KUALA LUMPUR, June 19 — What shall we eat?
There is delivery, sure, but we don’t feel like waiting for food that is cold by the time it finally arrives. There is takeaway too, but we are too lazy to go out.
And the thought of a full-blown kitchen project involving ovens and blenders, various kitchen knives and utensils, multiple pots and pans, is enough to make us reconsider our appetite.
Something quick, then. Something simple.
We open our minds (and ready our bellies) to the joys of student cooking. What did we cook nearly all the time when busy cramming for exams and on a penny-pinching budget?
Ah, of course. Instant ramen.
However, we discover we are a tad more discerning now when compared to our younger days. Cooking according to instructions and serving up a bowl of nothing more than noodles and soup, slicked by tiny pools of seasoning oil, if any, seems a little unambitious now.
So we dig into our pantry, we investigate our fridge. What remains from our last grocery excursion, when we were careful to have drawn up a list ahead of time so that we may, as advised, go outside as little as possible and only when necessary.
There are always treasures if we look hard enough. Half a carton of chicken eggs, well before their expiry date. A bunch of greens, maybe, some xiao bai cai or broccoli, already broken down to florets from our round of cooking, or a quarter head of cabbage.
There are mushrooms too, dried ones or fresh ones. Shiitake or oyster, enoki or shimeji. In the freezer, you have some frozen meat or seafood, perhaps: diced chicken or lamb mince, shrimp or squid. Already cooked so they only need to be added at the end of cooking.
You almost miss the final ingredient, as you would have never associated it with instant ramen. A bottle of fresh milk; full cream, none of that low fat or skim milk stuff.
You would be using some liquid to cook the noodles and to form the soup, after all. Why not use milk rather than water?
For a second or two, you almost banish the thought. How ridiculous. This is soup, not carbonara sauce for pasta. This is an Asian dish, not something French or Italian.
Yet the world at large has been strange and unwelcoming, chaotic and confusing for the past year and a half. Nothing is ridiculous anymore. Time to live a little.
Feeling adventurous, you grab the bottle of milk from the fridge and start cooking. You make it up as you go along, which is how most magic in the kitchen happens. Or in life, even.
The child inside you clamours for something “creamy, creamy” and a world that used to be a tad more “dreamy, dreamy.” It’s silly, you tell yourself, but what’s wrong with silly, eh?
CREAMY, CREAMY INSTANT RAMEN
Truth be told, there is only one simple hack to create this creamy, creamy instant ramen: the aforementioned milk.
To make it even creamier, a generous dusting of grated cheese over the noodle soup when it is served will work wonders. Whatever cheese you happen to have in the fridge will be fine though the salty kick from grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano will remind you of the best carbonara or cacio e pepe.
For those who prefer noodles that are springier or more “QQ” as the Taiwanese put it, try reducing the noodle cooking time by a minute.
Choose whichever brand or flavour of instant ramen you like the best. Of course, the best instant ramen is usually the one you happen to have in your pantry so you needn’t run out just to buy a packet. Stay in and stay safe!
500ml fresh full cream milk
1 packet instant ramen of choice
3 shiitake mushrooms
1 large stalk xiao bai cai
Optional: Some frozen cooked seafood (e.g. shrimp and squid)
Grated cheese, for finish
Fill the pot with milk and bring to a gentle boil. Add the soup sachet (and any other sachets such as dehydrated vegetables or seasoning oils) from your packet of instant ramen to the milk. Stir to mix well then add the shiitake mushrooms.
Reduce to a simmer and cook for a few minutes till the mushrooms are tender. Now you may add the noodles from the packet of instant ramen. For cooking times, follow the packet’s instructions (different brands have different cooking times).
A minute before the cooking time ends, add the xiao bai cai and the egg. If you’re using frozen cooked seafood (optional), you may add them at this stage too, to heat it up again. Cover with a lid and allow to cook for the remaining time.
As noodles get soggy when overcooked, turn off the heat once the cooking time is done. Ladle into a large bowl and top with grated cheese; the cheese should melt swiftly due to the heat. Serve immediately.
For more Weekend Kitchen and other slice-of-life stories, visit lifeforbeginners.com.