Why Kids Should Make Instant Ramen, Again and Again
From how to boil water to advanced recipe hacking, these magical noodles build core kitchen skills.
When it comes to cooking, kids have questions. Like, how does it work? How do you turn groceries into a meal? What’s the difference between good food and bad food?
Fortunately, we adults know where to find answers. Thank you, instant ramen.
Okay, sure, there’s a lot to learn about cooking. And nutrition. And healthy eating. Maybe Top Ramen—I like Chicken flavor!—can’t teach kids everything. But a magical brick of desiccated coils makes a great springboard toward hands-on kitchen confidence.
I definitely started there. Top Ramen was probably the first hot thing I learned to cook for myself on a regular basis. It was also the first food I hacked. I went off-recipe, because even youthful Zach knew these noodles needed more than sodium-bomb flavor packets. Usually I just added more sodium via soy sauce, but the point is, I found a medium for creativity in those factory-sealed baggies.
(In a similar—though more evolved—spirit, our Kitchen Academy kit “Oodles of Noodles” includes a bodacious instant ramen upgrade, complete with an easy, tasty, home-built broth.)
This foodstuff imparts core skills: boiling water, for instance, a process which, when explained to a kid, transforms from mundane to amazing. The first thing ramen can teach you: food explores the elements, and shows just how awesome the world is. And that you have to be careful around hot objects and liquid.
The next lesson: food brings us tales of innovation. Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant noodles, was a visionary dude who led a long and complex life. (Born in Taiwan with the name Wu Baifu, he became a post-war Japanese icon. He coined wooly aphorisms like “Mankind is noodlekind.” He also did a little jail time and developed a very strong eyewear game.)
Ando’s invention has taken many evolutionary turns, because food reveals history and culture in action. Boiling instant ramen requires just three minutes, thereabouts. (You have to pay attention at the stove, kids!) In that time, you can explain that traditional, non-instant ramen is super-trendy in America and around the world, with a hot restaurant brand named after Momofuku himself and an Instagram #ramen hashtag that will make kids want to steal your phone for a while. Meanwhile, though ramen is typically a Japanese thing, some say the US popularity of Shin Ramen marks Korean culture’s rise. Whether you go from there to this BTS playlist is entirely up to you.
Most importantly, instant ramen teaches that food demands choices—but also gives you options.
See, this stuff is not, strictly speaking, good for you. But … while we’re all for artisanal ingredients and garden-to-table goodness, kids also need to cook. This industrial miracle, dirt cheap and universally available, delivers a near-instant dose of self-reliance, and the opportunity to practice frequently. Not only can you afford it, they can afford it. (And, let’s face it: At whatever age, whoever you are, sometimes you need to get lunch on the table for less than a dollar.)
And here they can learn something big: They can make it better. The possibilities become endless. Momofuku founder David Chang famously likes to improvise, and his cacio e pepe version could double as a gateway to the Italian original. The New York Times proposed a version with American cheese that generated serious heat, but really just underscores the point: You can do anything with instant ramen. If you’re very, very good, you can even throw out those flavor packets and blast the noodles with fresh veggies.
Personally, I prefer to toss the noodles (lightly flavor-packeted) with one scrambled egg and as many scallions as I can be bothered to chop. Life is complicated, but pleasures can be simple. Ramen helped teach me that.