Opinion: You Suck at Instant Noodles

Opinion: You Suck at Instant Noodles

Learn to froth the broth

There are but three things in this miserable world that are able to give me any semblance of something akin to joy: soup, frugality, and the quiet bliss of an instruction manual. Basically, the way everyone makes their instant noodles in this goddamn city is ensuring I will be first in line at campus’s new mental wellbeing centre. Fuck your dry ass noodles. 

Okay, sure, just because I personally enjoy a hearty properly-prepared bowl of instant soup noodles – soft but chewy ramen floating serenely in a glistening bowl of delicate broth – this doesn’t mean the rest of you can’t enjoy your unseasoned Maggi Chicken à la sinkwater, drier than your constipated butthole mid-comedown. But do you enjoy them? And why don’t we let ourselves think of instant noodles as a food we are permitted to put time into enjoying? 

The first step to enjoying instant noodles is: read the first step. Actually read the instructions on the packet. There are pictures and everything. Figure out if you’re meant to be making dry noodles or soup noodles – this is where a lot of people fuck up. While Indomie Mi Goreng are a dry (no soup) noodle based on Indonesian fried noodle dishes, most other instant noodles are variations of Chinese or Japanese noodle soup dishes; the broth is often the main event, and the noodles a humble vehicle for it. 

No, it isn’t “the juice” – it's soup. Not to be confused with a Western-style stew that you need an entire baguette and a pitchfork to get through, but a delicate bowlful of broth that can be slurped in large quantities to instantly warm your belly. Once you’ve sussed that you’re making soup noodles, that’s only half the battle. What kind of soup noodle? Are the noodles meant to be cooked on a stovetop, or soaked in boiling water? When do you add the flavour packet? Is the packet a “dump the whole thing in” or a “season to taste” where you’re really not meant to use the whole shebang? You wouldn’t cook a spag bol, biff the sauce down the drain, and then assert that bolognese is tasteless cold noodles covered in a red-tinged oil. Likewise, you wouldn’t cook it with an entire tube of tomato concentrate and boldly assert that Italian food is too salty. 

Perhaps one of the few things that keeps you feeling confident is that you think you know how to make instant noodles. They’re instant, after all – how hard can it be? This misunderstanding is the underpinning of flaccid noodles everywhere. You hubris-riddled fool, you. One day your bones will make my broth. The components that allow instant noodles to be, well, instant, are also that which require them to be precise. I swear on my MSG-encrusted soul that I can taste when Nissin Instant Tonkotsu was made without draining and replacing the original water. I can tell my Shin Ramyun is under-seasoned by smell alone. Over- or under-cooking by a mere minute can transform the taste and texture of the entire meal. Basically, it’s witchcraft, and when the spellbook is in front of you, you might as well read it. 

To the virgin raw flavour-packet snorter, these may seem like nitpicking semantics, but that’s because nobody appreciates the science – nay, the art – of the instant noodle. A good noodle soup can take days to prepare from scratch, and yet we’ve reduced it into simply flipping the switch on a kettle. We just don’t appreciate them like we should. Take the classic wavy ramen block shape, ubiquitous to the point of being used to mock every curly blonde for decades. Rather than just being “the shape that instant noodles are”, the folded wavelike block was revolutionary – the curls allow a full serving of noodles to fit into a small brick, while also creating elasticity, texture, and making it harder for them to slip off chopsticks. A plus for those with smooth, slippery brains. 

Furthermore, the flash-frying method (though air-drying is more common these days) allowed for a shelf-stable, easily mass produced meal – enough to help lift Japan out of post-war famine (true story). The first flash-fried noodles were a regional Chinese delicacy, and even when mass-produced instant noodles first hit shelves in 1950s Japan, they were considered a luxury and a novelty. These days, they’re synonymous with broke uni students and bachelor-dom. No one proudly proclaims that they’re eating instant noodles for dinner, and I think that’s a problem. 

We don’t make instant noodles properly because we don’t respect them as a foodstuff. Just because they’re a “depression food” it doesn’t mean they should be depressing to eat. If anything, it should mean the opposite. For many, instant noodles seem to be an almost shameful cop-out form of sustenance, a lazy feed, and not “real” food; but for me, I think of my mum’s Cantonese soups and the same care she puts into instant noodles. I think back to nervously serving instant ramen to my white friends after school and having them enthusiastically ask afterwards what I put in it. I think of the simple dignity of being able to have a good hot meal when I don’t have the energy for anything else. Sure, I’m biased – I eat more instant foods than literally anyone I know (I still think I could be an astronaut), I’ve gone on many unprompted rants about the superiority of clear broths, and I’m filled with the unbridled angst of the half-Asian diaspora. But if everyone could take a moment to enjoy instant noodles a fraction of how much I do, wouldn’t we all be a little bit happier? 

Game-changing instant noodle recs: ​​

Nissin - Japanese Tonkotsu Pork Flavour 
My favourite Japanese style instant ramen. For best results, follow the instructions to cook the noodles first on a stovetop and then drain the water before adding new water for the broth for a nice clear soup. 
Add: Bean sprouts and/or bok choy – simmer along with the noodles. Add ham, seaweed, and a boiled egg for lazy feelgood at-home ramen. 

Nongshim - Shin Ramyun Gourmet Spicy; Mild. 
Classic Korean instant ramen with yummy thick noodles – it’s even vegetarian. If a full pack of Shin Ramyun Spicy is too hot, pro tip: use half a pack of flavouring and then add a packet of miso soup. Or: don’t be a bitch. The new SOON mild version does slap, though. 
Add: Miso soup, spinach, bok choy. Also, trust me on this: try putting a hash brown or two in there. It’s fucked but it works. 

Trident - Pho Beef Rice Noodles; Tom Yum Rice Noodles
Rice noodles are the easiest instant noodle, as rice noodles are soaked rather than cooked. No stovetops, just boiling water and a nice mug. 
Add: Spring onions are insane here. To make the beef flavoured ones a lil’ fancy, add some roast beef and bean sprouts to the beef noodles when done, or just a bit of lite soy sauce. The tom yum ones benefit from some ham, spring onions, seasoning soy, and sesame oil – my current hyperfixation. 

Yum Yum - Duck flavour etc
Hands down the best budget instant noodle. Tasty both when cooked properly on a stovetop or when made with boiling water – a rare combo. Highly recommend the duck flavour, if you can find it. 
Add: Fried shallots (can be found in the international section) for an easy crunchy topping. Or add literally anything, cos this shit fucks.

Nissin - Tokyo Shoyu Ramen 
The noodles in this are thicker and less curled than your average instant ramen, for a bit more bite. They’re one of the most expensive of the lot, but it’s worth it for the lil bits. Mmm, bits. 
Add: A hardboiled egg and some seaweed. 

This article first appeared in Issue 10, 2024.
Posted 6:49pm Sunday 5th May 2024 by Lotto Ramsay.