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Asian-American Staple Gets Cheesy

Ramen Mac and Cheese

I came across this recipe and its accompanying picture on the internet. Not gonna lie. I thought it looked pretty gross. And then I saw this post from Serious Eats and was all like, “Omg, omg, gimme ramen now.”

Ramen. Insta-soup. It is not just the cellophane-packaged daily sustenance of American college kids. Ramen soup has a long history, which you can probably look up on Wikipedia pretty easily, but suffice it to say that Asian food culture is steeped in the stuff. In fact, Korean-American chef Roy Choi likens the instant noodle dish to Korean-American kids’ “peanut butter and jelly sandwich”—an ethnic staple of their communal cross-cultural upbringing. And what better way to tie those cultural strings together than by adding other ingredients like freshly chopped vegetables and herbs, poached eggs, and slices of American cheese (yes!) to the soup as Chef Choi does in one of his recipes.

“American cheese? In soup? Really?” you ask. Really. Cheese has long been a welcomed addition to steaming bowls of brothy goodness. Growing up in an Italian household, I’d listen to my aunt joke that I was adding soup to my cheese instead of the other way around. So why is featuring cheese in Asian cuisine such an off-putting idea? Ok, traditionally cheese has not played much of a role in Asian dishes. Hilly terrain not suited for cattle or goat-raising, sparse dairy availability, and a high prevalence of lactose intolerance across most of Asia has contributed to this dearth of dairy.

Cheese Flavored Ramen packet

Photo Credit: Noob Cook

But regardless of the “inauthentic” use of cheese in Asian food, ramen has been running rampant, showcasing cheese as a much-desired ingredient. For instance, along with those familiar crunchy noodles, a new Cheese-flavored ramen includes a packet of “really aromatic” cheese powder to add to the broth (I bet Michelle O. isn’t too pleased…). Nick Chipman of DudeFoods.com perfected a Ramen Noodle Grilled Cheese Sandwich. No bread. Just noodles. Even a classic American recipe is getting a Ramen twist: “Ram n’ Cheese” lures lovers of Mac n’ Cheese and ramen soup by combining the two using sharp Cheddar as the glue that binds this neo-classical combination together.

Ramen Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Photo Credit: Dude Foods

This site lists other “innovators” in the unofficial “Let’s Add More Cheese To Asian Food” campaign. Dassara Ramen in Brooklyn, for instance, features a bacon broth soup complete with a “generous sprinkling of pecorino cheese.” Yes, please.

The popular trend of adding cheese to ramen and other Asian dishes is just supporting a point we all already knew. Cheese makes everything better.

Photo Credit of featured image courtesy of Spoonversity.com

Michelina DelGizzi

Michelina DelGizzi, MS, MPH, is a writer and caseophile based in Boston and Lafayette, La.

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