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Mr. Noodles: We’ve been there. But this is the era of good food. Halifax chefs tell you how to make a real meal out of ramen.

click to enlarge Instant noodles are instant satisfaction, baby.
  • Instant noodles are instant satisfaction, baby.

You spent your childhood with Mr. Dressup and high school with a Mr. D of your very own. Well, now it's time for you to get acquainted with a new salty Canadian friend: Mr. Noodles.

As a country we slurped down over 210 million packages of instant noodles last year. With over a million students enrolling in university, that means that it's entirely possible every single student in the country could be eating at least one Mr. Noodles a day. Entirely possible and totally likely.

There's no shame at the bottom of your cup of noodles. Many of our favourite local chefs---criterions of cooking, exemplars of eating local---spent their college years Just Adding Water.

"I lived off of Mr. Noodles, bagels, rice with sriracha and cooked spinach," says Renée Lavalée, Feisty Chef.

Lawry Deneau, executive chef at Il Mercato, says "Mr. Noodles were definitely a staple. Along with KD, microwave pizza, pastas...blech!"

Dennis Johnston, chef/owner at Fid Resto, was also a KD man. "I found that you often had to sacrifice two packages of the cheese for one package of noodles," says Johnston.

When Deneau lived off-campus, things started to change. He started having potluck dinners with his roommates and friends. "We ended up eating quite well by doing this. Each person would only spend a little cash but end up with a feast."

There are a lot of simple tips to eating well on a college budget. "Buy local and seasonal," says Lavalee. "Check out the markets and make some connections with the farmers and vendors. Try to buy larger items with friends and split it. Have a cooking party and swap meals and freeze."

Luis Clavel, executive chef at Seasons at Atlantica, also suggests stocking up on canned goods, frozen veggies and ground beef if your budget calls for it. "It's funny," he says. "I can't believe I'm saying 'canned goods and frozen vegetables'---things that were erased from my vocabulary after I became a chef." He also says to stick with the simple things. "A thick grilled cheese is always good. Especially if you add a few slices of fresh sliced ham and tomato."

Then again, sometimes the simplicity of student life can be key. "I still keep a couple packs of instant ramen on hand," says Coastal@Night's Graeme Ruppel. "It's cheap, quick and easy enough that I can make one up while nursing a vicious hangover."

Ramen Braised Pork Belly
2 packages Oriental Mr. Noodles (or kimchi raymun)

2 lbs pork belly
1 tbsp miso paste
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp Sriracha sauce
2 tbsp wakame
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 300ºF. Mix the Mr. Noodles flavour powder, miso, fish sauce and sriracha into a paste. Cover the pork belly with the flavour paste. Refrigerate overnight.

Place the pork belly in a pot or baking dish just a bit larger than the belly. Cover the pork belly with water, and then cover the pot. Transfer to oven, cook for four hours.

Once cooked, allow the pork belly to cool then remove from the broth, cut into strips 1/4" thick, then into 1" squares. Return the broth to the stove-top and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and freeze-dried vegetables from the Mr. Noodle packet to the broth and cook until tender.

Lift the noodles out of the broth and transfer to two bowls. Reduce the heat of the broth to a simmer, and crack the eggs in to poach. While the eggs are poaching, garnish the noodles with the wakame and slices of pork belly. When the eggs are just set (you want very runny yolks, they will help thicken the broth), lift them from the broth and place on the noodles. Pour the broth over the noodles.

Serves two, with extra pork belly.

Tuna 'Arrabbiata'
1 package Mr. Noodles (shrimp flavour)
1 can of tuna (85g, olive oil packed preferably)
8-10 canned black olives pitted
Heinz Tomato Ketchup
Pinch of dried oregano
Pinch of dried chilies

Start by adding a desired amount of ketchup to sauce pan. Add tuna and olives and bring to a simmer slowly. Season with dried oregano, chilies, black pepper and 1/4 (or to your taste) of shrimp seasoning pouch.

In a separate pot, heat up the Mr. Noodles. Once cooked, add noodles to pan.

