Me and Ramen go way back.
As a pre-adolescent, it fortified me during cold New England winters and served as a constant companion to my mother's bologna and cheese on Wonder Bread sandwiches. Ramen and bologna was a meal reserved for special occasions, by the way, given to my sister and me primarily on Saturday afternoons as we settled in for cartoon and wrestling watching marathons.
Throughout college, I stacked case upon case of ramen into the cabinets of my meager apartment in Western Massachusetts. This, I thought to myself, should last me at least half a semester. In those days, I took to straining the broth out of my ramen and eating at least two packets at a time. Eating as a destitute undergrad is far less about pleasure and much more a matter of bio-mechanical efficiency. How much mass can I put in my stomach per dollar?
Then, something happened. Something that would sever my co-dependent relationship with ramen for I what I thought would be forever.
I looked at the nutrition facts.
This happened right about the same time that my father, a svelte long distance runner who continues to log at least four miles a day on the road as he nears the age of 65, learned he had high blood pressure. It turns out that, despite his still impressive physical exterior, my family's long love affair with salt had put his health at risk.
One serving of ramen packs about 910 grams of sodium. It should also be noted that there are two servings of ramen per package. If you have ever met anyone who knew this during there college ramen eating prime and actually refrained from devouring whole packages at at time ... Never mind, this person does not exist. The truth is, if you're eating a whole package of Top Ramen, you're ingesting about 2,000 grams of sodium, which is about 80 percent of your recommended daily value.
Some of the main ingredients in the flavor packets include Monosodium Glutamate, Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate. None of these preservatives and unnatural flavorings really have any right being introduced to the human body; especially at the rate I was ingesting them.
And so, ramen and I parted ways. I embraced sea salt, started stocking my shelves with cleaner, greener and locally sourced ingredients and embarked on a new love affair. One that allowed me to embraced foods that not only satisfied my big, dumb, bologna-loving palate, but also ones that would not insidiously chip away at my health.
But this isn't just my story. It's a story about reunions and redemption.
You see, ramen and I have been getting back together lately. At least every other Tuesday night. And it's thanks to chef Megan Brenner and her crew of organic noodle purveyors who run the Rokyo Gourmet Ramen Truck, based in Montebello.
The truck is a mainstay at 's Fest, dishing out piping hot bowls of ramen that are a feast for the heart, head and stomach.
This is a ramen rendezvous you won't regret the next morning.
Rokyo's ramen noodles are made from organic wheat and cooked to order and layered with cuts of all natural Niman Ranch braised pork (my usual preference) or beef. They proudly profess to source their meat from livestock raised humanely and sustainably and their dizzying array of vegetables from local or regional farms.
The insistence on fresh and flavorful ingredients is a major plus, given that their menu might allow some customers to indulge in toppings overkill. According to my count, you could potentially load up 15 to different toppings onto your ramen. Individual flavors still sing on even the most overloaded bowls, yet I would strongly suggest a touch of restraint in adorning you ramen. Remember, the noodles are the star here, and it's best not to bury them, no matter how enticing Rokyo's roster of toppings seems.
I typically stick to the cabbage, miso blend, roasted corn and green onion.
Rokyo also deserves extra credit for each week turning out dishes that feature Figueroa Produce's special ingredient--a task that several trucks that will not be named have failed to fulfill. The plantain tacos they served up on Tuesday night fell slightly short in the salt department for me, but I give them props for stepping up and taking a chance on a dish that might be outside many of their customers' comfort zones.
But it's Rokyo's ability to take me back to my comfort zone, a place where I guiltlessly scarf noodles and slurp broth, that has made their trucks one of my absolute favorites. For those of you who have become estranged from ramen, Rokyo Gourmet Ramen Truck is highly recommended.