I have a problem. Don’t be alarmed, it’s nothing life-altering or severe, and if you know me, it is probably old news. I really like instant ramen. And while I do admit it neither boasts any health benefits nor constitutes a sustainable diet, I can’t help but keep the pantry stocked.
I can trace this obsession back to elementary school, when I distinctly remember lazy Saturday afternoons at home when my mom was exhausted from a long, hard week of work but still consistently cleaned the house, helped my brothers and I with homework, and above all, cooked for us. We were never disappointed. In my completely objective opinion, I can confidently say that my mom’s cooking is unparalleled. However, every once in a while, when my mom wasn’t feeling up to the task of cooking and my brothers and I weren’t feeling up to the task of eating my dad’s scrambled eggs, we’d eagerly race to the pantry and take our picks from the family packs of instant ramen.
Those days were pleasant surprises when we could all band together in the kitchen to help out: boiling water, cutting and washing bok choy, peeling shrimp, cracking eggs — everyone had a job. At seven years old, I took my responsibility of “supervising” the shrimp defrosting very seriously.
As the years went by, the occasional quick-fix lunch became something my brothers and I would binge in secret. Whatever filled our fridge was fair game to add in, even if that meant staring at a head of romaine lettuce for 15 minutes asking ourselves if it was really worth it.
Nevertheless, these guilty pleasure meals were a chance for the three of us to bond, as silly as that sounds. Born two years apart, my brothers grew up best friends — a tag team. I was not so lucky, born nine years after the elder. They shared jokes I was not mature enough to understand, played games I lacked the coordination for, went to school together, and watched PG-13 movies before I even understood what that meant. It was hard to sometimes not feel left out, or like a kid that two friends had to babysit together. But these moments around a bowl of ramen, where we could goof off and cherish each other’s company, sealed with the promise of “no one tells Mom or Dad,” were the moments I craved most.
Soon they were off to college, and there I was, the runt of the house, seven years of sibling solitude ahead of me. Aside from video calls and texting, I only saw my brothers during school breaks. The wait was manageable though, because every holiday I had something to look forward to: midnight runs to Safeway, buying questionable octopus from 99 Ranch and arguing over how much is too much green onion. (Answer: the limit does not exist). Broke college students couldn’t afford to treat their little sister to mini-golf or a shopping spree, so we settled for the next best thing: ramen.
Sprawled across the couch, we grumbled over stomachaches and pointed fingers at whoever was in charge of hot sauce, but old habits die hard; we would fall back into our cycle in a week’s time. That was the beauty of it all: an easy routine that we could always return to no matter how long it had been since the last time. The memories we made easily trumped any digestive issues we faced.
In the blink of an eye, I’ll be a broke college student myself. People say university is the time to discover and reinvent yourself — years of leaving behind what you know to find something new. While I in no way doubt the validity of that ideology, I’m not too worried. At least I can be comforted in the fact that my instant ramen will fit right in.