front door lock and be greeted by silence.

And I liked it. The afternoon was mine. I could do as I pleased.

As I kid, I always did my homework. I had a little notebook where I would write the day’s assignments that I had to do after school. But those tasks weren’t the only things I did when I got home.

I had three priorities: eating, TV and homework. I did not isolate them. They were integrated activities during those childhood afternoons.

The first thing I ever learned to cook was ramen, and I learned how to cook it because I wanted a snack after school. I would open the packet and boil the noodles and the flavoring in the water, then pour it all into a big bowl. I would take the bowl into the living room and set it down on the table in front of the couch. But I wouldn’t sit on the couch. I chose to sit on the carpet instead, turn on the TV and tune into a UHF channel to watch my favorite after-school show, “Garfield and Friends.”

I loved that tubby orange tabby. He amused me with his droll wit and taught me sarcasm.

With my bowl of ramen ready and “Garfield” on the tube, I would lay out my schoolwork on the table and divide my attention between my three priorities. There were moments when I would eat and watch the show. At other moments, I would do some homework with the show in the background.

It was great. I was in my own world.

This routine enabled me to explore the beginnings of independence. I was teaching myself time management, self care, how to create habits, and how to allow for both work and leisure.

I still eat ramen these days. In fact, since we moved to Fiji, it’s become my go-to lunch.

I prefer soupless ramen nowadays. I prepare a dry version by draining the boiled noodles, drizzling on sesame oil and mixing in only half the powdered broth to avoid excess saltiness. I add a couple soft-boiled eggs for protein.

I’ve been fond of potato ramen, but I’ve switched noodles as part of a recent dietary tweak. I’ve started using soba and rice noodles and flavoring them with sesame oil, tahini and soy sauce.

The basic concept holds: It’s a simple bowl of flavored noodles.

It continues to be a symbol of independence and literal and figurative nourishment.

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