Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Re Viet Nam View: JapTech meets the humble ramen noodle

And now I want to introduce a segment wherein I review ordinary Vietnamese stuff, with an eye towards racist humor, demonstrating the innate superiority of Western goods (mostly made in Vietnam,) and making fun of that which I do not understand and hence secretly fear.

People eat a lot of noodles in Vietnam. Yes, yes, this is obvious, but the supermarkets here have 4 or 5 aisles with nothing but noodles. I've counted over 20 brands, and to record the number of flavors would require mathematical notation, not to mention a working knowledge of Vietnamese.

They're all pretty good, but the other day, I was in the store, and this caught my eye:

Reaction: Damn.

Images of bunny-suited Japanese techs filled my brain, working in sterile laboratory conditions to hand-create the Future Noodle, the Uber Noodle, the Noodle Messiah. Talk about effective advertising.

I bought it with instant enthusiasm, but when it came time to actually cook the noodles, I admit I felt trepidation. Would they be awesome? Terrifying? Would they unleash demon-bots from Dimension Zero on the unsuspecting world?

I failed for several minutes at opening the noodles from across the room, using a pair of scissors taped to a broom. After all, if manga has taught us anything, it's that merely opening a package of noodles MADE WITH JAPANESE TECHNOLOGY could have all sorts of unexpected side effects. Robot tentacles were probably only barely contained by the thin plastic packaging; maybe ninjas lurked inside, or crazy-haired, big-eyed girls would pop out, covering their mouths with their hands, leaping and giggling. And all of it would be outside any cultural referents I possess.

After looking around for primer cord, lasers, the Jaws of Life, and a bomb squad, I decided I was probably being silly, and just tore the package open with my teeth.

Upon waking up, I heated the water as usual. The ingredients were...I wish I could say the little flavor packs looked awesome, but to tell the truth, I couldn't see anything special or different about them. They looked like all the other noodles I'd had here: way better than American ramen--which is just salt, MSG, and pressed saturated fat--to be sure, but ultimately, just...noodles.

Where's the goddamn robot ninjas?

Still, the proof of Japan Magic Tech Future Noodle is in the eating, not the heat-crazed imaginings of the would-be chef.

I assembled the ingredients and prepared for the taste-bud rocking of a lifetime, confident I was not setting myself up with unrealistic expectations. After all, does American ramen have four--four!--different flavor packs? Hell, no. Why have that many when you can load up the MSG and simply drug people into liking your product?

And not just any flavor packets, either. There was papery green stuff; there was some kind of oily substance, possibly spicy; there was even this bouillon-looking goo that I took to be beef flavor. There was freeze-dried meat! Do we have this in American noodle technology? (Besides Cup O' Noodles, I mean.) Answer: no, we do not! Some kind of serious noodle gap exists, and until we rectify that I don't think it's too much to say that the soul and fate of America lie in jeopardy.

See how I am disrespectful to American tastebuds!

The three minutes I waited for the noodles to cook nearly goddamn killed me, this stuff smelled so good; the fact that I'm clinically starving was not a factor.

Not pictured: obesity, hypertension, Awesomo Poweru.

Then came the eating.

Next came the disappointment.

Finally came the better Me.

Because I learned something today: Japan isn't a race of techno-savants who can turn their crazy know-how onto anything and emerge with The Future. The Ultimate Japantech Hyper Noodle Experience kinda failed. The meatballs were mostly gristle, the vegetables mostly stalk, and the flavor was mostly salt, MSG, and pressed saturated fat. The noodles themselves tasted good, with a firm texture, and the broth was not as oily as other pot noodles I've had here. The spice-factor was solid, but let's face it, that's not all that important in a glorious time of abundant hot sauce.

Strange as it may seem, I prefer good old hard-charging, can-do-spirit American canned soup: my country tis of thee, sweet land of Campbell's Sirloin Burger Soup. (Actually, this is a total lie, but I wanted to insert some pointless jingoism, like I said I would.) Because when you've been kicked around by disappointment like I have with that whole noodle thing, well, you learn these sorts of things about yourself; it makes you stronger. Purer. Even saltier. I also figured out what Japanese technology the packaging referred to, namely, surplus crap the Imperial Army left behind after Dubya Dubya Two.

Of course, it's still way better than Top Ramen, but isn't that also a Japanese product?

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