Snapshots from the UK: Wagamama's Defunct #28 (Chili Mushroom Ramen)
"Is my ramen some third grader who's no good at dodgeball and gets picked last for the team?"
Do you have that one thing, that favorite thing, on that one menu that you always order? You go back to that same restaurant for that same dish, year in and year out. But would you go back if that dish was brutally, surreptitiously stricken from the menu one dark night when no one is around to save it? This is the story of how I was separated, cruelly, from my Chili Mushroom Ramen: #28 at Wagamama.
Wagamama is a ubiquitous British noodle house chain, at which customers seat themselves up and down clean communal tables and clumsily scarf up huge strings of ramen noodles with chopsticks. No. 28 Chili Mushroom Ramen was a tortoise-size bowl of spicy vegetarian broth laced with whole wheat ramen noodles, doused with God knows what deliciousness, spiked with limes, spring onions, sliced fresh chilies, and bean sprouts, and crowned with sliced grilled Portobello mushrooms. I anointed it with chili oil. It was like vegan fire, and it was the light of my life.
My history with #28 is an emotional one. I am not the kind of expat who turns her nose up at all things American and suddenly finds herself speaking with a continental accent. Um…no. I was on a waitlist in Oxford to buy nine-dollar Smuckers Goober and five-dollar Kraft mac and cheese. As Americans, we should know that you have to pay high prices to cure any disease, and homesickness is no exception.
Then one day, I went with a new English friend to Wagamama, and I ordered #28. It was a new dish—only on the Oxford menu. Just like me! We met, and we fell in love. When I was lonely, I sat at the noodle bar with #28. When I was writing my dissertation and couldn't see straight, my computer and I sat at the noodle bar with #28. When it was cold outside and I had cold, me and my box of tissues sat at the noodle bar with #28. You understand. In a world full of Branston pickle and tuna salad with corn in it, it was my life line. I didn't even have to order; I sat down, and #28 would appear.
I went home to the U.S. for six months. I've wondered if #28 missed me as much as I missed it.
And now I've returned. My boyfriend took my hand and said, "I know it's hard to be back, but I'm taking you to your favorite place." Wagamama! I was to be reunited not only with him, but with my dear, precious #28. And then I saw the menu in the window—it was different. My heart stopped. They had chili chicken ramen; chili beef ramen. No, no, no! It wasn't the same thing! I scanned frantically over the ramens—it must be here!
It was gone. Just like that, slain in the night, stricken from public memory. Murdered. I looked up at him, and cursed his Chicken Katsu Curry addiction to Hell. Why should Chicken Katsu Curry survive when Chili Mushroom Ramen was clearly the better person, clearly deserved more to live!?
"There's no point," I said. "There is no reason for me to come here ever again." And with that, as though from a grave, we walked silently away. Needless to say, I had lost my appetite.
I called Wagamama the next day, and was told that #28 had not made the cut because "it wasn't very popular." What is this? Is my ramen some third grader who's no good at dodgeball and gets picked last for the team? I felt like the blind mother of some ugly, uncoordinated child who impresses no one. How could my very favorite thing not be loved, admired, and adored by absolutely everyone?
I was surprised by the force of my reaction, by how much comfort really is involved in comfort food—especially when you are continents and oceans away from the comforts of home, like twenty-five-cent mac and cheese. It's a good thing profound grief and loss leave you anything but hungry, because now I have nothing to eat.
Has this ever happened to you? Have you been able to raise your dish from the dead? Does anyone have #28 at their Wagamama? And Mr. Wagamama, if you're out there, bring back my #28!