When we were young my cousins and I would come home after school and snack our way through the kitchen like a pack of ravenous wolves. Most often it was frozen pizza, bought by the dozen at Costco and zapped in the microwave, or tv dinners. I have a vague memory of creamy chicken fettuccine, and sausage-and-egg-and-English-muffin sandwiches, also bought frozen and heated in the microwave. Other times we would make pots of udon noodles, simmered on the stove with frothy beaten eggs stirred in, perhaps with a handful of chopped scallions thrown in as well. As the only girl I was always the one voted to do the cooking (or microwaving, as the case may be. I was also always the one who called Domino's whenever we ordered pizza). The udon noodles came in shrink-wrapped plastic packages, cold and white and kinked together in flat squares; dropped into boiling soup they would soften and disentangle themselves, take on the rich flavor of the broth.
There are few things in life better than a bowl of noodle soup. Every culture has its infinite offerings; to claim a favorite is an impossible task. Sometimes I need the slippery, thick, chewiness of udon, made with white flour, the noodles slide through my chopsticks as I slurp away noisily. The broth tastes of the sea, fish underscored with the dark complexity of soy sauce, not the ordinariness of chicken or the sameness of beef. Sometimes I make it at home, with those same cold white noodles from the supermarket wrapped in plastic that we ate as children; other times I order it at one of my favorite Japanese restaurants, with a plate of tempura next to me, crisply-battered vegetables and giant shrimp to dip in the hot soup. It is for cold nights when the rain hisses against the windows (on hot days I turn instead to cold soba or somen, coiled in a bowl of ice, with a bowl of sauce on the side), when darkness falls silently and suddenly in the late afternoon without the dusklight hours.
I have staggered all through the day with a cold and a voice that is rapidly shredding like torn silk, and all I want is a bowl of noodles and my bed. Udon noodles are all I can think of, all day long. It takes only a brief detour to the nearby supermarket for packets of noodles and a carton of lemonade, which I lug the remaining three blocks home. A small pot of water comes swiftly to a boil on the electric coils of my stove, and in less time than it takes to blow my nose (well, perhaps to blow my nose three times) I am sitting crosslegged on the floor in the dark cave of my living room, watching tv and slurping down hot udon noodles in a savory broth, and I am comforted. It is a warm blanket and a soft pillow in a bowl.