When I was younger I would eat dried ramen out of the package. You know, the typical “new college student with no money” food. In 2011, Jeff, my husband, was shipped off to Yokota, Air Force Base in Japan while I stayed home in Arizona. We spent a good 10-11 months apart while he got his bearings over there and I transitioned out of my job and wedding planning. After that, he came home, we got married, and in a couple of weeks he flew back to Japan while I stayed home waiting for my Command Sponsorship (granting me access to live on base) to be approved. Jeff would call me and tell me of his adventures in Japan and how he was looking forward to sharing a meal of ramen with me. That might sound silly, but Jeff assured me that once I ate ramen in Japan I would never be able to eat the “new college student with no money” dried ramen ever again.
When I entered Narita Airport and went through customs the anticipation, nervousness, and excitement to see Jeff again was overwhelming, but invited. The amount of joy we both had when we knew that we would be together and no longer apart was amazing. Such a relief and an overwhelming amount of happiness.
When you exit the arrival area there’s a wall barrier between you and the main lobby. There are two entrances to leave the arrival area and you go either left or right. Both ways lead you to the same spot. I chose left and when I walked passed the wall barrier lo and behold there was a huge crowd of people waiting, but Jeff got himself front and center. He was leaning on a bar and pulled himself up immediately when our eyes made contact. I remember him wearing his loose-fitted jeans and green shirt and I was in black jazz dance pants (very comfortable) and a blue spaghetti strap shirt. We smiled, hugged very tightly, kissed, and moved onto the next chapter in our lives.
The shuttle to take us back to base wasn’t scheduled to arrive for a couple of hours. So, we explored Narita Airport and I was completely mesmerized by EVERYTHING. From vending machines, restaurants, massage chairs, music, vendor stations, language…all of it. I especially loved looking at all the Japanese snacks and the packaged sandwiches with no crust and the perfect layers of peanut butter and jelly, tuna, egg salad, and so on. I ended up buying a couple sandwiches and there started my love for Japanese sandwiches at convenient stores.
Finally, the shuttle arrived and it was another two hours on the road. Again, I was completely enthralled by the new environment. From driving on the left side of the road, to the street signs, the small Lego-like cars and buses, to the layout of the cities and towns, and the architecture (especially the abundance of tall buildings with endless stair cases and everyone’s laundry hanging on close lines as if dryers were outlawed). Jeff and I ended up falling asleep on the shuttle and in about 15 minutes to our destination we both woke up at the same time realizing we finally made it to Fussa, Tokyo.
When we entered the base the feeling of total fascination quickly muted to order and strictness. A military personnel walked into the shuttle and checked everyone’s identification cards. It was made very clear that no one would be passing security and the gate without proper identification and a sponsor (a person designated permission to bring visitors).
Once we were inside Jeff drove me around Yokota Airbase and gave me a tour, which only made me smirk out of amusement of him thinking that I would actually remember anything he told me while driving at night. Ha! By the time Jeff brought me to our new home, which was Tower 4301 (an apartment) Room 5H it was late. However, we were too excited to sleep.
Jeff then took me off base and we headed towards Diamond/Aeon Mall out the East Gate and arrived at a popular ramen restaurant chain located across the street from the mall. It was so fun and bewildering learning the customs of eating out in Japan. Jeff told me that in order for us to get served we would have to raise our hand and voice while saying, “Sumi-ma-sen.” Which means “excuse me.” I asked him, “Isn’t that rude?” In the US raising your hand and yelling “EXCUSE ME!” would be considered rude and very entitled. Jeff said, “Don’t say it with an attitude. It’s just a simple gesture to let them know you are ready for service.” Oooooooooh, okay, I thought.
Now, I am actually quite comfortable with public speaking while controlling my initial wave of nervousness/stage fright, but this new behavior of speaking up and saying, “Sumimasen” was challenging. I remember looking to my right and behind me to see if other customers were in the restaurant. I actually had to gather my bearings before speaking up. Jeff could sense my dread and quickly intervened. Not 10 seconds later a waitress came by and said something in Japanese that I didn’t understand and then looked at me to take the order.
This prompt the next interesting situation for Jeff and I. Jeff is Caucasian and I am Asian (Korean), but we are both very American. And as the waitress looked at me, I looked at Jeff. I didn’t know what to do or say. Jeff proceeded to give the order by pointing at the ramen bowls, sides of white rice, fried rice, gyoza, and kimchi that we wanted from the menu. NOT even kidding, the waitress looked a little puzzled wondering why I hadn’t given the order. I simply smiled and nodded my head quickly. My insecurity for being a foreigner was completely obvious. The waitress took the order, smiled politely, and with understanding went on her merry way.
