When Antonio de Livier was growing up in Mexicali, Mexico, he and his friends would have contests to see who could make the best ramen concoctions. He'd add some lemon, someone else would add soy sauce. Pretty soon, he says, they were adding Tabasco, Maggi sauce, ketchup—even Clamato ended up in there at one point.
"My friends took pride when they said, "I make the best Maruchan ramen," says de Livier, remembering their childhood battles. Now, years later, de Livier has upped the ante, with what he's calling birriaramen, which he serves to hungry (and quite possibly hung over) crowds at his Mexico City restaurant Caldos Ánimo.
Back up. Birriaramen? Birria is a stew from Cocula, Jalisco—also the home of mariachi music—that is traditionally made with goat. The name comes from the Spanish word for trash and was bestowed on the dish by Spanish colonists because people would use whatever was readily available to make the stew.
"Birria is just a cheap animal, with dried spices, thrown into water, and then thrown in a wooden oven," explains de Livier.
He remembers first trying birria as a young boy with his grandmother in Guadalajara. He was obsessed. Back home in Mexicali, where there wasn't much birria to be had, de Livier hunted down alternatives to satiate his birria cravings with little success.
MAKE THIS: Birriaramen
After leaving Mexicali, de Livier went on to spend ten years working in the food industry in the United States under what he calls "dubious legal status." He worked in coffee shops, pizzerias, and, for a few weeks, at a shopping mall frozen yogurt stand before he got fired for giving away free ice cream to attractive women. It was while working in high-end kitchens in Boston that he developed a passion for cooking, and about ten years ago his penchant for tinkering inspired him to add noodles to his birria.
And while the Spaniards may have thought birria was trash, de Livier's recipe is pretty far from it. His starts with an intense, beef-shank-infused stock that he then uses as a base for tomatoes, tomatillos, both pasilla and guajillo chilies, plus oxtail and short ribs. He also obsesses over details like the ramen noodles' alkalinity, for example, at one point traveling to a specific noodle factory in California to procure the perfect specimen. The whole thing gets finished with a flurry of cilantro, white onion, and sliced radishes. It's everything you want from birria, with noodles.
"Some friends of mine back in Mexicali saw me and said, 'I remember when you you used to put ketchup on your pasta," recalls Livier, confessing that lasagna edges with ketchup are still his favorite snack.
You can get the super-specifically-alkaline noodles to make it yourself or you can use Maruchan like he and his friends did in the bad old days in Mexicali. But maybe leave the ketchup out.
This first appeared on MUNCHIES in July 2017.