Ramen has been a staple of my diet since childhood. As a little girl, I used to be thrilled whenever my mom or dad would boil up a packet of Sapporo Ichiban brand instant ramen for dinner. When I got a bit older, my dad introduced me to real ramen: a large bowl of steaming broth, carefully folded noodles, thinly sliced pork, and all the various toppings that get added at the last minute. I made a point to order a bowl of ramen whenever we went out to eat, even if I couldn’t finish it. (My dad would eat his bowl and the half that I’d left. もったいない [don’t waste], as my grandma would say.)
With over twenty-five years of ramen eating experience, you’d better believe I take my noodles seriously. That’s why I’ve stood in line for hours at noodle festivals. There are hundreds of ways to make a bowl of ramen and I want to try almost every one. Most of the bowls I’ve had recently I don’t really care for, but that’s because I base every bowl on the first good one I had as a kid. (It sounds bad, but I’m more of a shoyu [soy-sauce] base girl – it’s what I grew up on.)
Torrance held a ramen festival this weekend, boasting twelve different ramen vendors with the added bonus of sushi and top-notch tempura over rice. Based on previous experience at the Noodle Bowl Festival in Santa Monica this year, I prepared myself for long lines. And I knew it was going to be worse since the event didn’t charge admission fees.
Since it’s the first time they’ve held this festival, I can’t fault them too harshly for the lack of organization. I sincerely believe this was a major learning experience for the vendors and the event planners. What I will say is this:
1. Signs for parking and lines need to be added. Ropes for lines would definitely be a bonus. Cars were circling; drivers were asking people in line if they could park in the lot. The line to get into the event spilled out into the parking lot, making it impossible for cars to drive through.
2. Tickets for the event need to be sold or admission needs to be charged. I realize that keeping it open encourages large crowds and the exposure would be huge. But when you read tweets and blog posts about people giving up after waiting for three hours or the vendors running out of food, it gets pretty discouraging. Tickets will help keep crowds to fairly reasonable numbers.
3. Signs and/or maps posted around the event to show where each vendor was located. There were two courtyard areas with stands and it was almost impossible to see the vendor until you got to the front of the stand. Then you had to figure out where the end of the line was.
That was the bad part. What I feel that most don’t realize is that noodle festivals can be tricky. You can’t mass produce bowls of food in anticipation of customers. Ramen is a relatively fast dish but there is a lot of preparation involved – doubly so because of the presentation factor. Some advice for those who are newbies:
1. Good ramen takes time. I honestly cannot stress this enough. Even with large crowds, bowls have to be made in small quantities at a time. If you make too many at once, the quality does go down.
2. LA is a (and I hate this word) foodie city. Any kind of event that isn’t ridiculously exclusive will bring in herds of people. Get to an event early and don’t bitch about the wait time.
3. Bring cash. This event did take cards, but the line for cash was always shorter.
Why do I put up with this craziness? I LOVE NOODLES (SPECIFICALLY RAMEN) TOO MUCH TO MISS OUT ON SOMETHING LIKE THIS. It’s the potential of having so many different kinds of noodles in one place that makes it intriguing, even though reality points out that maybe two bowls is all you’re getting at the end of a six-hour day. Although I think I’m tapped out (energy-wise) for food fests for the rest of the year, I’m definitely game for the next round of noodle-based events.