Instant ramen may come sealed in a paper cup or shrink wrapped in plastic, but the low-cost noodle is a comfort food that appeals to a diverse group of eaters from across the country. Granted, grabbing a late night bowl of ramen doesn't rank high on a level of difficulty in Los Angeles--our city neighborhoods and strip malls are named countries like Japan, Thailand, Korea, and China--but suburban dwellers outside of our culturally diverse city have limited access to what fanatical ramen eaters like Rameniac refer to as "the good stuff."
A little over a year ago, during one of those quintessential LA cross-town shopping trips to Korea and Japan town markets, Becky Wu and Howard Chan--two LA actors and restaurant professionals on a steady diet of ramen noodles--came up with the big idea to sell customizable boxes of assorted ramen to people all over the country via the Internet.
Wu and Chan saw an instant opportunity to save people time and money by being the first online company to create a one-stop-shop for ramen. After a year of market research and development, the pair launched their online marketplace, Ramenbox.
"We're not selling a luxury item," says Wu. But, she says, they do go out of their way to find the best examples of ramen available from around the world.
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Ramenbox customers can select traditional and untraditional noodles, fried or non-fried, wet or dry, and even some MSG-free versions from makers in Japan, Korea, China, and Vietnam. Even the most schooled ramen eaters can find unique flavors like Tom Yom shrimp, green tea, lobster, BBQ chicken, Nongshim Chapaghetti, and Jja Jang Men (a wheat "Chinese spaghetti" with a sachet of liquid sauce). Ramenbox charges customers by the box ($24.95-$44.95), not by the individual selection.
What area of the country buys the most ramen? One might guess an area from the west coast or New York. But no. Ramenbox's biggest customer base comes from a region not necessarily known for its cultural diversity. "Most of our customers are from the Midwest," says Wu.
"We want to educate people on all the different ramen out there," says Wu. "Food can be a whole lot more fun than just Top Ramen."
Brooke Burton is also the author of Foodwoolf.com.