Top Ramen (Chicken Vegetable Flavor)

Grand Supermarket
2700 South Grand Boulevard

Jan 24, 2007 at 4:00 am
If the recent past is any indication of what the future holds, 2007 is shaping up to be a bummer year for the stoner set.

Already a U.S. district judge in New Mexico has ordered Dan and Mary Quaintance, co-founders of the dope-worshiping Church of Cognizance, to stand trial on possession and distribution charges. A Colorado judge recently decided to put that state's medical marijuana law to its first test against stoners James and Lisa Masters. Meanwhile, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents are harvesting a bumper crop of weed traveling north from Mexico, and last week prosecutors in New Hampshire handed down indictments against eight people busted for growing an estimated $30 million worth of dope.

But for stoners of a certain age, this steady drumbeat of legal blows is but a footnote to the year's biggest buzzkill to date: Namely, the recent deaths of 81-year-old Iwao Takamoto and 96-year-old Momofuku Ando. For the uninitiated, Takamoto and Ando are, respectively, the creators of those twin towers of stoner culture: Scooby Doo and Top Ramen.

What college-age stoner hasn't pondered the narcotic undertones of a paranoid Great Dane who, along with his archetypal stoner buddy, sees ghouls and goblins that none of his straight-edge companions can confirm, and then spends the rest of the episode seeking out a tranquilizing fix of "Scooby Snack?" Better yet: How many of those college-age stoners have only pondered Scooby's dope-fiend ways once they've smoked a blunt and are themselves sitting in front of the tube with a steaming bowl of ramen noodles?

Yes, if ever there was a foodstuff designed for the recently emancipated stoner, it would have to be ramen. But the relationship between Scooby Doo, Top Ramen and marijuana goes deeper than any happy accident of drugs, munchies and imagination in some college kid's brain.

Rather, it goes back to 1937, when the use of marijuana was first prohibited.

Europe was hurtling toward a war that would eventually pit Japan against the United States. Hemp, the drug's impotent cousin, was widely grown as an industrial crop, and Takamoto was a young Japanese immigrant living in California.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, they set in motion a series of events that would forever bind marijuana, Scooby Doo and Top Ramen. The U.S. placed Takamoto in a Japanese internment camp, where he learned the craft that would eventually give us Scooby Doo. Meanwhile, the nation embarked on a hemp-growing campaign with the slogan "Hemp for Victory," as it prepared to bomb Japan.

Now, everyone knows that our hemp-fueled victory proved a sad end for Ando's home country. But it was out of those ruins that he managed to create his futuristic dish. In his 2002 autobiography, How I Invented Magic Noodles, Ando writes that he came up with the idea for Top Ramen after seeing long lines of workers exhausted from the country's postwar rebuilding effort.

Ando's invention was (what else?) an instant success, and in 1972 he began exporting it to the U.S. His timing couldn't have been better: Three years earlier Takamoto premiered Scooby Doo — which, incidentally, coincided with the 1969 "Summer of Love," a.k.a. the golden age of stoner culture.

It was a perfect stoner storm: For mere pennies a discriminating flower child could feed every passenger on their Mystery Machine.

But price was never ramen's only stoner allure. Unlike, say, a frozen burrito that's nuclear hot on the outside and Kelvin cold in the center, all a perfect bowl of ramen demands is that a stoner have the presence of mind to boil two cups of water, tear open the foil flavor pack and wait three minutes.

The result? Stoner nirvana.

Not only is Ramen's thin broth amped up with enough monosodium glutamate to give it almost — not quite, but almost — the illusion that there is actual meat in those noodles, but that broth is studded with pleasing rehydrated herbs of unknown extraction. The thin noodles cling together, giving the dish real substance. What's more, today you can get your Top Ramen flavored with anything from creamy chicken to picante shrimp.

How about a Scooby Snack?