I am currently a 24-year-old male living in New York (well, Hoboken) and working an unpaid internship. This, as you might imagine, means I keep a tight budget, because holy shit, rent is expensive out here.
But it's easy to skimp and save by cutting back in the food and drink department. Back when I was living in Colorado and making literally thousands of dollars per year, I had no qualms about dropping dollars on gourmet hamburgers (the kind with a fried egg on it!) and cocktails that I thought were fancy (gin on the rocks with a slice of cucumber!). I can't do that now that I have joined the broke hordes here. Instead, I subsist on one of America's vilest delicacies: Ramen noodle packets.
We all know that they're awful. The cardboardy noodles come with freeze-dried vegetable bits that look like they were harvested on Mars and a powdered "sauce" packet that smells like acrid fish food. Mix them together as the instructions dictate, and you get a styrofoam cup of hot sea water with wan ramen eels in it.
But it doesn't have to be this way. With just a few extra (cheap) ingredients and some ingenuity, ramen can be transformed into a meal that even your friends with real jobs would be happy to eat. So join me, as I teach you how to make ramen worth eating.
What you will need:
- One package of ramen noodles. I prefer Maruchan over Top Ramen
- One bunch of baby bok choy
- Frozen meatballs. Make sure you get small ones, the package should say "cocktail size" or something similar
- Silken tofu
- Green onions
- Mixed frozen vegetables
You should be able to find all of these things in your local grocery store. (If you can't find baby bok choy (I couldn't last night, at ShopRite), you can replace it with any other green, crispy vegetable, like romaine lettuce or cabbage.) They're all dirt cheap, too. Last night, I bought three packages of ramen, a giant romaine heart, six eggs, a jar of jalapenos, one pound of frozen meatballs, a package of tofu, green onions, and one half-pound of frozen veggies for $13.00. That's enough for multiple ramen batches.
Here's a picture of the ingredients:
Start off by boiling water in a small pot. Once the water has reached a steady boil, drop in four or five of the frozen meatballs, a half-cup of frozen vegetables, and a few cubes of tofu. Empty the "sauce" packet that comes with the ramen into the water. Wait about a minute or two to let everything cook and for the tofu to soften up. Now throw in five or six jalapenos (if you don't like spicy things, fear not, they're just there for flavor), a handful of chopped green onions, and a few pieces of your crispy green. Use a spoon to push the bok choy/lettuce into the water, but don't let it cook so long that it loses all its crispiness. You're finally ready to add the noodles, so drop those in and keep them submerged in the water until they are fully cooked. The last step is to crack an egg and drop it into the mixture. It should poach up almost immediately, so stir everything around to make sure that the egg bits get evenly distributed. This entire cooking process should take five to eight minutes.
Here is what the finished product should look like:
If you have access to an Asian grocery store, you can take this recipe to some next-level shit by using Shin Ramyun (spicy) or Sapporo Ichiban (non-spicy) brand noodles. They should cost roughly the same as a packet of Maruchan. Also, you can usually find frozen pork, beef, or fish meatballs in these stores—they'll be super-cheap, too, but they'll taste a bit better than the kind you can get at a regular grocery store.
Also: I've made the recipe above spice-neutral. But if you do like spicy food—and, really, you should—I highly suggest adding Sriracha ("Rooster Juice," to all you uncultured bros out there) or hoisin sauce to the recipe. Doing so will tie a nice, spicy bow around your classed-up vat of cheap noodles. Now, get in that kitchen and start fighting off starvation with some dignity.
Special thanks to Rachel K., who taught me how to make this recipe. Please feel free to share your own ramen recipes in the comments. Top image by Jim Cooke.