Tasty Trends: Ramen

by Riley Sugarman

Photography Courtesy of Hidehiro Kigawa/Getty Images

Every college student is all-too familiar with ramen noodles, as many survive on packaged ramen from City Convenience.

“I like how convenient and cheap ramen is,” said Margaret Frawley (SAR ’18). “When I don’t want to go to the dining hall, it’s my go-to because it takes less than five minutes to make.”

The idea of a cheap and simple meal is enticing, especially for college students on a budget who only own a microwave, which limits their meal options.

In recent years, however, ramen has become more than just a college meal; it has become trendy.

The New York Times even recognized this craze in 2014, and stated, “Ten years ago, when you told New Yorkers you were going to eat Japanese noodles, nearly everyone pictured soba. When you say it now, half your friends will ask which ramen-ya is your favorite and the other half will be in line in front of you.”

However, not all BU students, including Sophie Heyman (CAS ’18), classify themselves as avid ramen eaters.

“I almost never eat packaged ramen,” said Heyman. “Maybe a few times a year if that, because it’s good and cheap but definitely needs to be spiced up.”

Heyman decided to try upscale ramen at Wagamama, an Asian-style restaurant chain, because of its surge in popularity in her hometown of Los Angeles.

“Upscale ramen is huge in California because everyone loves a trendy, artsy restaurant with something different, and now that’s happening here,” said Heyman. “I feel like ramen is being gentrified.”

Ramen has become a well-known comfort food many adore, and the addition of unique ingredients gives it the upscale flare that is currently attracting so much attention. At its most basic, ramen is warm broth and plain noodles, two foods everyone is familiar with and loves. The addition of ingredients such as soft-boiled egg, braised pork belly or bok choy has elevated ramen from the quintessential, broke college student food to a trendy meal.

Haley Pereira (CAS ’18) loves any Asian-style noodle dish and also decided to try ramen at Wagamama.

“I typically prefer udon noodles, but I really enjoyed the chicken ramen I ordered,” Pereira said. “I feel like it’s on par with any great noodle place I’d go to.”

Not every college student had the same reaction to trendy ramen. Margaret Frawley (SAR ’18) remained loyal to cheaper and more convenient instant ramen.

“It was good, but I’m not into it enough to go out to eat it,” Frawley said. “To me it’s just a quick food to make at home. I’d stick to the cheaper version and instead go out to eat a different type of food I can’t get on campus.”

Though there are many ramen restaurants close to campus, such as Pikaichi and Totto Ramen in Allston, eating out is still a luxury for most college students.

“I really like ramen and I’m glad it’s having a turn in the spotlight, but I’m not a fan of how expensive it can be,” said Heyman.

Thankfully, ramen’s popularity is not the product of upscale, artsy restaurants alone. Ideas for customizing instant ramen have surfaced on sites such as Pinterest and the Huffington Post, showing people how to incorporate healthy alternatives into instant ramen while also staying within a college student’s budget.

“I’m still partial to my original instant ramen,” said Frawley. “But, I wouldn’t be opposed to adding veggies or a spicy broth once in a while to spice things up.”

Upscale and DIY ramen is not only trendy; it is also exponentially healthier than packaged instant ramen.

Instant ramen contains up to 1,560 grams of sodium per pack, while the FDA-recommended sodium limit is 2,300 mg per day. Too much sodium can increase risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease, essentially labeling ramen a packaged killer if consumed regularly or in excess.

Using organic ingredients to make a bowl of ramen, instead of using the chemically based flavor packets in packaged ramen, is healthier and is also a fraction of upscale ramen’s cost, making it an ideal option for college students.

“Knowing how much healthier it is to make my own ramen definitely adds to the incentive, but it’s still more time consuming, so I wouldn’t make it every time I’m craving ramen,” said Frawley. “Maybe I’ll only add half of the flavor pack if I’m feeling particularly healthy.”