Asian Obsession – The Politics of Ramen Noodles
It’s not unusual that I’m obsessed with food. After working in restaurants for many years through college, my palette has evolved over the years. My server friends and I would all go out to the best restaurants in town on our days off and spend all our tip money devouring gourmet bites and the best wine and beer we could find. This was not difficult in a city like Los Angeles. But now that I’m older and have moved on to the outskirts and into the mountains, finding good food is well, hard to find. I often reminisce about my life living in a loft in Downtown LA and my daily walks or bike rides to Little Tokyo. I took my time walking the aisles of the Japanese market, ate the best sushi in and discovered something I’ve been missing and daydreaming about lately — ramen.
Ramen is a salty, savory Japanese delight in a bowl. A heavenly broth made from hours of simmering pork bones then served with firm noodles and topped with things like pork belly, a boiled egg, green onions and sesame seeds. I’m not talking about the dry starchy packets you get at the dollar store and the little foil broth packet. I’m talking about authentic Tonkotsu Ramen made with love. I remember passing by a little hole in the wall in my old stomping grounds and wondering why there was always a line outside and down the block until I finally decided to give it a try. I’ll never forget my discovery of Daikokuya, a ramen joint in Little Tokyo Los Angeles where I had my first date with the most delicious dish ever.
This little magical tiny restaurant on a busy street serves Tonkotsu Ramen. Tonkotsu Ramen originated from Fukuoka Prefecture on the Kyushu island of Japan. It’s not surprising that something this good was discovered so many years ago. It was created as an inexpensive way to feed workers in the fish markets. Ramen wasn’t just a cheap way to feed the laborers, it has an interesting history as the reason why it was introduced in the first place. When it comes to ramen noodles, according to, “The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze,” by George Solt, ramen was introduced to Japan by the Chinese in the 19th century after the American occupation. Solt attributes the rise of ramen from working class fast food to this globally recognized trendy hipster food, to the reindustrialization of Japan’s working force during the cold war. Solt contends that wheat was introduced to Japan to stave off communism because the more there were food shortages, the more the Japanese gravitated towards communism. So in a way, ramen played an integral part in winning the cold war!
So as I enjoy my way through my sixteen dollar bowl of salty goodness that I waited a good 45 minutes for, I imagine the shared satisfied tummy of a weathered Japanese fish market worker slurping his way from communism to the deliciousness of that we have all come to know and love today.
Daikokuya is located at 327 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Featured image by Brett Burton — Flickr.