DAVID GREENE, Host:
We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm David Greene. Next time you swing by the magazine stand, you might come across something called Lucky Peach. It's a food magazine. But don't expect "20 simple dinners you can make in 20 minutes." Instead, there's poetry, fiction and also chefs swearing at each other.
The first issue is focused on ramen. Not those little packages we all made back in our college dorm rooms, but ramen as a delicacy with a rich and complicated history. Lucky Peach editor Peter Meehan created the magazine with New York noodle baron David Chang. Meehan says he once wrote a ramen recipe that was 30 pages long.
PETER MEEHAN: You spend two pages explaining what alkaline noodles are and what alkaline (unintelligible) food is. And that's just the noodles. And then you talk about the broth and, you know, it's a dashi and then it's a pork stock on top of that. And it's not just seasoned with soy sauce, but usually, it's a soy sauce that's been cooked with other things called a tare. So that 30 pages was trying to explain all of these components that go into making a bowl of ramen.
GREENE: Don't worry. You're not going to find a 30-page ramen recipe in Lucky Peach, but you will find a sense of how important the soup is in Japanese culture.
MEEHAN: There are people who spend every weekend, you know, going and finding new bowls, experiencing new ramen that is there around Japan. So if you go to Japan, there are literally four or five ramen magazines on the shelves at grocery stores, and they are filled with hundreds and hundreds of reviews of ramen shops and what goes into the broth and what this guy does. So it's...
GREENE: Kind of overwhelming.
MEEHAN: Yeah. It's a big subculture there.
GREENE: And I'm paging through the book now, the magazine, and the beginning of Lucky Peach is really a, it's sort of a travelogue of you and David Chang hanging out in Japan searching for great ramen. And I was stunned because you ate this unbelievable amount of noodles, and you write that you guys, I mean, were almost sick.
MEEHAN: No, no, no. We were very, actually, sick.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MEEHAN: We were there for - you know, we were in Tokyo for six or seven days, and we ate as many bowls of ramen as we physically could. But it's rude to leave noodles in your bowl, so you go there and you crush these gigantic bowls of noodles and, you know, it's in a very rich pork, fatty broth.
So there are only so many bowls we could get in, in five or six days with the other meals that we had planned to go to, but we tried to pack them all in.
GREENE: And you said you spend a lot of nights drunk dreaming of noodles as you were going to bed in the hotel room.
MEEHAN: That is a byproduct of eating noodles all day and then drinking all night.
GREENE: So this, I mean, it's not a food magazine. This is like 170 pages of interesting tales of your travels. There are recipes. You swear a lot. I mean, what are you really going for? Is this a new kind of cookbook? Is it an experience?
MEEHAN: You know, I mean, I think it's one of those things where you're sitting in a room, and you're like, let's make a new food magazine. And that's a terrible idea. The world does not need a new food magazine.
MEEHAN: But if it's such a bad idea that you can do a good version of it, then that's a cool challenge.
GREENE: This seems like sort of a strange time to jump into a new food magazine. I mean, a magazine like Gourmet gets shut down a couple years ago. I mean, do you have a death wish? What makes you think this is going to really succeed?
MEEHAN: I think it mainly is a death wish.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MEEHAN: And it's disappointing to us that it's ended up being as popular as it's been. I mean, it's a small-scale popularity, but we've done two pressings, and it looks like we're going to go to a third.
GREENE: The recipes in this book, these are not recipes from grandma's cookbook. And you actually - have one recipe in haiku. I'm looking at page 121. It's corn with miso, butter and bacon, a recipe in haikus. Can you read that for me?
MEEHAN: Oh, man. This is a dramatic reading of a recipe. This is a low point for me, I think. Hold on.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MEEHAN: Render the bacon, add the corn. Jump and sizzle as gold turns to brown. Miso and butter are joined in equal portions. Plop into the pan. Splash, dot, then toss. Glaze. Crack little poached eggs to crown like Hokkaido sunset.
GREENE: That was beautiful. A little more emotion in the plop, but that was really, that was very nice. I'm ready to cook it. And we're going to try and taste some ramen, and because you really have us in the mood. If we find a noodle shop out here in Southern California, what should we be looking for? I mean, if we walk in the door, what will make us say this is a really great place?
MEEHAN: When you eat ramen, you sit there, you bang yourself over the bowl when it's, you know, piping hot right when it's been handed it to you, and you're going to slurp those noodles. You're not chewing them. You're not cutting them up. You're trying to inhale them like a human noodle vacuum. And they should slurp in a pleasing way.
And then that broth that they're served in should - it should dress the noodles. It should coat the noodles. It should flavor the noodles. And I think it's a - it seems like the simplest thing in the world for a bowl of noodle soup to do, but when you're in front of a bowl and that's happening, that's - you know, you're most of the way there.
GREENE: We've been talking to Peter Meehan. He's the coeditor of Lucky Peach magazine, and he's quite a connoisseur of ramen noodles. Thanks for joining us, Peter.
MEEHAN: Thanks so much for having me.
GREENE: And after talking for that long about ramen, I mean, how could we go without tasting some? And so we came to this Japanese market in L.A. And at the back, there's a window and a kitchen. They are making and serving a lot of ramen.
(SOUNDBITE OF SLURPING)
GREENE: That was all I needed to hear. We talked our way back into that kitchen.
Could we ask you a question or two about ramen?
Nineteen-year-old Andrew Solo(ph) is one of the cooks.
What makes good ramen to you? Like, what's...
ANDREW SOLO: We've got the soup. It makes it really good.
GREENE: As for what's involved in making that soup, pork feet, pork ribs, fish bones. And they cook it all for 17 hours. Seventeen hours.
SOLO: Yeah. And then we have to taste it before we take it.
GREENE: As for Peter Meehan's 30-page ramen recipe...
SOLO: Thirty pages?
GREENE: Thirty pages.
SOLO: Well, actually, the fact, it's a lot. But I'm not surprised because it is hard to make ramen.
GREENE: Of course, I wasn't leaving...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: One salt?
GREENE: One salt.
GREENE: ...without a taste.
It's really hot. I'm sweating a little bit. Think it was worth the heat? You bet it was. I had to ask the manager...
Like, if we're to - what makes it milky? Is salt ramen always like a milkier...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That's my secret.
GREENE: That's your secret? OK. It's really good.
MAN: Is it good?
GREENE: It's amazing.
MAN: Thank you.
GREENE: Yeah. Good.
So there's a taste of ramen from Santouka Ramen on South Centinela Avenue here in L.A.