Case Study: Ramen

Friday, March 8, 2013

Yesterday at work I started thinking about ramen. Not straight-up five-for-a-dollar grocery store ramen, but not David Chang ramen, either. Something in between.

I had driven to work because I had to go to the post office, so that meant I had more options for stopping points on the way home. Usually I walk, and in theory I could walk to more than one store, but the two stores I generally go to are not in the same direction, so it makes for a long trip, and rarely am I up for that on my way home.

But this time, car. The world was my oyster.

So I stopped at Food Lion and bought three packages of ramen for eighty-nine cents. Then I drove to Whole Foods and considered the options for vegetable and meat additions.

I thought about getting chicken and poaching or roasting it but decided against that, I wanted something simpler. I’m not much of a beef eater at this point, so flank steak or something like that didn’t feel right either. I decided to go with the Other White Meat, and got a small boneless pork chop, around five ounces.

Then I was thinking I should get some kind of greens, bok choy or napa cabbage or baby spinach.

The bok choy and napa cabbage were both HUGE, I knew it would be too much of a challenge for me to use that all up before it went bad, and also they were both $2.99 a pound or something like that, it was going to be way over $5, which is out of my price range for vegetables. Sometimes they have loose baby spinach, you can buy just a handful, but I didn’t see any yesterday. But they did have baby bok choy, so I bought a small one of those for around a dollar. And some green onions for $1.49, which always feels like highway robbery, but I decided to just suck it up this time.

And on the way home, I thought about how I was going to cook it.

And then by the time I got home, I was tired and hungry, so I ate leftovers instead. (Wonh, wonh, wonnhh. You lose. No soup for you.)

But tonight. Tonight! I took a nice afternoon nap and had energy for dinner.

I cut the pork chop into bite-size-ish pieces and marinated in sesame oil, soy sauce, chinese rice wine, while I did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen. (Things are kind of a mess around here, don’t ask.)

I took a quart of chicken stock out of the freezer, ran the container under water to loosen it, slid the big frozen chunk out of the container into a pot on the stove, turned the stove to medium high and left to thaw.

I chopped the green onions, minced a clove of garlic (from the pantry), grated some ginger root (from the freezer).

I chopped the baby bok choy into bite-size-ish pieces and heated a frying pan in which I’d cooked some bacon earlier in the day and added a little bit of canola oil and sautéed, with some salt and pepper for seasoning. When it was tender but not cooked all the way through, I poured in some of the stock (which was by now thawed), covered the pan, brought to a boil, and simmered until seemed sufficiently done, cooked but not mushy. I tasted and decided to add some soy sauce for flavor.

I heated a little bit of canola oil in a pot, and when it was hot threw in the garlic, ginger, and white part of the onion. Stirred for a minute, when that was fragrant, added the pork. When the pork was browned and seemed more or less cooked, I poured the chicken stock into the pot and tasted and adjusted seasonings — added salt, pepper, chili salt (salt a friend gave me — kosher salt plus some kind of crazy spicy chili, it’s totally spicy, a little goes a long way). Tasted again, needed more … something. Added msg (figured it would not be a true ramen experience without msg) and a little bit of chili paste with garlic. Tasted again. Salty, spicy, good. Brought to a boil, then let simmer.

In the meantime, I cooked the ramen noodles the normal way, boiled in water.

When the noodles were about ready, I added the cooked greens to the pot with the pork and heated those together for a minute. Put the noodles in a bowl, ladled the broth/pork/greens over the noodles, added the green part of the chopped green onions for garnish.

So good.

Not the cheapest thing in the world, because of the pork — around six dollars for two servings (with almost half of that being the pork). But cheaper than going out somewhere for a noodle bowl, and better too.

And these are the kinds of things you can make that aren’t very expensive, and aren’t very hard to make, and use some things you buy fresh (vegetables, meat) and some things you have in the pantry (noodles, garlic, condiments, spices) and some things you have in the freezer (chicken stock, ginger).

And are really, really good.

8 Responses to “Case Study: Ramen”

  1. Liz G Says:

    Sounds delicious. Would love to read about other people’s suggestions for homemade ramen. My tip is to use spaghetti, thin spaghetti, and linguine to make ramen dishes in addition to noodles labled ramen.

    Also for people who like frugal food challenges, LiveBelowTheLine is doing another challenge in April and May to eat for 5 days for $1.50 a day or $7.50 total. Other countries have equivalent amounts. People are encouraged to team up when grocery shopping for more diversity in their diet. And garden produce can be used if the costs to grow it are accounted for.


  2. amanda Says:

    I always feel so inspired by your posts! I love the part about the nap and then waiting until the next day to do the cooking project!

