i’m not sure when it started. in the mid-nineties watching anime for the first time during winter break. or maybe it was junzo itami’s “noodle” western, tampopo. i do know that as a child, i was fairly deprived of good food. bologna sandwiches - what all the other kids ate - were a rare treat that i could never trade my egg salad on wheat for. loaded with nitrites, i was raised to believe that processed lunch meats, like cathode-ray emissions and cap’n crunch cereal, caused cancer. maybe everything does cause cancer. but maybe i’ve stopped caring.
like a catholic schoolgirl, the deprived child, when finally given some freedoms, tends to binge on all the things he missed out on due to opressive (real or imagined) parenting. in my case, it was savory junk foods. bologna sandwiches. actually, what sandwiches? unless you count two slices of meat sandwiching another (i just ate ‘em by the pack). beef jerky. potato chips. corn nuts with 58% your daily dosage of sodium per serving. and cup noodles. of course i licked the flavor packets.
if ramen is food for the starving college student, then i’m a career gastronomy major and the backwaters of japan are my alma mater. for that is truly where it all begins. steeped in the thick stench of pork bones and tare vats that haven’t been washed since the end of the second world war. drunk on asahi and high on the touch of a girl who’s face you can’t quite make out except that she keeps nodding and fondling your thigh. or are you fondling hers? noriko (was that her name?) probably has no idea what you’re rambling on about anyway, but you know she likes you enough because that’s how she paid for that designer bag she’ll flaunt tomorrow afternoon at the family mart when she should really, um, be in class.
when you walk into the teacher’s room in a few hours, your kyoto-sensei will act as if nothing ever happened. even though it had all been his fault. sure the enkai had been for mr. sotoyama, who’s getting transferred across the prefecture next week. but the nijikai with the watered-down whiskey and the sanjikai at the snack bar, that was all the vice-principal’s doing. but so had been the bowl of ramen sometime in the neighborhood of 4am and for that, you remind yourself to thank him.
they had free hard-boiled eggs in countertop bowls, this shop. you don’t even remember what the noodles tasted like. in truth, they were pretty unspectacular. but they were the best you’ve ever had.