The Ramen Connection: Books, Noodles, and Living the Pandemic Life

Throughout COVID, I’ve written a lot about books. However, I’ve not yet written about something that has equally sustained me: instant ramen. Reading and ramen have been an ongoing part of my life. Reading always kept me company, and ramen was something I could make easily, even as a child, without needing anyone’s help.

Since it’s always been a food that I make alone, ramen doesn’t trigger pangs of loneliness and isolation—and that means I can read and slurp and enjoy the pandemic away.

So today, I’d thought I’d discuss some brands and flavors of instant noodle, then pair them with classic and contemporary SF/F works. In this way, I hope to share some love for these books and this magical food.

“Why are there so many
Folks who love ramen?
I know that lots of you do.
Ramen is filling
And perfect for chilling
And ramen is really cheap, too.

Some like the spicy, and some like the chicken
And some like to read when they eat–
I know we share it
The Ramen Connection
Our tasty, high-sodium treat!”

***

 

Maruchan Soy Sauce Flavor & Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon

I buy Maruchan for one of two reasons: either it’s cheap, or I am tired of Top Ramen, but don’t want to think too hard.

Maruchan Soy Sauce Flavor is perfect for those times in the pandemic when you’ve not only lost track of which COVID variant we’re on—you don’t even know what month we’re on.

On nights like this, pair Maruchan Soy Sauce Flavor with Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men. Forget variants of COVID—here are eighteen variants of humans: rising, falling, killing each other, losing their minds, finding them, to be once again crushed by despair.

Maruchan Soy Sauce flavor. Simple and clean. Every meal, individually packed. The noodles are sterile, the flavor packet is sealed, and everything goes into boiling water. When it’s done, you breathe in, think yes, you can smell.

You read about the next human species. They rise. They fall. As does the next.

How long has it been? You could be on a spaceship. You could be the last of your kind.

Will anyone remember you?

You take your first bite. You still have taste. You still have time.

 

Top Ramen Chicken Flavor & Your Favorite SF/F Paperbacks

I’ve eaten this all my life and will continue to do so. Sometimes, I don’t even notice when I’m making them. I can go years without Top Ramen Chicken Flavor, but one day, there they are.

I know what they taste like. I have a favorite style of bowl. I’ll add some green onion. An egg.

Why am I eating Top Ramen? Maybe I lost a teaching gig. Maybe I had a breakup. And now, in these COVID times, Top Ramen Chicken Flavor is as affordable and familiar as it’s always been.

Now, what to read? I suggest your favorite SF/F paperbacks. Mine are the Star Trek books. What are yours? Anyway, you know where they are—they’ve been with you since elementary school, dragged from one closet to another, maybe in the basement, or a small place on your bookshelf.

They’d probably be collectors’ items if they weren’t dog-eared and torn. My Star Trek #7 has water damage from when I got the bright idea that Captain Kirk taking on a freaking Greek god would make the perfect bathtub reading.

How long has it been since you’ve read them?

It seems like only yesterday, doesn’t it?

 

Cup (O’) Noodles Shrimp Flavor & George Lucas’ Stars Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Director’s recut. Remastered. New scenes added. Han shoots second.)

Cup O’ Noodles was a special treat because the noodles came in their own cup (they were also more expensive than Top Ramen).

Cup O’ Noodles Shrimp Flavor was even more special because there were a couple or so freeze-dried shrimp that looked a little like broken Lucky Charms. And there were some dehydrated peas, carrots—and egg, I think.

But a few years ago, I noticed something terrible. Cup O’ Noodles was no more. Somewhere along the way, Nissin Foods decided to drop the “O’” and just call them “Cup Noodles”

WTF, Nissin? That’s like calling Flannery O’Connor “Flannery Connor.” Or The Story of O just “The Story of.”

Why don’t you just rename Top Ramen “TP Ramen” and sell it by the roll?

It’s like what George Lucas did to Star Wars (yes it was just “Star Wars”). Suddenly the barren landscape is full of squooshy aliens, the Death Star explodes more elegantly, and what is up with Greedo?