College Contadina
1 package Mr. Noodles (chicken)
½ yellow onion
¼ cup frozen peas
4 slices salami
1 tbsp cream cheese chip dip (any flavour)
Pepper to taste
Canola oil/ EVOO

Slice the onion and salami into thin strips. Saute in oil until onions are translucent and the salami crisps. Add frozen peas. In a separate pot, cook the Mr. Noodles. Add cooked noodles and chip dip. Let dip melt. Season with 1/4 of the Mr. Noodles seasoning pouch (or to taste) and black pepper.

D's Kung Pow hot cakes
3 packages of Mr. Noodle (any flavour)
500ml water
1 egg
Canola oil

Put the contents of the three packages of Mr. Noodle in a food processor and process until it becomes a powder. (Approximately 15 minutes.)

Put the food processor contents in a bowl. Add water and egg. Mix well.

Heat up a frying pan with some canola oil and fry spoonfuls of the mix until they are golden. Cook them well on each side.

Enjoy them with hoisin sauce.

Vegan Mr. Noodles Bowl
1 pkg Mr. Noodles (any flavour)
1 pkg medium firm tofu
1 sweet potato
1 japanese eggplant
6 button or cremini mushrooms
1/2 C edamame beans
1 tbsp soya sauce or tamari
1 tbsp Mirin
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 lime juice
Handful of fresh spinach

Cook the noodles but omit the seasoning packet. Rinse the cooked noodles under cold water and mix with the soya sauce, mirin, sesame oil, ginger and lime. Set aside.

Heat oven to 450 degrees and place a baking sheet in there to heat up. Cut and peel the sweet potato into bite-size pieces, the tofu into large chunks and keep the button mushrooms whole. Mix in a bowl with a little bit each of mirin, soya and sesame oil.

Place on the hot pre-heated baking sheet and roast five to 10 minutes or until the potato is soft. Let cool and mix with the noodles. Cool off edamame and add to the noodles too. Mix in the spinach and enjoy.

Mr. Noodles Crunch
2 chicken legs and thighs
1 cup buttermilk
Mr. Noodles, ground
¼ tsp of thyme, garlic, onion, paprika, celery salt, cumin, oregano, coriander and black pepper
1 very small pinch of cayenne
1 cup of all-purpose flour

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Marinate in buttermilk for at least two hours.

Grind Mr. Noodles and seasoning package to a fine powder in a Magic Bullet. Pass through a sieve to remove any large chunks of noodles. In a bowl, combine the mix with the spices, cayenne and flour. Mix well.

Remove chicken from the buttermilk and remove extra buttermilk. Toss and dredge the chicken into the Mr. Noodle flour mixture until all sides are well coated.

Deep-fry at 445 degrees until the chicken floats to the top and is golden brown. Drain excess fat on paper towel and serve. Suggested side dishes: sweet potato waffles and mushroom gravy---recreating the classic fried chicken and waffles!

Tricking out your ramen

Luis Clavel: For extra flavour add some sesame seed oil, crushed chillies or sriracha sauce or a touch of five spice. Mr. Noodles are also a great base for Pho. Make a nice egg foo young: take the liquid away, add eggs and ginger. Done!

Graeme Ruppel: Go to an Asian grocer, try a few different brands. Don’t waste time with the selection at the big grocery stores---they will uniformly lack any spice or depth. Add a good dose of umami: a dash of fish sauce adds a lot of depth and kimchi is another umami bomb. (Make sure you get proper, fermented stuff, and not just cabbage in hot sauce.) Miso paste is another great one to add richness to a dish. A spoonful in a soup or stew will bring your cooking up to a whole new level. Topping anything with a fried or poached egg makes it better. Bacon. Between Getaway and Highland Drive, you have no excuse not to get proper, dry cured bacon. Actual vegetables can turn a bowl of terrible instant noodles into something that actually feels like food. Add quick pickled carrots, daIkon and radishes: julienne, toss with some salt. After 30 minutes, drain any liquid, cover with half rice wine vinegar/water. Ready to go another 30 minutes later.


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