Part of a series where individuals share their stories of misfortune and the recipes that got them through.
Steven Lee, Online Sales Manager, Koreatown, Los Angeles
THE UNFORTUNATE STORY
It was one of those times, you know, post-college when you don’t have a job or a thing to do. Back then, smartphones didn’t exist and the internet was more of a sit-down-at-your-desk type of situation. Cable TV was a luxury. Crashing long-term on a friend’s couch, I’d wake up in the morning and there was nothing to do except watch TV. On weekdays, the only thing that seemed to be on was Judge Judy. It was paralyzing. On certain nights, friends would roll through to play cards. Random drugs would come and go. We’d sometimes buy weed from one of the guys from Far East Movement before they got famous. Guy was always excited and moved his hands all hip-hop style. Sometimes, we’d smoke opium from the stovetop, holding it with chopsticks, sucking in the fumes — we weren’t sure if that was how to smoke opium.
One thing people might not know is that, outside of the Vietnamese community, it was the Korean-Americans who first got on the pho trend back in probably the mid to late 90’s. It became a staple of post-raves or post-drinking food. We used it as a hangover cure. Nobody else besides Vietnamese and Korean-Americans were eating it at the time. Koreans don’t really have a great, soupy noodle dish for hangovers. They do have many instant ramens, however. The most popular brand is Shin Ramyun. It’s spicy, but it doesn’t make your stomach feel any better. Even in those days, you could pick up a pack at a local liquor store.
One day, we were about to cook these Shin ramens, and we looked in the fridge and saw some lime, cilantro, and onions — maybe we had them left over from making some tacos or something. At that moment, it dawned on us: “What if we squeezed some limes up in these ramens like you do pho?” The flavor was tremendous. You don’t find citrus and lime flavors in Korean food — the climate of Korea is not conducive for lime. This unexpected combination of flavors was indescribable like a peace treaty between two nations not at war. In our darkest hour, a bright, green, Vietnamese light came shining down upon our Seoul.
•1 packet of Korean spicy instant ramen noodles (preferably Shin Ramyun)
•chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
- Boil water according to ramen directions (use only 1/2 to 3/4 of water from directions for maximum flavor explosion).
- Add noodles and packet of seasoning to boiling water.
- Lower heat and simmer until noodles are cooked.
- Transfer to bowl (optional).
- Squeeze ½ lime juice onto noodles.
- Add a preferable amount of freshly chopped cilantro, green onions, peppers, and fresh garlic (optional).
Tip: Do not add egg. It muddies the brightness.