I know it’s not a book, but “Star Wars Episode IV: ‘Whatever the Newest Hope Is’” perfectly complements “Cup Noodles” for an evening spent railing at creators who can’t stop messing with our most cherished memories.

It was Han! Han shot first! And Cup O’ Noodles! Cup O’ Noodles!

Shrimp Flavor, please. And they still did Porkins wrong.

 

Nongshim Shin Ramyun & Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu

Yes, I have my usual noodles, and they are fine… usually.

But is it wrong to wonder how my fish cake and soft-boiled egg might taste in another bowl?

Nongshim Shin Ramyun is different from my usual noodle—packaged in rich and stylish red, and emblazoned with a bold 辛. Spicy, picante, hot—however one understands it, this noodle promises more than a nice lunch.

Nongshim Shin Ramyun is for those stretches of pandemic when I want temptation, obsession, and more than a hint of danger. Inside are two flavor packets. One holds a mélange of dried vegetables…

And the other? How much spice can I take? How much am I willing to endure?

Oh, but the satisfaction.

My pair for this is Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. Those of you who follow BL (Boys’ Love) probably know this manhua (or web novel, or anime, or live action drama). But to those unfamiliar with the story, Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation is a tale of lust, misunderstanding, seduction, redemption, and oh so much 辛.

Beautiful warrior musicians falling in love. Delicate doomed siblings. Exquisite spirits and demonic corpses. Badass mothers with purple snake whips. Incredible magic and action sequences and all the flowing hair and silk you can imagine.

Nongshim Shin Ramyun and Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation may challenge what you thought you preferred. They will enthrall you, enchant you—and may even lead you to a few temptations of your own.

 

Nissin UFO Yakisoba & Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! by Sumito Owara

A UFO? It’s a UFO! OMG! But why so quiet? Let’s pry open the hatch. Hmmm…the crew seems to be in some sort of suspended animation.

How to revive them? Ah—they have re-animation instructions on the side! Adjust for temperature, re-hydrate, leave them for 2 minutes and—OH NO! Tentacles!!!

No, wait—they’re noodles? Alien noodles! Flying Spaghetti Monster! We have to defend ourselves—it’s eat or be eaten! We have to—wait!

Why are these noodles so yummy? Why is the sauce so delicious? Why aren’t they fighting back?

Could this be a misunderstanding? Perhaps these aliens knew we weren’t ready to trust them, so they offered their lives as a sign of goodwill…

Nissin UFO Yakisoba seems designed for people like me who make up stories about their food. And so does Sumito Owara’s Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!

Three girls live in a postapocalyptic future, and all they want to do is make anime full of hope, new understanding, and dreams.

They draw pictures. They visit old buildings. They get laughed at. But they work—and work and work and work.

And they create robots, aliens, forgotten races under the sea.

Nissin UFO Yakisoba and Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! are for those nights when you are questioning the path you chose—a reminder that becoming you was never a choice to begin with.

 

Maruchan Gold & She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Sure, it’s in GOLD packaging. Sure, it costs ten times more than regular Maruchan. Sure, some people will question your judgment, even call you ostentatious for purchasing “craft ramen noodles.”

And sure, people will whisper, play upon your insecurities.

But you know what? Screw them. You deserve the best. You are the best. And let no one stop you from attaining your radiance.

Maruchan Gold. Pair this with Shelley Parker-Chan’s incredible She Who Became the Sun. Blow upon the succulent noodles, so supple and delicate. Pull them tight, then dip them into the waiting, fragrant broth. Swirl them slowly before taking them, welcoming them completely into your mouth.

Yes. Yes.

A queer re-imagining of the birth of China’s Ming Dynasty, She Who Became the Sun is sensual, beguiling, yet stormy and sometimes cruel. But more than anything, this is a tale of determination, of the drive to overcome anything that stands between where one is and a future one knows they deserve.

Zhu Chongba and General Ouyang revel in their destinies and desires.

And so should you, my radiant Emperor. So should you.

 

Sapporo Ichiban Original Flavor & The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny

Effortless, delicious, sooo easy to finish. Sapporo Ichiban Original Flavor is not as popular as some of the everyday brands, and it costs a little more–but this ramen is why I fell in love with instant ramen in the first place.

