Yin F Lim

Creative Nonfiction

How to Build a Bowl of Ramen

“Ramen = broth + noodles + meat + toppings and garnishes. It’s that simple and that complex, because variations are endless.”

— David Chang, Momofuku
  1. Prepare for assembly.

    Make sure the noodles are cooked, broth heated, proteins and toppings sliced, soup base and aroma oil on standby.

    Marry at 26.

    Map out your life.

    Years 1 and 2: just the two of you as you set up home, build careers, travel.

    Year 3: first baby arrives. Year 5: good time to have second baby.

    By the end of Year 3, still no baby.

    By Year 4, time to seek help.

  2. Add 2 tsp of soup base in bowl.

    The soup base is essential, providing flavour through soy sauce, miso, salt.

    Take test after test to identify what essential element is missing: semen analysis, hormone blood test, ultrasound scan, a laparoscopy to check fallopian tubes.

    Prepare to be poked, prodded, penetrated with machines and questions.

    Discover a new language of abbreviations: FSH, LH, PCOS.

    Learn to speak in multi-syllables: oestrogen, progesterone, hysterosalpingography.

    Undergo surgery to remove fibroids and half an ovary.

    Start fertility treatment: self-injecting hormones, self-inducing ejaculation.

    Timetable sex; you’re no longer making love, you’re making baby.

  3. Pour 350ml hot broth over soup base.

    The broth forms the foundation of a good bowl of ramen, but it’s basically meaty water so swirl well with the soup base.

    Wake to a flood of longing, your arms still cradling the baby from last night’s dream.

    Shed a flood of tears with each month’s crimson disappointment.

    Hold back the flood of howls at the sight of yet another expectant belly, at the arrival of yet another nephew or niece.

    Resist the flood of self-recrimination: should have started trying sooner. Should have been more relaxed; Should have stayed still longer after artificial insemination.
  1. Add noodles.

    Noodles are the staple of the dish but can take the longest time to prepare.

    Question your gospel truths, like the one about becoming a mother someday.

    And the one about being able to control when that would happen.
    Take up yoga to calm your mind.

    Start going to church again to seek divine intervention.

    Learn to pray for a miracle.

  2. Add your choice of protein.

    Ramen is traditionally served with braised pork belly but shredded chicken, minced pork and tofu can also be used. Don’t forget the soft-boiled marinated egg.

    Drink the double-boiled chicken essence your mother makes to fortify your body.

    Gulp down the foul brew your TCM1 doctor prescribes to unblock your qi flow.

    Swallow the spirulina supplements the fertility clinic nurse sells on the sly, the ones you buy to escape the barely-veiled pity in her eyes.

  3. Drizzle over the aroma oil.

    Seasoned oil adds further taste to the broth. For instance, chilli oil provides fire and heat.

    Feel the burn of shame when a colleague pats your Clomid-bloated belly, asking when you are due.

    Suppress the burn of anger when an old friend asks: Still no kids – what are you waiting for?

    Manage that flare of hope each time you’re late, when you squint so hard you think you can see a faint pink line on the test stick you’d just peed on.

  4. Add your toppings and garnishes.

    Classic garnishes include sliced green onions, toasted sesame seeds and seaweed. Be creative and use anything that adds flavour and crunch.

    Tire of losing control over your body.

    Stop all treatment.

    Order books with titles like Living a Child-Free Life and Complete Without Kids.

    Toss them aside after the first chapter.

    Smile with mouth clamped shut when your well-meaning, mother-of three friend says she prayed for God to take away your longing for a child.

    Consider adoption. Fill out the multi-page application form and ask for references that vouch for your suitability as parents.

    Practice for the interview and wonder why no one is screened when they get pregnant, especially those who go on to abuse or abandon their children.

  5. Inhale the fragrance of the bowl of ramen.

    Eat quickly while it’s hot, slurping the noodles.

    Take a deep breath.

    Prepare for more waiting.

    Prepare to let it go.

    Maybe that’s when it’ll happen – when you’ve given up expecting.

1. Traditional Chinese Medicine

Contributor Note

In writing my hermit crab essay, I wanted to question how we take our bodies’ fertility for granted, the way many of us tend to take food for granted. Food that nourishes and sustains us, helps us grow. Similarly, we expect a woman’s body to be able to grow a life, nourish and sustain it. But what if it can’t seem to do so?

Discovering that your body does not behave the way you expect it to can trigger all sorts of emotions—swinging from disappointment, frustration, despair, anger, to regret, sorrow, grief—as you grapple with the loss of certainty and control. To bring out the intensity of these feelings in my essay, I chose the methodical process of assembling a bowl of ramen as a counterpoint to an experience that is anything but orderly.

I started making my own ramen during the pandemic lockdown, when I learnt to appreciate the therapeutic value of multi-process cooking as well as the sense of agency derived from deciding what to put in your bowl: the noodles, vegetables, toppings for your preferred ramen combination. This once again, is a counterpoint to the lack of control experienced with infertility treatments, where you’re required to surrender your body to doctors, nurses and a step-by-step process that—unlike building a bowl of ramen—does not necessarily lead to the results you want.

Yin F Lim is a Malaysian-born writer and editor who lives in the UK. Her creative non-fiction on family, food and migration has appeared in various publications including Moxy, Porridge, American Writers Review’s “Art in the Time of Covid-19” special issue, and Hinterland Magazine where she is a co-editor. Yin holds a Biography and Creative Non-Fiction MA from the University of East Anglia. Find her on Twitter @YinFLim

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