Dehydration is Delicious!

One of the many positive aspects of living in Portland (besides carting confectioneries to the coast) is being able to partake of the pan-Asian culture.

It's really hip (among the sort of folks among whom it would be hip) to say that Portland is really "white". Sure, Oregon was a white-only state before WWII, but I mean, come on: what about the mid-West? And anyway, that totally overlooks Asian, Greek, Russian, American Indian, and Latino culture, which itself is pretty much American now. Portland's no New York--but considering the things you can get here, it's pretty lush. You can get a "real" burrito almost anywhere now--but I like Portland for its instant noodle bowls.

Of course, you can get those in lots of places. I used to go to the Asian grocery in West Hartford, CT to stock up on noodles and Bee & Flower Brand soap. But the selection here is very good. Many high quality bowls and noodle packs, with the usual assortment of flavors, but in a variety of styles.

The thai noodle packs (like Ramen style) are very good--the seasonings are rich, and you can actually taste the different herbs rather than it having a static "broth" taste. The Vietnamese Pho bowls are also good, but not as good as the real thing, which I can get right down the street. The best selection, and also the best lunch, are the Japanese bowls.

I have never been to Japan. But in the Japan of my mind, there are an infinite selection of brands and flavors. Each person has their own particular favorite, and perhaps a couple of backups. These choices define the personality, somewhat like beer choice and cigarette brand. Udon? Heck no! I'm a ramen man!

So despite how cultural inaccurate this may be, I feel bound to test the waters, and decide my noodle brand.

This is tricky, because I'm sort of wishy-washy person. I like to think I am flexible; I always let others choose the restaurants, drink whatever everybody else is drinking, and am down to watch pretty much any movie. I drink the cheapest Union Made beer available unless I have a particular taste for something, I drive a hand-me-down car, and when I smoked cigarettes I preferred the first brand I ever bought. But with this noodle thing, I feel I've really gotta nail it down.

This is made increasingly difficult by not being able to read any of the labels of the products I'm buying. My eyes glaze over when viewing characters, and I only have the basest understanding of the different looks of Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese. If the characters switch font, like between an exterior packing box and the actual label, I might as well have started over.

The only thing I really have to go by are the ingredient lists, which by law are slapped on with a blurry sticker the moment the products reach our shores. I'm vegetarian (or pescatarian, if you must) so this is a good first step. Anything with chicken flavor, pork dust, or residue from a beef vat is right out.

Next I go to the picture. This is often a good indication of noodle style, and sometimes flavor, if there are "serving suggestions" in the picture. However, if the picture is only a happy jumping man with a bullhorn, I'm lost again.

Price is another good indication. Top of the line Udon bowls are typically around 3.50 individually. The cheapest ramens are anywhere between .25 and .75. I normally take one from the upper third and the lower third. I like to buy the cases, because I do use these for my lunch at work. This is not only my own personal branding experiment. It's also delicious food!

This is my current specimen, which I have just slurped up while writing this post. I have no idea what the flavor is supposed to be, but label tells me that there are fish, shrimp, and milk ingredients. It includes some sort of dried potato cake on top of the noodles in the bowl, and three floating yellow balls that may be dehydrated egg. I think this one is a keeper. The potato cake is delicious; it gets full of the broth and is easily sliceable with the side of my fork (yes, no sticks at work. I should try and get a hold of some. I would be certain no one would steal them). I save the labels so I can get the same kind or brand when I return to the store.

I imagine in the future, these sorts of foods will become widespread. They already eat them in Asia, which says something. It's way tastier than Spaceman Icecream anyway. In Cowboy Bebop, they have instant noodle cups with pull-starts, automatically heating it when it is opened. I wonder how big of an exothermic reaction one needs to boil a cup and a half of water? How expensive and stable would that be? I suppose somebody has already tried to figure that out. Then again, someone can probably read the labels on these packages too.

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