Bong Joon-Ho’s Oscar-winning film Parasite (2019) perfectly showcases the topics of wealth inequality, class discrimination and the overall parasitic behavior of humans throughout society by way of the specific architecture, dialogues, and overall mise-en-scene and aesthetics present in the film. But, food items, too, are used as status symbols and ways to represent and illustrate class struggle – from folding pizza boxes for little money, to using peach fuzz as a weapon to move up in the world, to the fancy fruit platters for spoiled children and carrying blood-stained birthday cakes. Whilst the economic gap between the working-class Kim family and the rich upper-class Parks is always prominently visible, one adrenaline-inducing scene halfway through the film distinctly highlights wealth- and class disparity by way of a very peculiar instant noodle dish: “ram-don”, or jjapaguri.
The film’s English subtitles and many international viewers may refer to this dish as “ram-don”, but this is actually a fictional name coming from a combination of the words ramen/ramyeon and udon, which translators thought would be easier to recognize for international viewers. The actual name for this noodle dish is jjapaguri, which comes from a combination of the two specific types/brands of instant noodles commonly used to make it: black bean noodles ‘jjajangmyeon’, or its instant-noodle equivalent ‘Chapagetti/jjapagetti’ and Korean spicy seafood noodle soup ‘Neoguri’.
Indeed, Jjapaguri was already a known snack in South Korea way before Parasite ever premiered and made the dish so popular abroad. The jjapaguri featured in Parasite, however, is slightly different than the usual cheap comfort food most people know. In Parasite, the wealthy Park family casually (and wastefully) add some premium Korean Hanwoo, or Hanu beef to this usually humble dish. Now, Hanwoo is not just any regular steak, but it is actually one of the most expensive meats in the world. This over-the-top addition of rare meat elevates the commonly inexpensive dish that can usually be afforded by both rich and poor into a real upper class-only gourmet snack. As such, the dish perfectly symbolizes the theme of wealth inequality and serves almost as a taunt to the Kims (and viewers) especially when the dish is briefly offered to the housekeeper whose prepared it (mrs. Kim) after it’s already been refused by the Park children and later the husband, but then greedily taken back and consumed by mother Park herself because “it has sirloin (hanwoo)”.
Now, I know I am a bit late to the “ram-don” party and there are plenty recipes for this dish out there already (I like here and here)
and the need for a recipe is questionable in any way, as the directions on how to cook the noodles are on the packages, but ever since watching the film a few months ago, I’ve just been wanting to try it for myself… despite cooking a lot, I do always love a good instant noodle snack!
The thing is, as many others like me have found out, there is a slight bitterness that comes with “wanting to make ram-don from Parasite”. I think I am not just speaking for myself when I say that I really cannot casually afford hanwoo beef, neither the “sirloin steak” you see popping up in the English translations… not to mention the inevitable feelings of ridiculousness and wastefulness of adding it to a budget-type comfort food even if I could (which is, of course, what the director already tries to convey with this scene).
So, while I have been able to go out and buy some instant noodles to make my own ‘ram-don’, I am using flat iron steak for mine instead of that super boujee stuff, which I think is already a fancy enough upgrade for this dish and it certainly is delicious too.
Tip: serve with some refreshing pickled radish, or slices of cucumber on the side.
Jjapaguri (Ram-Don) from the Film Parasite
- 1 packet “Chapagetti” instant noodles (by Nongshim brand)
- 1 packet spicy seafood flavor Neoguri noodles (also by Nongshim brand), or other spicy seafood champong instant noodle
- 200g flat iron steak*, cut into 4cm cubes
- ½ tablespoon sunflower oil
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- ½ tablespoon butter
- 1 green onion, finely chopped
- *you can use whatever steak you like, or can afford, of course
- Bring water to a boil in a large enough saucepan over medium high heat.
- In the meantime, heat half a tablespoon of sunflower oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the cubed steak to the hot pan and brown the meat cubes well on all sides for only a few minutes (2 to 3 at most) until medium-rare to medium. Add the garlic halfway through cooking the steak to avoid it from burning. Finish the meat by adding a bit of butter. Toss to coat in melted butter and set aside to let it rest.
- When your water is boiling, add the dried vegetables from both chapagetti and Neoguri and both noodle blocks. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes.
- Drain the noodles, but reserve about 120ml (1/2 cup) of the cooking liquid. Add the contents of chapagetti’s vegetable oil packet and black bean sauce powder plus the spicy soup powder packet from the Neoguri (add only half of the latter if you don’t like spicy or very salty food). Stir to combine well.
- Add the cooked beef to the noodles and toss to combine.
- Kick your secret housemates down the stairs. Serve noodles immediately in a bowl with some finely chopped green onion on top.*