Why hello there, and welcome to Kitchen Catastrophes, a blog that’s one part academic exploration of food history and culture, one part cooking show, and 3 parts the gibbering madness of a nerd-culture saturated swami. I’m the Abdul Alhazred of this Kitab Al-Azif of the Kitchen, Jon O’Guin. Today we’re returning, yet again, to an Asian fusion dish that’s simpler than it sounds, born in California, and delivered to me by TV and YouTube. The Ramen Burrito.
Part the First, wherein Jon Describes his Creative "Process".
I know we’ve talked about this before, but to fully understand why today’s post exists, we have to briefly discuss it. (Also, according to Squarespace, our readership numbers have like, tripled over the last three weeks, so it’s entirely possible many of you haven’t read one of the posts where we describe it. So let’s go!)
The way I pick what meals to make for the site are decided through a refined process of testing, experimentation, thorough editing, and even if you’re new, you should have a good idea from the way I’ve been writing over the last few weeks that that’s almost never true. Sometimes I do make plans, yes, but most often, what happens is I encounter a recipe or idea for a recipe from a cookbook, cooking magazine, or historical document I’m reading, and say “ooh, that sounds like a good idea.”
Honestly, Dug shows MORE investment in his distraction than I do.
The most planning I’ve ever done for recipes I’ve made for the site, was for this past May, where, because of our theme that month, I offered our Patrons the opportunity to vote on choices in like, April, choices I had come up with in late March. THAT’S the high-water mark, folks: like, 6 weeks of planning.
Hilariously, today’s recipe was part of BOTH the knee-jerk “hey, that looks cool”, AND the pre-planned Mash-Up May theme, because “great” things sometimes have small beginnings. And it was a complete mess, structurally, to get it to the stove. Let’s talk about why.
Wiki-Wiki-Wa, Wiki-wa, Wiki-What the Hell?
I first saw the Ramen Burrito on an episode of Food Paradise on the Travel Channel sometime last year. It was made at a restaurant in LA named Komodo, and the episode as a whole was quite interesting to me. I was immediately psyched up by the idea: “oh man, A RAMEN BURRITO?! I should totally make that!” And proceeded to forget about it for a while. If that sounds weird, well, look man, my dad was going through chemo. Things WERE weird. Anyway, a couple weeks (months?) later I realized that, if I wanted to make the dish, I should try and find that episode for the ingredients. And that’s when I realized I was fucked.
The Devil laughing at me was the first clue.
Now, I’m not afraid to say I’m a millennial. I was in the 7th grade when 9/11 happened, and the Internet has existed for the entirety of my conscious life. As such, what I may describe to you guys now may sound foreign if you’re not as immersed in internet culture as the younger Americans are. But one of the things I’ve basically been able to trust is that websites and wikis will be able to fill in most information I need about a TV show.
As a silly example: if I wanted to quickly know, what the name and basic plot of the 7th episode of the Disney “Adventures of the Gummi Bears” TV show was, I can probably get it with relative speed, accuracy, and ease.
A real show that existed. Mainly remembered for having a rad-as-hell theme song.
I’ll get this info from one of three places: Wikipedia itself, a fan-made wiki, or, if applicable, the show’s own website. To use my own example, while the show’s too old to have its own official website, its episodes ARE listed on a Disney wikia site, and on Wikipedia itself. Boom, easy peasy. Maybe 2 minutes between picking a random idea, writing OUT that idea as an example for you guys, and clicking a couple links.. (For the curious: Gummi Bears actually aired 2 mini-episodes PER episode for a lot of its run, so the “7th” episode is either “the Oracle” or “Loopy, Go Home/A-Hunting We Will Go”, depending on how you count.)
BUT, for some reason, when it comes to Travel Channel shows, these unspoken rules of the internet are played so fast and loose they might as well be Thelonious Monk riffing through the Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture. (Kitchen Catastrophes: come for the food, stay for the increasingly opaque references.) The official site only remembers the shit it said HALF the time, and never explains the actual restaurants visited, so remembering “oh, the thing was at Komodo” doesn’t actually HELP at all! Unofficial wikis have a completely different numbering scheme, and originally send me to the wrong episode entirely, and while Wikipedia has recently been getting better at listing everything in the episodes, it uses a THIRD numbering scheme, that doesn’t match EITHER of the others.
