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BOOK REVIEW:

Let's make ramen! : a comic book cookbook

Walk into any supermarket, peruse the soup aisle, and you will find the ubiquitous paper cups of ramen lining numerous shelves. The variety is terrifc. These instant cups have helped many of us get through a hectic day at work or home because they are convenient, inexpensive, have a relatively long shelf-life, and are easy to make in a microwave or with boiling water poured over the contents to provide a quick meal. Ramen has become a generic name for a large variety of instant noodle soups. What is ramen? Is it the name of a type of noodle, or the name of a soup? What is the difference between ramen, soba, udon and other types of noodles? Is it possible to make ramen at home from scratch? Does it take a lot of time and effort? The most important question--does it taste better? Chef Hugh Amano answers those questions and writes about everything you never thought you wanted to know about ramen in this food and cookbook. Illustrator-artist Sarah Becan's images are clear, bright, perfect additions to Amano's instructions. Her graphic novel format allows her to illustrate the step-by-step techniques that would not otherwise be obvious,and this applies to her pictures of other food products and their preparation.

The origins of the ramen noodle go back to 1868 when Japan emerged from a closed-off feudal period and opened its country to the outside world. Hand-pulled noodles from China evolved into ramen soup bowls that were sold in port cities to working class people. It was during Japan's post-World War II era that the dried ramen noodles, invented by Momofuku Ando, fulfilled the need for something quick and inexpensive to eat.  "The fact that there was not a massive amount of Japanese history behind ramen helped it break free from the usual constraints of tradition. Allowing for flexibility in how it is interpreted and created." These noodle soups became a sensation with shops opening all over Japan. This relatively new food allowed for a great deal of creativity in Japan that has a long culinary history.  In classic cuisine can be found inumerable variations in prefectures, villages, towns and different neighborhoods in large cities. Variety, ingenuity and a desire for new flavors all come into play with ramen.

Chef Amano might overwhelm you with all the broths, stocks and tares, but he saves the day with some quick takes: instant ramen broth, fast weeknight ramen broth, homemade instant ramen cubes. The information about noodles is fascinating because of the many types and methods to make them. Ingredients and their preparations are also mind-boggling and seductive. The accompaniments and "offshoots & riffs" are equally intriguing and mouthwatering. Chef Amano gives a shout-out to another ramen lover, who has his own simplified ways of making ramen in the home. As in a fine bowl of ramen, everything beautifully comes together in this excellent book that has history, ingredients, techniques and love.

As a home cook who likes to make notes in a book that I really love, I bought a copy at The Library Store.

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