A Book That Causes Noodle Cravings

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I tried to make ramen but ended up with something else. I blame David Chang and Peter Meehan. The writing in the Momofuku cookbook is just so good, and Chang's love for food shines through: crappy Chinese take-out, Allan Benton's pork products, oysters, the Sichuan restaurant on St. Mark's Place, and noodles, above all, noodles.

This is the first book from New York's wildly popular restaurant group, Momofuku, made up of Chang's three casual East Village eateries and tiny fine dining restaurant, Ko. I read it in one sitting and was immediately taken over by a very strong need for hot broth and noodles. It made me irrational. At about one in the morning I decided to build my own ramen simulacrum out of some measly bonito crumbs at the bottom of the bag and dry rice noodles. It wasn't bad but it wasn't ramen. The point is, this is the kind of cookbook that actually makes you want to cook.

Later in the week I was sick. It was just a cold but still, I couldn't taste much, and I couldn't breathe. I made a pot of plain rice--usually I mix in butter and salt or yogurt. I happened to have all seven ingredients for a fish sauce vinaigrette by Tien Ho, a chef de cuisine at one of the Momofuku spots, so I shook them together in an old jam jar and poured it over hot white rice. It was ridiculously good. It made me feel better.

The Momofuku empire, and Chang himself, have been in the press so often, one might think they have been written about exhaustively. But the writing here is new and fresh, even for his most fetishistic fans.

I was trying to figure out why, but then I had a packet of foreign cold medicine, fell asleep with the book on my face, and had strange dreams about giant trees in Virginia. When I woke up it was obvious: the vinaigrette is one of those special simple recipes that every cookbook should have. The one you know you'll make again, adjust to taste, and quickly commit to memory. It's an adaptation of Ho's mother's recipe for the condiment he grew up pouring over rice and meat when he was, as he puts it, dirt poor.

Every recipe here has an origin story. Shrimp and grits points to a turning point in Momofuku history, the moment Chang decided he didn't have to cook traditional Korean food--he could cook whatever the hell he wanted. Turned out he wanted to cook Anson Mill grits in ramen broth or bacon dashi, that he intuitively fused Southern food and Asian food together to make his own kind of American cuisine. It was kind of a big deal.

The Momofuku empire, and Chang himself, have been in the press so often, one might think they have been written about exhaustively. But the writing here is new and fresh, even for his most fetishistic fans.

Presented by

Tejal Rao

Tejal Rao is a writer and translator from Northwest London, living in
Brooklyn. She is a restaurant critic for the Village Voice. Follow her on Twitter or learn more at www.tejalrao.com.

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