At this juncture, it wouldn't surprise me to learn they're ALL wrong.
I first discovered this while actually trying to get the Newfoundland episode from Delicious Destinations, which I did two posts on like, a year ago. And when I tried to find this episode, it went much worse. I literally found NOTHING after like, 10 minutes of searching. It’s one of the reasons I was delayed long enough to make a Mash-Up Month. (Of course, as of right now, I can find everything, it’s just incredibly jumbled. So presumably by this time next year it’ll all be organized and settled.)
What I DID find was a YouTube Channel called Tipsy Wok, where a nice gentleman drinks excessively and makes Asian food. I felt immediately bonded to the man, soul-to-soul. So I decided to copy his recipe. (Also because he opens the video by saying “there’s no recipe for this dish”, so I went “well, sounds like I shouldn’t waste my time!”) Of course, the hands of time having pushed on, I’ve totally located the original episode I saw, and learned that we were a little off. But that’s what I get for following a Youtube tutorial.
Actually, the drunk guy’s recipe, and therefore mine, were CLOSE to accurate, while also missing some minor but potent components. Let’s explore!
Flipping our Way to Four-Way Fusion
That number there in the title is not just NOT an exaggeration, it might technically be UNDERSELLING how much fusion is happening in this little edible reactor. (“Not just not”, Jon? Jesus, you’re getting pretty tired, aren’t you?)
It's not my fault!
If in God's plan
He made Alcohol much stronger than a MAAAANNN!
We’ve talked before about how Ramen itself may be a fusion food, as it only started appearing in Japan after they maybe-kinda-sorta conquered some Chinese villages. But if we treat Ramen as Japanese, then we’re at LEAST 5 fusions deep: Firstly, because Burritos are an American invention mimicking Mexican tacos, so they’re fusion, and because this recipe isn’t actually based on Japanese Ramen, but an Indonesian variation, AND the dish uses Chinese style sausage. So it’s at least Mexico, China, America, and Indonesia, if we decide Japan isn’t invited.
Anyway, the recipe is…rather underwhelming, if we use the Youtube version. See, Indonesian Ramen is basically closer to like, Yakisoba, or Stir-Fry. And this recipe BASICALLY consists of: “Make a fancy batch of Indonesian Ramen, and roll it up in a tortilla.” Now, as it turns out, I’ve gotten access to the actual prep-work used by Komodo, and their recipe is: make a fancy batch of Indonesian ramen and roll it up in a tortilla.
To whit, the Tipsy Wok recipe calls for: the noodles and sauce packets from Indomie brand instant noodles, an Indonesian variety of Ramen. Of course, being such a specific variation, I was prepared to have to search a dozen different stores to find it, figuring I’d really have to go to the local Asian markets. BOY WAS I WRONG. Yeah, this was just sitting at my local grocery store, a little lower and off to the side from the “normal” ramen. Heck, WAL-MART apparently carries it.
Not so slippery now, EH, Stir-fry?
Then, the recipe gets kicked up with a secret blend of spices. Tipsy Wok guesses salt, pepper, five-spice powder, and garlic powder. And this is probably pretty close: according to the actual chef, the spices are “garlic powder, onion powder, and some things I shouldn’t tell you.” If I had to guess, I’d say the mix probably also contains some MSG, which they don’t mention because people get real uppity about that particular seasoning real quick.
Komodo also adds a couple sauces they don’t mention in their ‘recipe’, which is fine, because we add some sauces of our own. Specifically, the sauces from the Ramen packages. Yeah, instead of Japanese style powdered broth, Indonesian Ramen comes with a packet of powdered seasoning, AND a little three-part sauce pack.
It's like Indonesian Neopolitan.
In order from left to right, the sauces are: Sambal, an Indonesian spice paste that’s widely sold by the same guys who sell Sriracha (Maybe. See, “sambal” refers to a wide array of hot spice pastes/dishes, of WHICH one of them is sambal ulek, the type made by Huy Fong.); the second sauce is sweet soy sauce, which is a thicker variety of soy sauce that is…sweetened. I really don’t know what else you want me to say about it. The last sauce is the most mysterious. As the keen-eyed might be able to read, it’s labled “Minyak bumbu”. Which is a Indonesian for...“Seasoning Oil”. Yeah, that’s literally all the information it gives. According to some other sources, the actual contents are minced, toasted shallots in oil. Which I’m going to accept, because “Shallot oil” is the first thing the actual Komodo chef added to his noodles. Sure, his looks different, but hey, homemade versus the factory, I assume.
