How to Eat Well While Broke: My Mom's Ramen Recipe
The Origin Story
My mother grew up on various U.S. Army bases around the world, and one of those places was Hawaii. A local friend taught her how to make saimin, a dish very similar to ramen, which is insanely popular all over. It's a warm, filling dish that gets better with every additional ingredient.
My mother first made saimin for my dad when they were dating, and only added a few slices of green onion to the dish—which he jokes is the reason they stayed together.
When my parents first got married they were broke, which is not as uncommon today as it was almost forty years ago. With a 10-cent package of ramen noodles along with a few other kitchen ingredients, my mother was able to re-create a frugal saimin that became a weekly staple in our household.
When it was my turn to be young and broke, this meal saved me from the banality of the typical college student diet. To this day, it's a dish that I still enjoy.
To be successful at making saimin, you'll need the following ingredients and tools:
- 2 slices bacon
- Fresh green onions
- 1 jalapeño pepper (optional)
- 1 package ramen noodles (I use beef-flavored Top Ramen)
- 1 decent-sized frying pan. I like to use a cast iron frying pan because they're deep enough when I'm making my broth.
Instructional Overview (See Details Below)
- Use one pan for whole recipe. Fry bacon until crispy. Set aside.
- While bacon is cooking, start preparing your vegetables. Chop green onions into 1/2-inch slices. Dice jalapeño peppers (optional). Set aside.
- Using the bowl that you plan on eating out of, fill it with water. Set this to the side.
- Pour out the bacon grease into a container or trash.
- Using the bacon grease, begin to stir-fry your veggies over medium heat. After a few minutes, add your water from the bowl into the pan.
- Add the flavor package that comes with the ramen. Stir until completely mixed into broth. When broth reaches a rolling boil, add your ramen noodles. Cook until they reach your desired doneness.
- Pour the entire contents of the pan into your bowl. Crumble the bacon and mix into the dish. Add soy sauce (optional). Enjoy!
Step 1: Fry. Chop. Stir.
Using medium heat, preheat your pan. Once hot, gingerly place your bacon slices into the pan. Cook until crispy. Set bacon to the side for later. Pour out most of the grease into trash.
While the bacon is cooking, chop your onions and peppers. After bacon has been removed from the pan and the grease has been disposed of, begin to cook your veggies, stir-fry style.
Step 2: Find Your Bowl
Instead of measuring out how much water to add to my saimin, I just grab the bowl I plan on using and fill that to the brim with water. This method saves time and it's one less dish to wash. You also guarantee that you'll have a great noodle-broth ratio.
Step 3: Mix. Pour. Enjoy.
Once the veggies have been properly stir-fried, add your water. Stir for a few moments. After adding your water, open your ramen package and take out the flavor envelope. Tear it open and pour it into the pan, stirring it until it is completely mixed.
Once your broth has reached a rolling boil, add your ramen noodles. Stir the noodles so that they intermingle with the onions and peppers. Once the noodles are soft, pour the entire contents of the pan into your bowl. That's a one-pan meal!
Last but not least, crumble your bacon and mix into your saimin and enjoy! This craveable and easy-to-cook dish has been a staple in my family for over 30 years. It is delicious and affordable for any budget.
Alternate Ramen Toppings and Ingredients
Saimin is an incredibly flexible dish. Try adding the following to up your flavor profile!
- Other proteins like chicken or shrimp
- Mushrooms. I add them when I add the noodles.
- Eggs. When the noodles are almost done, I crack an egg and wait for the yolk to reach an over easy/over medium consistency.
- Bell peppers. The more colors, the better!
- Cabbage. My dad loves putting this in his saimin. It adds a unique flavor and a bizarre but satisfying crunch.