“This is amazing!” That was my 9-year old son raving in between big juicy slurps of his Black Garlic Tonkatsu ramen that I had just whipped up for him.
This five star review was soon followed by my wife, who after trying the Spicey Kimchi ramen I also made this afternoon, said “That’s soul satisfying food.”
Am I a ramen prodigy? A culinary genius? Not quite (or at all). Both of those delicious ramen dishes were courtesy of Yo-Kai Express, the automated ramen vending machine company that launched a ramen meal kit service last week. Right now, Yo-Kai’s meal kits are only available in parts the Bay Area, but the company was kind enough to overnight me a couple samples to try.
I was eager to see how all this would work for a number of reasons. I’m not the world’s best cook, and have certainly never made real ramen (read: not the bricks of dried noodles+salt you buy at the grocery store). I don’t really like traditional meal kits because they are too much work. And honestly, the Yo-Kai ramen was one of the highlights of my robot food tour of San Francisco last year, and I didn’t want to be disappointed.
Thankfully, the Yo-Kai meal kit came through.
All the ingredients for the two different dishes arrived in a plain box. I was a little concerned because the food wasn’t packed in dry ice or anything, but it was evident that the meats and broths had been shipped frozen. Tucked inside an insulated sleeve, they were still cold to the touch.
The one complaint I had about the meal kit was that it didn’t come with the cooking directions. I had to go to Yo-Kai’s site for those. Whether this was an accident or by design to get me back to menu and order page, I’m not sure.
The ramen kits run between $11 and $12 each, and both dishes were super easy to make. Boil water, add the noodles for a quick heat before draining. Heat up the broth and add the meat, corn, green onions and other ingredients right as it’s coming to a boil. Put everything in a bowl and enjoy.
The two dishes Yo-Kai sent: Black Garlic and Spicy Kimchi were delightful in their own completely different ways. The black garlic had a robust umami flavor with a lot of depth. The Kimchi, for this middle-aged suburban dad, was just the right amount of spicy. Enough to give the dish a punch, but not enough to distract from the flavors of the meal.
Look, I’m not a food critic, nor a ramen expert. I’m writing about this because I think it’s a fascinating move by Yo-Kai. As noted, the company’s main business is automated ramen vending machines. But vending machines are typically located in high-traffic areas like airports and office buildings. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing shelter-in-place orders, most of those locations aren’t high-traffic anymore. So the company is adapting. If you can’t make it to one of their machines, they’ll deliver the ramen to you, where you can enjoy it at your own social distance.
Those of us living outside the Bay Area are too distant to even get Yo-Kai’s ramen kits for now. And while moving back to California would mean I could get these meal kits all the time, I’m guessing that if Yo-Kai’s meal kit line takes off, they’ll be available up here soon enough.