Nearly a month after Parasite’s historic Oscar win, the hit South Korean film still lives on in the menus of New York City restaurants. Korean spots across town introduced versions of the movie’s noodle dish “ram-don” to their menus as specials in the days surrounding the movie awards, but weeks later, many of them have decided to keep selling the dish due to customer demand. These ram-dons come with housemade broths or wagyu beef, handmade noodles or prime rib, and though it’s based on a humble instant noodle dish, on a New York City menu it can sell for anywhere from $13 to $25.
“Ram-don” wasn’t technically a real Korean food before Parasite. As has already been pointed out, the name ram-don does not exist anywhere but in the film’s English subtitles. The term, an amalgamation of “ramen” and “udon,” was invented by the film’s translator as an easier-to-remember stand-in for the Korean noodle dish jjapaguri. And what appears in Parasite isn’t even a standard jjapaguri. The dish is traditionally only made using two kinds of instant noodles, Chapaghetti and Neoguri, which are combined as a way to make a cheaper meal more interesting.
“It’s essentially peasant food,” says Simon Kim, owner of the Michelin-starred Korean restaurant Cote. “Jjapaguri is super easy to make and not very expensive. It’s the thing you ate when your mom was at the grocery store.”
In Parasite, director Bong Joon Ho tops the dish with premium sirloin, an extension of the film’s critiques on wealth, class, and privilege. As Kim put it, “This dish is wildly popular in Korea, but it’s only good enough for the [wealthy] family in the film when it’s made with hanu,” a premium cut of Korean beef more expensive than American wagyu.
Although Parasite’s version of jjapaguri isn’t the one that many Koreans grew up eating, it is the one that people appear to be hungry to try. Demand for premium jjapaguri in the wake of the film has forced some of the city’s top Korean restaurants to figure out how to sell a dish that consists of just three ingredients — two of which are instant noodles — and costs roughly two dollars to make.
Most restaurants are serving jjapaguri with housemade noodles instead of instant ones, or otherwise adding accoutrements. Yurum Nam of Zusik on West 14th Street says the restaurant’s $20 version of the dish uses hand-pulled noodles because it “wouldn’t be a good idea to use instant food.” At luxe Korean barbecue restaurant Samwon Garden, general manager Jefferson Cho says that he first considered putting truffle on jjapaguri to make it more “refined,” but ultimately decided to just add prime short ribs and sell it for $13.95.
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And Esther Choi, chef and owner of Brooklyn restaurant Mokbar, says that she made her own noodles because it “wouldn’t make sense” to serve instant ramyun at an upscale noodle shop. Her version, which features seafood in addition to beef, costs $25, and Mokbar regularly sells out.
Cote is one of the few Korean restaurants in New York that prepares the dish using actual instant ramyun noodles instead of homemade ones. Even though Kim considers his version of jjapaguri to be “authentic” and “high low-brow,” he justifies the use of instant noodles — and their $18 price tag — by adding housemade broth and a heap of the restaurant’s well-liked wagyu.
The dish was added to Cote’s late-night menu in early February and has been wildly successful, with as many as 50 bowls selling in a single evening. But Kim says there’s “zero chance” he would have been able to sell a dish made from instant noodles without the film’s widespread success. Or without Cote’s Michelin star.
The irony of a Michelin-starred restaurant selling instant noodles is a little on the nose: Just as the wealthy Park family in Parasite believed in the credibility of the Kims because of things like university degrees and letters of recommendation, diners seem to be just fine paying nearly $20 for instant noodles because a luxury company has given the restaurant a stamp of approval. People who buy a fancy and more expensive version of a classically instant noodle dish aren’t exactly abiding by the film’s core messages about wealth and excess.
But if the last four weeks are any indication, New Yorkers appear to want art, not the life it imitates — specifically, New Yorkers who aren’t Korean.
Several restaurants that sell jjapaguri — labeling it on their menus as “ram-don,” sometimes next to a mention of Parasite — say that most of the people who are buying it are not Korean. More often, they’re fans of the film who want to try a version of the dish but did not grow up eating it, Kim says. He said that many of the people buying Cote’s late-night jjapaguri special are “white New Yorkers,” although he added that he (and his staff who also grew up with it) have enjoyed the dish, as well.
The chefs and restaurateurs who are serving jjapaguri say they know their version isn’t true to what they grew up eating. Still, they’re thrilled that more people are looking for ways to engage with a part of Korean culture that, before Parasite, had yet to see the light of the mainstream. “People will travel here from other cities to try Mokbar’s jjapaguri,” Choi says. “They come in and hold up their phone and say, ‘I want this.’”
She’s proud of the film’s popularity and created the dish because of it, she says. The night of the Oscars, Choi says she never went to bed. “I stayed up through the night thinking of different ways that I could introduce New Yorkers to this dish.” She considers the version she landed on — made with seafood, ribeye steak, and black bean sauce — to be “a masterpiece.”