Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bittman’s anti-ramen

I’ve never been a pot noodle kind of girl.

There’s a newish Asian grocery store that opened in a subterranean storeroom, under the building next door to work. With little or no signage and towers of overcrowded shelving leaning over narrow isles, they’ve been having a tough time attracting customers since they opened last year. Yesterday’s hastily drawn sign on A4 paper promised a free pot noodle with every purchase over $10.

It’s that kind of place.

That might explain why I have only been there once. The oasis of fresh greens I’d hoped for turned out to be the domain of artificial colours and flavouring.

What I am a fan of is Mark Bittman. I don’t know where he has been all my life but the more I see of his work, the more I like him. But maybe this devotion is a touch narcissistic? He cooks in a way that I like to cook, not necessarily the ingredients but the style. But this guy is so much cleverer than me!

This week he posted a three minute video on how to make “noodles in a soy broth” or rather he showed the slaves to instant ramen that you can make your own, tastier version using simple ingredients, taking only a few minutes longer. Subtly he teaches the viewer to not be hung up on quantities for a dish like this, that most ingredients can be substituted and even slips in the basics flavour balance. Just by dumping vinegar, soy, chilli and ketchup into a pot of water – he demonstrates “complex saltiness”, sweetness, “body and fruitiness” to the novice cook.

The guy is brilliant, teaching the basics in a way that is not condescending. Later explaining how with a few added ingredients how you can transform this snack into a meal. If anyone is going to turn a nation of fast food addicts into accidental cooks, it is this guy.

My version of simple soupy noodles is miso in a large bowl, with some rice noodles. But Bittman knows something I never thought of, instant ramen kind of people don’t tend to have miso paste lying around, let alone a stash of fresh shitake mushrooms.

Just as many big-name chefs who write cookbooks forget that most homes don’t have buckets of veal stock on hand or likely any homemade stocks at that, to get people cooking we have to show them how to crawl before they can walk.

Bittman is sheer genius, deconstruct instant noodles, throw in an ingredient that almost every American home would have and there you go, instant chefs.

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Blogger Johanna said...

you do a great job promoting mark bittman - I think I have found a few of his posts linked from your site - and I agree that the more I see of the man the more I like him - I have liked pot noodles at times although only as a novelty rather than a staple - but the flavouring always feels like a little sachet of msg!

12:29 pm  
Anonymous Lucy said...

Shall show you through his massive Vegetarian Bible. Many, many people criticise it, and not all of the recipes will be to everyone's taste (how on earth do you please all of the people all of the time?) but I've found it incredibly useful.

The almost infamous no-knead bread was a fantastic introduction to, if not a recipe to last your whole life, at least a window into how it can be done, and simply. Forget fancy sourdough crafting; forget lots of diferent kinds of flour - it is basic which is the point. I like that even experienced cooks such as yourself can come away with an 'a-ha' moment from Bittman.

Still reckon everyone should have a bit of miso, though. Much better than those well-known black yeast spreads!

9:11 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

That's the thing Johanna, no where did he mention MSG (the sachet *is* MSG!) and all the crap that comes in instant noodles. He doesn't mention health, nutrition or anything like that, he just says how'd you like to make it yourself, its easy and takes only a few minutes.

As Lucy said, people criticize him. The average food blogger might scoff - why's he wasting his time showing people how to make something as lowly as noodles in broth? Because those are the people who need to learn about eating well, the most.

Make your own junk food - brilliant, just brilliant!

1:51 pm  

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