Sapporo Ichiban Original Flavor is the good stuff. The noodles are a little chewier. The broth is a little more flavorful.

No other ramen connects with the better parts of my childhood in quite the same way.

As a companion, I recommend the first five books of Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber (yes, I know that’s five books, but you can get a Sapporo Ichiban family pack). The first book, Nine Princes in Amber, introduces Prince Corwin, from a family of what are essentially royal demigods. Corwin struggles with his brothers to control Amber, the one true reality in an ocean of alternate Shadows.

The Chronicles of Amber were a revelation. For all their wacky, alternate-universe expanse (in one reality Corwin and his brother eat “Kentucki Fried Lizzard Partes”), each of Corwin’s adventures is rendered clearly, deeply, with insight and even love.

In the second book, The Guns of Avalon, there is a passage about a woman called Lorraine, in a land called Lorraine, and as Corwin loves and loses her, I can see the words and smell the pages without even needing to take the book from my shelf—because Zelazny so beautifully portrayed the weariness of trust and betrayal.

And even though I was much younger, I knew that I was very tired, as well.

And all I will ever be as a writer is one who tries to craft words that can give my readers the music and wonder that Zelazny’s words gave to me, right there.

Sapporo Ichiban Original Flavor. The Chronicles of Amber.

Yes. The good stuff.

 

Samyang Spicy Hot Chicken Flavor & The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Warning: Samyang Spicy Hot is epic. This is not a ramen to eat lightly. The journey will not be without pain—sometimes agonizing beyond compare. However, it will also be satisfying and delicious—and don’t forget the lovely endorphin high.

What separates Samyang Spicy Hot from so many super spicy ramens is that its payoff—its amazing taste—is worth the agony.

And so, its companion can only be something as equally agonizing, epic, and rewarding: J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

With the first whiff of danger, this trilogy will match your ramen experience stride-for-stride—from the Gandalf’s smoke rings, to Moria and Durin’s Bane, to riding like Rohan, to the fiery final confrontation, as your precious ring is precariously perched over the molten crevices of Mt. Doom.

Yes, you’ll be covered in sweat like Gandalf. Yes, you’ll be screaming “You shall not pass!” But inside, you know that you will have to bear this burden this to the end.

Just watch your fingers, and don’t forget to scour the Shire, afterward.

 

Culley’s World’s Hottest Ramen & Marvel’s Iron Fist

Finally, looking at the packaging and marketing, I can just imagine the thinking that came up with Culley’s World’s Hottest Ramen.

Dude, those Chinese noodles are all right, but what if we take ours to the next level?

Yeah! Let’s kick it up a notch by making ours more extreme—Carolina Reapers, dude! The world’s hottest!

Then we slap a ninja on these bad boys—because fuck yeah ninjas!

Bro! Cash money! Fist bump! Fuck yeah!

This vaguely Asian-inspired instant noodle was recently discontinued. Judging from the reviews, I suspect this was a case of the makers not comprehending that most of us eat instant ramen because it’s cheap and pleasant—not because it lacks taste, character, or any conceivable purpose, other than to test our endurance and tolerance for pain.

If you can find it, serve this with Marvel’s vaguely Asian-inspired and recently discontinued Iron Fist. This is not a book, but a TV series about a billionaire trust fund kid who is also a Buddhist monk and Kung Fu expert—except the creators ditched the Buddhism and Kung Fu and added racism and sexism because why the hell not?

Spend the night with these before you send someone an unsolicited dick pic. The pandemic has spawned a lot of questionable decisions, and this a good pairing for those times when you need reminding that even the dumbest ideas can seem pretty reasonable when it’s late and your baseball cap is on too tight.

 

Ryka Aoki (she/her) is a poet, composer, teacher, and novelist whose books include He Mele a Hilo and two Lambda Award finalists, Seasonal Velocities and Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul. Ryka’s work has appeared or been recognized in publications including Vogue, Elle, Bustle, Autostraddle, PopSugar, and Buzzfeed. Her poetry was featured at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and she was honored by the California State Senate for “extraordinary commitment to the visibility and well-being of Transgender people.”

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