When I was in college, our school’s late night comedy show aired a segment called “The Dangers of Top Ramen.” It depicted students drowning in their small plastic bowls of MSG-laced soup, exchanging the addictive quick-fix meal as a form of currency, injuring themselves in the eye with shards of dry noodle, and hoarding packets of the stuff in their dorm rooms. The video quickly made its way to YouTube and then made the rounds on our school’s email network (this was before Gmail).
As funny as it was at the time, instant ramen was a common reality for those of us struggling to fit food into our busy schedules filled with coursework, socializing and extracurriculars. But then I started living with Ariel. As a Japanese American, her quick-fix comfort food wasn’t lasagna or chicken noodle soup or even top ramen.
On nights when we were too tired to cook or too overwhelmed with rushing from one event to the next, Ariel would quickly boil a pot of water and drop in a large white brick of udon. Within minutes, we’d be slurping up our thick, chewy wheat-flour noodles and polishing off the remaining broth. I came to associate udon with a very special time of my life, sharing a moment of solace with a good friend amidst all the busyness, growth and trials of college life.
Nearly three years after we graduated, Ariel and I met up again, this time in London. I was on vacation, visiting old friends from a semester abroad; she was finishing her yearlong masters course. We met on a cold, rainy night at Koya in London’s Soho district, warming ourselves with steaming bowls of delicious kinoko (mushrooms and pork miso) and kamo nabe (duck and vegetable) udon. And of course, we had to share a plate of kakuni — tender salty pork belly braised with a sweet cider.
Now we’re back home, and life has returned to its normal rhythms. But some things never change. We’ve found a new udon spot called Fukada that serves handmade udon noodles in carefully seasoned broth. As usual, we share an order of soft, savory kakuni. Like always, I order duck, and she orders mushrooms. We forget momentarily about the difficulties of working life, about uncertain futures and present worries, and quietly slurp our noodles.
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Irvine, CA 92618
What foods always bring back good memories for you?
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