By the way, this situation occurred often during our travels in Japan, but you maybe surprised on how kind and polite most Japanese people were to us, whether Jeff and I were together or not. For the most part, I never received an annoyed look or attitude for being foreign, but looking like a local. Jeff didn’t deal with any type of discrimination either. So nice.
Our dinner came within 10 minutes and the bowl of ramen that was gifted to me was LARGE, hot, steaming, and so inviting. Put your face close enough to the bowl and it would have been the most delicious and relaxing facial that you could buy at any spa. A rich, salty, and oily broth coated every strand of ramen noodle, with a bundle of shredded onions, chopped and softened cabbage, steamed bean sprouts, a few mushrooms, and thin cuts of marinated meat laying on top. I took my chopsticks and nestled them right in the center of this edible tranquil bath and lifted my first bite of Japanese ramen into my salivating mouth.
It was OISHI! Delicious!! Pair that with some hot and steamy gyoza, crunchy and cooling kimchi, and starchy and comforting white rice and you have a meal worth eating at 11 PM (and any time, really). That was our first meal together in Japan. After that, Jeff and I lived in Japan for 5-6 more years and ate it. We ate Japan and with no remorse. Ramen will always be nostalgic and remind us of the dream we actually lived.
In 2015 we moved to Clovis, New Mexico. We have huge cravings for Japanese ramen (among many other things), but until we make it back I like to make ramen at home. Miso ramen with marinated beef and vegetables is inspired from all the delicious ramen bowls we had. Serve with a side of pickled vegetables (like cucumbers), kimchi, steaming white rice, and gyoza (dumplings) and you’ve got a delicious and satiating meal for you and your family/friends.
|Miso Ramen with Marinated Beef and Vegetables
|1/2 Cucumber thinly Sliced|
|Miso Paste (Cook’s Preference)|
|Ramen Noodles (Cook’s Preference)|
|Roasted Black Sesame Seeds and Coarse Salt Mixture for garnish|
|32 ounces Unsalted Chicken Broth|
|Sprinkle of Black Pepper|
|1/4 cup Brown Sugar|
|1-2 tablespoons Garlic Powder|
|1-2 tablespoons Ginger Powder|
|Drizzle of Grapeseed Oil|
|1 pound Lean Ground Beef|
|1 Leek thinly sliced|
|1/4 cup Soy Sauce|
|Handful of Spinach chopped|
Marinade beef and vegetables first:
- Using a mixing a bowl, place in BEEF, LEEK, and SPINACH
- Then cover with SOY SAUCE, BROWN SUGAR, GARLIC POWDER, GINGER POWDER, and BLACK PEPPER
- Mix the ingredients together until the ingredients are well incorporated together
- Then drizzle GRAPESEED OIL on top
- Let the ingredients marinade for at least 20 minutes in the refrigerator and no longer than 24 hours before cooking
Next, cook ramen noodles and create broth separately:
- Take out a saucepan and fill with UNSALTED CHICKEN BROTH
- Bring the broth to a high heat, but not boiling
- Once the broth is hot add in MISO PASTE using a large spoon or hand mixer
- Mix the MISO into the hot water until it dissolves completely
- Take out another saucepan and fill with water about half way
- Raise the heat so the water comes to a boil
- Once the water is boiling, lower the heat to medium high and gently drop in RAMEN NOODLES
- I used Shangdong Ramen Noodles, but you can use any ramen noodle. These happened to be the ones I could find in the store.
- Cook ramen noodles according to the instructions on the package
- Once the noodles reach the consistency you like immediately drain the water out and place noodles aside
- You want to stop the cooking process before the noodles become overly saturated with water and mushy
Cook the marinated beef and vegetables:
- Using a flat pan, sauce pan, or wok take the marinated beef and vegetables and cook on medium or high heat until the ground beef is cooked
- I even put in the sauce. Everything in the marinade gets cooked. When plating, the marinade mixed with the miso broth is delicious!
Add a refreshing and cool bite with cucumbers (optional):
- Take the CUCUMBER and slice thinly
- Top with BLACK SESAME SEEDS and COARSE SALT MIXTURE
- This is a Japanese condiment called gomasio and can be purchased in an Asian market or online
Put it all together:
- Take a bowl and fill with miso broth, then noodles, then top with marinated beef and vegetables, and cucumber slices
Serve and enjoy!
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