There are few better comfort foods than ramen noodles, made with a little less water than instructed and a couple drops of sesame oil.
The taste takes me back to my first semester of college at Oberlin College (Ohio). My roommate, Yinuo, was from China, and I had a friend named Han Yan – from Hong Kong. Oberlin is fairly close to Cleveland, so Yinuo, Han Yan and some of my other friends would carpool to Cleveland’s Asian Market. They always came back with a haul of the most delicious food. One of my favorites was preserved duck eggs. They were ugly as sin (brownish-green, if memory serves me), but amazing. I’ve visited a few Asian grocery stores in Nebraska in search of the same thing, but have never been able to.
Yinuo also taught me the art of peeling and cutting a fresh mango. Well, she tried to teach me. When I try to peel and cut a mango it ends up looking like a mango grenade went off in my hands.
I hung out with a couple of girls from the first floor of our dorm (I can’t remember their names) who insisted on adding Sprite to Boone’s Farm. It felt wrong.
Oh, and my discovery of hummus! Standing in line at the student café, I thought I’d try something new. For some reason, the pita pocket stuffed with hummus caught my attention. I asked the random person in line before me what it was. He explained the pulverized chickpea and tahini puree. It sounded interesting, so I ordered it. I have no idea where that guy is today, but if I could find him I would tell him he changed my life.
I also learned the secret add-on to ramen noodles: sesame oil. In China and Hong Kong, packages of ramen like we buy in the states is accompanied by a little plastic packet of sesame oil.
Eventually my time at Oberlin came to an end. I moved back to Nebraska. Han Yan is now a documentary filmmaker based in Hong Kong. Yinuo is the harpist for the Melbourne (Australia) Symphony Orchestra. I haven’t kept up with my watered-down Boone’s Farm girls, but I believe one of them was studying to be an art critic or art museum curator.
I’ve always liked ramen noodles. After my stint at Oberlin, though, it comforts me even more. I learned a lot. In fact, when I raise the forkful of dangling noodles over my bowl, I think of my friends at Oberlin. I toast to them – “You are a dog” in Mandarin (thank you, Yinuo) or the most horrible insult you can say in Cantonese (you touched my life, Han Yan).
I’m sure they’d be proud.