My New Southern Comfort Food — Ramen

This bowl of goodness is Tonkotsu Ramen from IKKO Japanese Ramen and Sushi in Birmingham, AL.

A bad cold calls for comfort food.

When I was sick as a child, Mama would fix me homemade chicken noodle soup or egg custard. She’d bring it to me in bed on a tray. All of it warm, creamy, and soothing. That’s what rural Southern people eat. Simple food made with simple ingredients.

As many of you know, I was raised in the small town of Citronelle. That’s in South Alabama. First settled in 1811, it’s an old town near an even older city, Mobile, which was founded in 1702. When I lived there, Mexican food was nonexistent and there was no Indian food or Ethiopian food or even Middle Eastern food that I recall. There was the good old House of Chin where Chinese food was served on stainless steel pedestals with domed tops. Very exotic. Sushi was unheard of, unless it was hanging on the end of a hook to attract a better fish.

The food we ate was country cooking and soul food mixed with a little French Creole, coastal influence. Foods like chicken noodle soup and egg custard. Sticks to the ribs. Warms the soul. Good for what ails you.

Now I live in Birmingham. It’s a relatively new city, founded after the Civil War. A tremendous medical research university and a booming science and tech community has made it a cultural crossroads. In the last 30 years that I’ve lived here, Birmingham has really exploded into a New South food destination, and aside from your basic Southern barbecue and soul food, you can find just about any cuisine in the world here — Lebanese, Korean, Greek, Ethiopian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian, Japanese, French — the list is endless.

This exposure to so many new and different foods has, over the years, changed my tastes. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d kill or die for a bowl of Mama’s chicken noodle soup or egg custard right about now. But given that those dishes are 250 miles away, my fever-addled mind turns to other comfort foods. Food like ramen.

I have to say that of all the “new” foods that are now a regular part of my diet, ramen has to be my favorite. First of all, I could live on soup, and ramen’s slightly briny, porky broth, not to mention the thin slices of pork belly, appeals to my innate Southern desire for all things swine flesh. Then there are the curly, ramen noodles. Curly noodles, y’all. If that don’t put you in a better mood, I don’t know what will. A few slimy mushrooms, a little bok choy, a boiled egg with a perfectly creamy yolk, and a pink (!!) and white fish cake (officially called naruto kamaboko) complete this bowl of goodness.

If chicken noodle soup is “Jewish penicillin” or, in my case “Southern penicillin,” then ramen has to be “Japanese penicillin.” And that’s one medicine I’m willing to take a double dose of while I’m on my way to recovery. And if you’re sick too, get you some ramen and raise a spoon with me to getting better quick, or as they say in Japan, “Zenkai o inotte imasu” (Wishing you a speedy recovery).