Foodie Underground: When Ramen Is Still Ramen

ColumnCan a bowl of comfort food really be called a “craze?”

I was walking down the street with a friend in Brooklyn, ogling the multitude of good-looking restaurants and resisting the urge to take a photo of every single one of them.

“Do you guys have the ramen trend, too?” my friend asked.

I paused and thought for a second. Had I not just been invited to dinner at a ramen shop a few weeks ago? It was all coming back to me.

“Yeah,” I said, putting out of my mind for the time being the absurdity of the phrase “ramen trend.” At least I could appreciate the fact that Brooklyn wasn’t many steps in front of Portland; they were serving our coffee, after all.

And then a mere 24 hours later, after a cold winter walk, ramen seemed like just the thing we needed, which is how I found myself at Chuko ordering a bowl of miso with a poached egg, scallions and pork, feeding right into what has also been deemed “ramen fever” and the “ramen craze.”

“That is not ramen,” said my colleague when I texted her a photo of what I was eating along with the words, “Look, ramen is trendy now!”

“Would be better with some fennel,” responded another colleague, to which we both smirked.

For the record, the ramen was delicious, on par with a mean bowl of pho I once ate on the streets of Hanoi, sold of course at one tenth of the price and consumed while sitting on a pink plastic children’s chair. But was I really sitting at a corner restaurant in Brooklyn, watching young couples in well fitting, dark colored jeans and waxed canvas coats out for a walk on a Saturday afternoon eating a dish once reserved for cheap college students? A dish that was now deemed a “craze?” As much as I hate to admit it, yes. And I loved it.

As it turns out, the basics are back. Gussied up burgers are everywhere, upscale food markets sell syrups for homemade soda and even five star restaurants offer fries. But as a smart woman once indicated, even if you call a scarf “fabulous” it’s still a piece of fabric wrapped around your neck, just as a bowl of macaroni and cheese is still a bowl of macaroni and cheese, no matter how much imported aged cheddar and truffle oil you add.

If recent reports are true, even burgers are for rich people. And so are doughnuts – if they’re covered in a blood orange glaze, that is.

Comfort food will always be comfort food. Some of us just don’t want to talk about the fact that we actually like it. So we spruce it up to feel good about eating it. Call it a guilty food complex, but plenty of us refuse to admit to stooping to the levels of fast food – horrors! – yet we’re more than happy to eat a burger made with long-haired oxen meat and doused in a generous dollop of handmade mayonnaise. It’s artisanal, after all.

And when we’re feeling down, even the smartest, healthiest food lover might be tempted by a bowl of cookie dough.

The fact that people of all manner of socioeconomic status like the same foods is nothing extraordinary. A burger is still a burger, a quesadilla is still a quesadilla, a grilled cheese sandwich is still a grilled cheese sandwich and a fry is still a deep fried potato; they all hit a spot that a beet salad sprinkled with goat cheese just can’t.

So, when you’re feeling your winter funk, reach for that bowl of ramen and feel good about the fact that you’re helping to bring basics back. Just make sure to add fennel.

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s weekly column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground, discovering what’s new and different in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to the culinary avant garde.

Images: Anna Brones, Nona Brooklyn, Anna Brones, Week of Menus

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.