No Konbini No Life: instant maze-soba
Nissin launched its line of Cup Noodle instant ramen products in 1966, and to this day it continues to be a big seller, thanks to its low price, portability and reliable taste. Not much can be said for the names and flavors – Cup Noodle, Seafood and Curry are all about being no-nonsense and utilitarian. It’s the kind of generic, survivalist grub that you know the Dharma Initiative would love.
While the first generation of instant ramen products may have been lacking in creativity, recent instant-ramen products have finally caught up with the innovations of the past decade’s ramen boom. Buttery Sapporo miso ramen, stinky Fukuoka tonkotsu ramen . . . if it’s popular on the ramen scene, you can probably find an instant version on the shelf of your local convenience store.
One of the newest products on the market is Myojo Foods’ maze-soba. Using Hiroshi Osaki, founder of the RamenBank online database, to promote the product, Myoji clearly wants to capitalize on the recent maze-soba boom. Maze-soba literally means “mixed noodles,” and it is very different from regular ramen. There is hardly any soup at all, but there are tons of toppings, and many of them – such as poached pork fat, raw garlic, raw egg, cheese and crispy noodles – are far more eclectic than normal ramen. Mix it all up and you get a goopy juxtaposition of flavors and textures.
Unfortunately, Myojo’s instant maze-soba is just a variant on the yakisoba style of soup-less instant noodles, which you steep in boiling water and then drain via a small outlet on the lid. The noodles are thick, but the kit contains only a very small amount of toppings, mostly dried bacon and cabbage – it doesn’t even begin to approximate the complete maze-soba experience. That said, the sauce is better than the sweet sauce included with yakisoba, so it isn’t a total loss. If you’re looking for something filling, however, it might be best to stick with the tried and true Cup Noodle.
And while we’re on the topic, if you’re looking for online resources to follow the latest ramen trends, there’s plenty out there. In addition to the RamenBank, the Ramen Database is great for keeping up to date on the latest ramen restaurants. There’s also a number of fanatic English-language bloggers covering the ramen scene, and three in particular have received a notable amount of press over the past three months: Brian MacDuckston (Ramen Adventures), Keizo Shimamoto (Go Ramen) and Nate Shockey (Ramenate). Having first met online by commenting on each other’s blogs, they eventually started hunting down rare bowls of noodles together. They often end their excursions at Bassanova, the ramen shop where they first met and where Shimamoto is currently a full-time employee.
MacDuckston guided New York Times’ “Frugal Traveller” Matt Gross around Tokyo, helping him find material for his late-January article “One Noodle at a Time in Tokyo.” In its April issue, Japanese magazine Courrier published a translation of Gross’ article in the regular monthly section “Sekai ga mita Nippon” (Japan as seen by the world), in which they examine how Japan is being reported abroad. You’d be hard pressed to find better insight to Japan’s ramen world than these three websites.
When it comes good places to eat freshly made maze-soba, both Brian and Nate seemed to enjoy Junk Ramen in Saitama Prefecture, which helped put maze-soba on the map, thanks in part to its connection with the super popular tsukemen restaurant Rokurinsha. “It’s just junk food,” says MacDuckston of maze-soba. “It doesn’t care about presentation. It’s just about the tastiest, fattiest things going into the bowl. The most satisfying things.”