They say pride comes before a fall, and after the insane success of the cronut, foodies were bound to fly a little too close to the sun. The ramen burger, demon child of Keizo Shimamoto, is an Asian fusion food item that slaps two noodle brains around a burger patty bursting with umami fluid and slathered in the blood of a “shoyu.”
The mindset behind this thing is basically the same as the cronut: let’s combine these two amazing foods to make a more amazing food! Shimamoto has reverence for the foundations, and in fact quit his job back in ’09 to make and write about ramen. So he makes an informed attempt to emulate real ramen — using “shoyu sauce,” presumably a distillation of the flavors of shoyu ramen broth, and green onions, a must for spruced-up instant ramen. The patty is 25% fat, which makes for a nice succulent burger. But then, it’s flanked by crispy-chewy ramen noodle cakes, and that’s just a little too creative and free-spirited for me. When you’re pushing two food heavyweights together, you flirt with hubris. Sometimes, you fall right over that cliff and into hell.
I realize people are going nutso for the ramen burger, but everything about the bun icks me out. It looks nasty as hell. It seems like the noodles are still stuck together in that block you have to tend to for the first few minutes of cooking, to get it floating apart and not in a gross gummy bezoar. It looks solid, patty-like. It looks wrong. Unlike the ramen burger’s less-than-stellar first impression, the cronut can be visibly discerned as fucking amazing. An unorthodox pairing, but one that makes sense, and which immediately makes sense to the eye and palate.
Maybe the ramen burger is an ugly duckling. Maybe I would like it, if I ever lowered myself to that dismal level. But regardless, the ramen burger makes me question the food-cart trend, the irreverent, playful “we spit on your sit-down-restaurant traditions” attitude. Food carts and pop-ups are cool, okay? I love that junk. It also goes along with “fusion” principles, where food carts, not tied to a restaurant that HAS to succeed, can play with unexpected and “why didn’t I think of this” combinations. But it’s not just about food anymore. It’s become hip and cool to seek out and experience these places, which brings me to the idea of foodie culture in general.
“Foodie” has become somewhat of an epithet, but it still exists as a self-ascribed label, and there is a type of person who’s fit to be named such: someone who thinks of themselves as more enriched or cultured as a person because of the food they’ve managed to eat.
In America, and the western world in general, ethnic food is huge. There’s some patches where nobody within a hundred miles would even think about eating sushi, but there is great demand generally for a wide variety of cuisines and dishes that provide a new or unique experience. This is a good thing, or at least a really nice thing. Diversity, right? As I’ve grown up and taken more responsibility for buying my own food and deciding where to eat out, it’s become apparent that there’s a pronounced “scene.” Cuisines (Korean, Cuban, Ethiopian) and individual items (banh mi, ramen, the cronut) will hit it big and become trendy, inspiring imitators, authentic sources, and creepy, overboard hype from legions of foodies. There’s nothing wrong with liking any of this stuff. I hope everyone at some point gets to try “real” ramen, cause it’s totally great. What’s troubling is the fashionable adoption and appropriation of these cuisines. Foodies seek out and open new places in order to be part of a movement. To find the next big thing, to be on the forefront of Cool Food. Many of these hip foods come from countries and cultures blighted by western foreign and economic policy, colonization, or both.
Money often serves as a barrier to “new” food. Ramen joints, which have started gaining traction in the past few years, are remarkably pricey. When restaurant-quality ramen is more mainstream, the price will drop and the foodies will have moved on to demand the food of some other exotic country. They’ll still eat ramen, and I’ll be grateful when ramen is common enough that you can get a decent bowl for less than ten bucks, but this pattern adds up to foodies “collecting” world cuisines, literally eating up cultures for their own image of being special and worldly. Really, though, they’re just spending more money than the next person.
Eating food doesn’t make you better. You’re lucky as hell to experience the best food the world has to offer. By all means, enjoy the fuck out of some remarkable food, but remember that it’s part of someone’s culture. It deserves respect.
I think this is my problem with the ramen burger. Fusion foods are already on shaky ground. The acquisition of these cuisines is suspect in the first place, and so when fusion goes wrong, it’s really sort of offensive. The ramen burger feels more than irreverent, it feels disrespectful. And it doesn’t spit on lamebrain “things must be proper” phonies, it spits on ramen. It spits on burgers. The ramen burger isn’t even a burger, it’s three patties stuck together. It’s an insult to both halves of its heritage.
It’s impure and unclean, and I won’t have any part in it. One might think to dismiss me as a curmudgeon, or slave to convention, but, um, I’ve made savory curry waffles with chicken and eggplant in the batter, so screw you!