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Beyond Cup Noodles: More Instant "Oishi" Japanese Foods

By: Mike Liem

Date Posted: 2000-02-20

Perhaps nothing is more representative of the Japaneseís love for instantly prepared meals than the ramen noodle. Visit any grocery store or supermarket, and youíll see an entire aisle dedicated to more varieties of instant noodles than one would've thought possible.

There are good reasons for the popularity of instant noodles. The ones that come in bowls are convenient and quick to prepare, and some actually even taste pretty good! What I donít find particularly appealing about them, though, is that most instant noodle meals are loaded with more salt than we should eat in one sitting. Furthermore, some instant noodle meals pack over 400 calories per serving, much more than what youíd get from a bowl of real shoyu ramen from a ramen-ya (Japanese ramen noodle shop).

While I donít eat instant ramen very often, I do enjoy other types of Japanese instant foods on a more regular basis. One of my favorites is miso soup. This staple of the Japanese table is available in packages of three servings for around 100 yen. Each serving consists of a packet of dried ingredients (tofu, wakame seaweed, etc.) and another containing the miso paste. You simple dump the contents of the dry packet into a bowl, squeeze on the miso paste, and add hot water.

You should eat miso soup with rice, but letís face it, if you had the time to cook rice in the first place, you wouldnít be eating instant miso soup, right? The next best thing to a bowl of rice to go with your miso soup (and something you may actually prefer it over plain steamed rice) is onigiri, the triangle-shaped rice bundle thatís filled with meat or seafood and wrapped in nori (dried seaweed). Onigiri prices range from •100 to •140, depending on the filling, so an instant miso soup and onigiri lunch is relatively cheap, not to mention fun to eat. You take a bite of the onigiri and immediately take a sip of the miso soup. Oishi!

Another instant Japanese food that I like is ochazuke. Iím not quite sure how to describe this concoction, but itís different than anything else that Iíve ever mixed with hot water and eaten. Itís like a rice soup with not enough of the soup (or too much of the rice!). Instant ochazuke comes in packets and the typical ingredients are dried shredded nori, vegetables, and seasonings. My favorite ochazuke has a hint of wasabe in the seasonings. You open the packet, empty the contents over a bowl of rice, and pour hot water into the bowl. You eat ochazuke with chopsticks, but you put the bowl up to your lips and use the chopsticks to push the rice into your mouth rather than to pick it up (pretty tricky to do with liquid-drenched rice!). This is a lot of fun because you get to make lots of slurping sounds as you eat. And in case you donít know, in Japan the more slurping noises you make when you eat, the more people think youíre enjoying your meal.

If you havenít tried either of the hearty meals I just described, I hope youíll make a point to pick up a package of instant miso soup or ochazuke (or both) the next time youíre at the commissary or local supermarket. Theyíre a nice and healthy break from the cup noodle routine.

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