  3. tommfranklin Says:

    Wait, one baby bok choy for $1? Don’t you have any oriental grocery stores nearby? My local oriental grocer has good baby bok choy really cheap.

    — Tom

  4. lessisenough Says:

    Yes, there is an Asian grocery where the last time I bought baby bok choy (or some kind of choy, they have all different kinds there) it was $0.99/lb, and this was sold to me at $1.49/lb (though listed at $2.99/lb so it should have been even more). However the Asian grocery was not on my way home on Wednesday, and I’m not going to drive three miles and spend thirty minutes to save twenty-five cents on bok choy.

    The reason I shop at Whole Foods, despite the prices, is because it’s convenient — it’s pretty much on the way to or from everywhere I go — and generally it’s easy to get in and out quickly (because I’m usually walking, so I don’t have to deal with the nightmare parking lot, and I’m buying only a few things, so the checkout doesn’t take long). Also I’m not unhappy with the amount of money I spend on groceries overall so I don’t feel the need to make every price the lowest.

    I’ll go to the Asian grocery to stock up on rice and noodles and condiments, and while I’m there, I’ll buy vegetables. Or I’ll stop if I’m over on that side of town. But I won’t make a special trip there just for vegetables.

  5. lessisenough Says:


    So happy to hear I can be inspirational by napping!

    My schedule is all over the place right now, it’s basically free-form, so I’m working when I can get things done and sleeping in between. So sometimes I go to bed at 3am and sleep for 8 hours and sometimes I take a nap from 6 to 10pm and then eat dinner. There’s no schedule at all.

  6. lessisenough Says:


    Yes, it’s actually cheaper to buy larger quantities of noodles. I feel like at one point I could buy chinese egg noodles in a 16oz package but I didn’t see them when I was shopping on Wednesday, and wasn’t near an Asian store, so just went with what I found.

    I’ve made a Vietnamese soup recipe from the More-with-Less cookbook and used angel hair or cappellini with that, and that is really good. It’s a simple recipe, too, you just cook a whole chicken with garlic (and maybe onions), then take the chicken off the bone and put back with the broth, cook the noodles separately then combine with the broth and chicken for soup. It’s sort of pho-ish, rich and filling.

    I’ll check out the challenge, thanks for the info.

  7. Liz G Says:

    The chicken pho soup sounds perfect for this time of year. I could see it with a few carrots too, and then in early spring perhaps some baby spinach from the garden.

    In your area can you get a pound of pasta cheaper at Asian stores than regular grocery stores? Here the best prices are at the regular stores with .89 a pound being lowest. There haven’t been any sales lately to get it below that that I have seen.

    Currently the best Live Below the Line info is at the UK section of the site. They have a cookbook, and five different shopping lists with menus.
    Two of the blogs from a previous round are useful as well.

    I looked up a few other prices on the Tesco site. Most are store brand. Prices are in pounds and pence. They have a 5 pound limit for the 5 days.

    Spaghetti 500 g .19
    Lentils 500 g 1.29 for green, red, or brown
    Lentils 1 kg 1.99 for red
    Lentils 2 kg 2.99 for green, red, brown
    Rice 1kg .40 white
    Flour 1.5 kg .45 plain
    Popcorn 500g .49
    Veg oil 1 liter 1.45
    Salt 750g .29
    Potatoes, small .69/kg
    Carrots 1.5 kg .63

    Lentils seem to be more frugal than any other dry bean I could find so far on the site. It looks like spliting a 2kg lentil package or vegetable oil with other challengers would be the way to go.

    I’ve been thinking about ways to combine info out of the five menus for a more diverse week. The tomato sauce seems like a good deal depending on size. Do people think things like the curry sauce are worth it for the combination of flavors, or would the money be better spent on prorated spices, garlic, etc?

    Am challenging myself to come up with two menus using the UK info–one that is from the grocery store and one that uses grocery store plus garden produce. Want to try a US one as well and am waiting to see what they suggest for recipes and menus.


  8. lessisenough Says:

    The Asian store is cheaper for rice noodles, rice sticks, and various Asian noodles (udon, soba, etc.).

    I haven’t priced regular pasta at different stores to see what the store brands are. The Whole Foods 365 brand is $0.99/lb which I think is comparable to other stores’ store brands.

    Being able to share with people for a weekly low-cost challenge is a huge boon — you can get much more variety, because usually in order to get the best price, you have to buy more than you would typically be able to eat in a week without eating the same thing for every meal. Which then makes people say well I can’t eat for less because I need more variety. So I think that’s an interesting part of the challenge, to see how you can split things up with people to get the right amount of food at the lowest cost.

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