The next ingredient is Chinese-Style Sweet Sausage. They look kinda like pepperoni sticks, but note on the packaging that they’re not actually cooked, so don’t try to eat them like one.
The allure of dangerous meat.
At Komodo, they deep fry their diced sausage, but that’s a lot of work at the average home, so I say we just pan-fry them. We still get some crispiness, and I don’t have to deal with a giant pot of oil! So, in order, what I did was fry the sausages, boil the noodles, toss the noodles into the sausage fat, and then season with spices and sauces, tossing to coat. And, as may or may not surprise you, the noodles actually looked pretty similar to both the Komodo version, and the YouTube one!
Now THIS is podracing!
Here’s the only real misstep I would say for the YouTube guy, which, if he was operating off less info than me, is really quite impressive. He sliced some green onions to toss into the burrito, which is exactly what they do at the restaurant…along with some fried garlic chips. That’s the ONLY ingredient I can see in the Komodo recipe that the YouTube guy didn’t include in some way, so kudos to him! Anyway, I don’t include it either, since, again, I didn’t HAVE the ‘real’ video at the time.
Then, you just top your noodles and onions with a fried egg for some MORE richness and protein, roll up, and dig in.
Ain't she a beaut?
As a quick aside: normally, these burritos are much more stuffed, basically overflowing with noodles. But it turns out that my family didn't have any full burrito-sized tortillas. SOMEONE had eaten/taken them all when he left. So instead we had multiple Ramen Soft Tacos, technically. Same idea, just portioned differently.
How is it? Actually, pretty good. I think the garlic chips, or deep frying the sausage, would actually do wonders for it, since as is, it’s a pretty homogenous soft texture, so more crunchy bits would make it stand out. I think the base version is a little on the bland side. Not that there aren’t fun flavors involved, they’re just not as strong as I would like them. I actually got a real sense that I could easily tweak the recipe to match whatever flavors I wanted. Make it spicier, sweeter, saltier, all with some simple alterations. Overall, I’d recommend it, if you can easily find Chinese sweet sausage. It’s honestly not a lot of work, and I think, even if you aren’t blown away by the initial results, you could find a version you love pretty quickly with some monkeying around.
You can help Jon keep his Ramen stores high for the coming winter by supporting the site on Patreon. A simple small charge every month, and you’ll be keeping the site in good repair, while reaping some benefits of your own. If fiscal donations aren’t your thing, then just support us via social media! Share our content, like our posts, and invite your friends to like our Facebook page. The more the merrier, as Drunk Jon says, right up until there’s 1 too many people and he gets sulky because no one’s listening to him.
THURSDAY: IT’S TIME FOR A CATASTROPHIC REVIEW. JON TAKES US TO MODERN JAPAN, AND MEDIEVAL GERMANY, FOR A SHOW THAT’S SWEET, SIMPLE, AND SILLY.
MONDAY: I DON’T KNOW. NATE RECENTLY COOKED SOMETHING, SO HE MIGHT WRITE UP ANOTHER POST. IF HE DOES, WE’LL BE SEEING IF THE SEAWEED IS REALLY GREENER ON SOMEBODY ELSE’S PLATE. IF NOT, JON WILL BE MAKING PASTA.
Serves X people
Ingredients (per person)
1 package Indomie Mi Goreng Instant Ramen noodles
1 green onion, sliced
1 tsp Five-spice powder
½ tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper
1-2 Chinese Sweet Sausage, sliced
Sweet soy sauce, to taste
1. Boil the noodles according to the package instructions, setting aside sauce packets
2. Fry the Chinese Sausage in a small amount of oil over medium-high heat, under crisped and cooked through. Add the noodles, and the whites from the green onion, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring and tossing to combine.
3. Add the sauce packets, spices, and sweet soy sauce, tossing to coat. Cook another 3 minutes.
4. In a separate pan, fry egg briefly. (Sunny side up or Over easy recommended)
5. Pour noodle mixture onto tortilla. Top with egg and remaining green onion. Roll up, and serve warm.