Examine the college student. If an x-ray diagram was made with what our bodies are made of, I would imagine that we would be made up of some interesting things. Our blood would be coffee, our brains would be tidbits of information strung together and our lungs would be ever inflating and deflating balloons struggling to keep the pace.
As for our stomachs, I’d like to think that, for many people it would be made of instant ramen. These inexpensive noodles have become the staple college student meal over the years, mainly by taking the title of ‘cheapest dinner option.’ Between the box shaped packages of seasoning and dried vegetables, ramen has become a fan favorite for college students above any other instant meal.
When looking at ramen from Japan, the recipes are vastly different; most of them include eggs, either hard boiled or fried on top, seaweed, numerous meats and vegetables and even sometimes some seafoods, like shrimp. This ingredients list, however, is only the start.
Beneath the noodles, there are also the various amounts of seasonings and flavors that make ramen taste as good as it does. In the U.S., though, the recipe is taken away and the only remaining ingredients are the noodles, vegetables (sometime not though, depending on the brand), and a powder version of the seasonings.
So how did ramen, in its difference from its original recipe, manage to become such a popular meal?
Ramen has solidly remained a favorite food for many college students, and the public in general, for two main reasons. Obviously, a large part of the appeal come from its convenience. For many people, the time they have allotted for meals has become smaller and smaller with each new task given to us. This makes it especially hard to juggle meals and a tight schedule
Because people have less time to eat, foods that take less time to prepare have become invaluable. Ramen provides a filling meal that incorporates a few food groups, while being easy to make just by throwing it in the microwave for a few minutes.
For me, ramen had always been what my mother used to send me to school with in high school. Knowing I had access to a microwave, she knew that it was cheaper to have me eat teriyaki noodles than give me lunch money for pizza, or make me the same types of sandwiches (most often the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich) that I would eventually get tired of.
My mother bought whole boxes of ramen. Not only did she enjoy the fact that they came in bulk, but also that they came in assorted flavors, so there was no chance of me getting tired of them. While it probably wasn’t good for me to eat as much ramen as I did, due to the variety of flavors, I didn’t mind eating them. Also it was most likely better than the normal high school cafeteria fare.
The other reason ramen has sustained its longevity is its cost. If one were to only eat the cup version of ramen for one year, they would be spending around 13 cents per packet, costing them only a total of about $140.
Unlike ramen, most food items can’t compete with these numbers without having to cut a lot of the food out of the final product. In comparison with ramen, macaroni and cheese cups cost around a dollar or so, instant rice cups cost about two dollars, and things like instant dinners rise in price exponentially depending on the brand.
These aspects are what keep ramen in a category by itself. Foods like instant rice, microwavable dinners, and microwave macaroni and cheese cups can also hold up to the standards of instant meals. However, for a busy college student trying to spend less to pay their bills, or even parents on the go, ramen satisfies a cost-effective need that can fill the person up, while giving them enough variety that they won’t turn to another food option.
The question is now “Will ramen ever lose its place as the staple college meal?” Probably not. Due to its position in regard to the other instant meals like it, ramen is in a place where it has little competition and we, as its consumers, can’t get enough of it.
Not only is it convenient, cost-effective, and vary in types and flavors but it is also a food we do not actively eat as a main meal in America. Ramen gives us a different type of food to eat, rather than the foods we can get at any time, like macaroni and cheese, or rice. Until the next instant wonder emerges, ramen shall remain on a pedestal, continuing to keep us fed and full on the cheap.