On cooking ramen — How ramen taught me valuable life lessons

Yesterday I spent twelve hours boiling pork bones, cooking homemade Japanese ramen noodles. Do you wonder why I would choose to do such a crazy thing?

When you live in Montreal, there are restaurants on every street corner. Dozens of ramen places spring at you if only you know where to look for them. The waiter puts in front of you perfectly cooked ramen in a deliciously rich broth quicker than you can say ‘’noodle’’. Then they whisk the empty bowls away and when you leave the restaurant with your belly nice and full, you don’t even have to worry about who does the dishes. Why labour over it yourself?

I will tell you why. W loves ramen and I must admit I have quite developed a liking for them as well, even if they’re well out of the Romanian food repertoire. However, the type of flavouring I usually crave isn’t made by any restaurant in Montreal. Why not make them myself? Easy-peasy: look up some recipes, get the ingredients, cook it all, eat it all, enjoy.

You see, I am far from being the best of cooks. The food I make is edible at its best state. For some reason, I believed I was ready to tackle this. What could go wrong?

I boiled the bones for a whopping ten hours, carefully adding water at timed intervals. And then, as I was growing confident that I had the hang of it and only had a couple of hours left to go, the stock burnt. I stirred at it angrily, feeling disappointing seep through me.

Down the drain were going not only many hours of labour but also many dollars spent at the grocery store. What will W say when he got home tomorrow, expecting to have a piping-hot bowl of ramen and finding instead a burnt one? I had also invited my sister and brother-in-law to witness the issue of this first attempt, that’s how confident I was that I was going to pull it off seamlessly.

Why am I telling you about this failure? I am writing this because there is a bigger story behind it. One about family and team-work. If you want to find out how ramen taught me valuable life lessons, keep on reading.

When W got home, after diligently listening to me mourn my burnt soup, he proceeded to patch it up, flavouring it so skilfully that the burnt taste was imperceptible. This is how I was reminded of the value of team-work, not only in the kitchen but also outside of it. No matter how good (or bad, in my case) we are at something, we are nothing without our teammates. When a well-matched team comes into play, individuals work in symbiosis. At times like these, one plus one doesn’t equal two, but three.

Count on your teammates to save you from trouble and they always will!

What I rediscovered the next day was even more of a little big joy. I set out steaming bowls of ramen in front of my guests, proudly made from scratch, imperfect as they were. They were met with such enthusiasm! I only got compliments on them, most of them deserved (or so I’d like to think). It had been too long a time since we had a family supper and my twelve-hour boiling fiasco only served to remind me what a wonderful feeling this was. You see, cooking truly does bring happiness but cooking for others has the power to exponentially amplify that joy. There’s nothing like seeing your loved-ones wolf down the food and leave the table with full, happy bellies.

No, it’s not in my plans to become a famous chef and make cooking for others my life mission. But I will clear my calendar ever so often to host more dinners like these with friends and family. Do you know what the best part is? No twelve-hour intense-labour is required! You can cook anything you feel comfortable with, be it as simple as a salad or as complicated as a menu fit for a king’s table. The smiling faces around you won’t fail to thank you for it.

To further emphasize the happiness cooking for someone else brings, I will also tell you this. When I first moved out of my parent’s home, I lived by myself for a while. The most difficult adaptation wasn’t being alone but finding the motivation to cook meals for my own sake. Without someone else in mind, planning the groceries, coming up with new recipes and taking the time to try them out became too time-consuming. Cooking for even half an hour became an impossible task. Without the motivation of having someone else’s nutritional needs in mind, I found it easier to live on sandwiches for a while. Then everything changed again when W came into my life, sparking cooking bliss again.

On this, my home cook friends, I hope you find a mountain of happiness in the kitchen. What recipe that you enjoy cooking for others brings you happiness?

Photo comment: My first bowl of ramen, in all its glorious imperfection. I am not (too) ashamed to say that in true Romanian style, I eat my ramen with a fork. Anyone who disapproves, please raise your hand!

Originally published at https://www.littlebigjoys.ca on July 24, 2020.

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