Thursday, December 26, 2013

Ramen got game

While in Japan, I was initially shocked to see the popularity of ramen noodle shops. I remember ramen as the dried stuff (in a bag or cardboard box) that you add water to for a quick but very salty meal. Adding further to my surprise, I subsequently ran into this month's article in Delta magazine on ramen noodles! Apparently, ramen has all grown up and its the latest trend. In New York, you can have a bowl at Momofuku if you are able to brave the wait. I haven't been to Tokyo to confirm the article's claim that Ramen was formed in the early 1900's out of a fusion of Japanese and Chinese cuisines. However, I believe my hosts in Sapporo who exclaimed that ramen was truly invented in Hokkaido. Regardless, there is no question that the ramen dishes available in different parts of Japan are different, and all are very good!

In addition to resonating with the idea of interdisciplinarity, ramen offers another metaphor to chemistry. The recipe is a basic protocol but a given dish is as interesting as your imagination. You choose a solvent, add porous solids with lots of surface area, and complete it with other solids to change the overall color and nutrient composition. From that basic recipe, you can make countless combinations. At the simplest level, chemists just put chemicals together (following an appropriate protocol) to make still other chemicals. The genius of it lies in knowing what's going to come out (and how to extract it) so that it can be of use. And that's just like the premier ramen chef who knows just which combination of items will make tasty ramen.

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