During my teenage years, my afternoon snack after getting home from school was fairly consistent – ramen, grilled cheese and a tall glass of chocolate milk. (It being my teenage years, I immediately would lose two pounds upon consuming all of this.)
But I didn't eat just any ramen. OK, maybe I did. I ate Maruchan ramen noodles. The kind that come in the orange plastic wrapping (chicken flavored, of course). Two packs. Cooked then drained then powdered with the mysterious contents from the accompanying silver spice bag of awesomeness and sodium.
Maruchan ramen was the perfect meal. Easy to make. Easy to eat. And cheap. Oh, so cheap.
Finally, though, after maybe more than a thousand orange packages, I realized the horrible truth – Maruchan ramen noodles do not taste good. They don't taste terrible. But they do NOT taste good.
However, I've learned there is such a thing as good ramen. And it's the difference between eating fine German hazelnut chocolate and the chocolate coins found at the bottom of a Christmas stocking – with the foil still on them.
I have one guy to thank for introducing me to the possibilities of ramen. Meet Naruto:
Naruto is the title character from a popular Japenese anime, and he loves to eat ramen. In the first few episodes, that's pretty much all he does. When I started watching Naruto two years ago, I immediately noticed the ramen he ate looked nothing like what came out of the orange packages.
Even the animated version of ramen in "Naruto" looked far better than what I had been putting in my stomach.
It was time to find out what I was missing. I had my first bowl of ramen earlier this year at Hiro's Cafe, 2936 N. Broadway St., Chicago. My brother, who was visiting me from Florida at the time, was with me and we both tried restaurant ramen for the first time.
We were sold with the first bite. Delicious. My brother still talks about it during our phone calls.
Then, a few months later, I went to Slurping Turtle, 116. W. Hubbard St. Never mind the brussels sprouts, which blew my stomach out of my body and into the zone of happy, joy, joy. The ramen was even more exquisite. So many wonderful flavors. Such a rich, mind-blowing broth. I finally, truly understood what I was missing.
The next time I looked at that orange packaging (I still had some in the cabinets), I though about Slurping Noodle and the exquisite ramen I had there. I stared at the orange packaging for a little more and thought to myself, "Why would I eat this?"
I then proceeded to eat it.
Because, well, it was there and I was hungry. It wasn't bad. It was perfectly edible. But I now knew it wasn't good.
I suppose I should blame Hiro's Cafe, Slurpring Turtle, and – yes – Naruto for this. But how can I stay mad at those who introduced me to something so wonderful?
I can't. I can – however – go back for more restaurant ramen. Maruchan was an old, good friend. But some friendships weren't mean to last. Even those flavored with the silver spice bag of awesomeness and sodium.
• Going for Gusto is a blog by Joe Grace. Please support Going for Gusto by liking the Facebook page at Facebook.com/GoingForGusto.
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