Know Your Noodles
By Maya Kashima
A junk food favorite the world around, instant noodles are a cheap, quick meal perfect for college students. Familiar classics Top Ramen and Cup Noodles can be found at any Safeway, but local grocery stores like Berkeley Bowl, KP Market (Oakland), Tokyo Fish Market (Albany), and 99 Ranch (Richmond, other locations) offer up a wealth of delicious options to anyone looking to expand their palate. Here are a few suggestions for the budding ramen connoisseur:
The Instant Classic: Sapporo Ichiban Miso Ramen
Sapporo Ichiban’s Original and Chicken flavors are widely available in the U.S., but this Japanese import is one of their most popular products in Asia. The portion is larger, the noodles more delicate, and the soup base umami-er, a delicious take on miso with a hint of soy sauce. This is a great base for adding vegetables and meat to make a well-rounded meal out of your instant ramen.
The Flavor-packed: Mama Shrimp Tom Yum
The only Southeast Asian entry on this list, Mama’s Shrimp Tom Yum balances a savory seafood taste with a kick of lime and mild spiciness. The noodles are thin and remain relatively al dente in comparison to other brands. The serving size is slightly smaller than others, but at under 300 calories, it is by far the healthiest option on this list.
Hot & Spicy: Nongshim Shin Ramyun Black
Shin Ramyun is Korea’s most famous instant ramen. The flavorful beef and chili-based broth and the chewy, slightly larger noodles have led to a massive cult following; one can find Shin Ramyun shirts, keychains, socks, and other products to show love for the dish. Shin Ramyun Black, as opposed to the standard version in the red packaging, is the premium option. It comes with a sauce packet, in addition to the powder, as well as more dehydrated vegetables and meat. The beef stock and anchovies found in the Black version give it a more complex and satisfying flavor than the original, making it a worthwhile splurge.
Hotter & Spicier: Samyang HOT Chicken Flavor Ramen
The “Fire Noodle Challenge” of viral video fame has introduced the world to Samyang, a lesser known Korean brand that produces some of the spiciest instant ramen on the market. If you’re interested in trying the challenge, purchase the version in the red packaging labeled “2x Spicy” and try to down it as fast as you can. Proceed with caution though, even the regular version in the black packaging made this reviewer’s lips and tongue go numb! If you think you can handle the heat, this ramen is certainly worth it. The spiciness doesn’t detract at all from the savory chicken flavor, which is rare among ultra-hot foods. Also, it’s Halal Certified!
Comfort Food: Maruchan Akai Kitsune Udon Bowl
Maruchan’s Kitsune Udon is a world away from their ubiquitous and bland “Instant Lunch.” The perfectly-salty soy-based soup complements the udon noodles, which are thinner than most fresh udon. The noodles are topped with aburaage, often translated as “sweetened deep-fried tofu.” For those familiar, the flavor is similar to the skin on inari sushi. The large piece of fluffy, chewy tofu soaks up the broth, making this bowl a unique departure from packaged noodles.