Kintaro "Miso Ramen"

Brand: Kintaro
Flavour: Miso Ramen
Format: ceramic bowl
Packets: zero
Identifiables: noodles, pork, veggies, miso soup
Sodium: unknown

My friend Steve called me up last week. "How are you for some noodle tourism?" he asked. Noodle tourism? The next thing I knew, I found myself in Vancouver's West End in a little ramen restaurant called "Kintaro".

Now, I live near Seattle. Going up to Vancouver isn't terribly difficult. Still, there's a certain magic to crossing country lines just to get a good noodle, and the idea of reviewing ramen that hadn't come from a packet was too amusing for me to pass up. Thus, armed with camera and much hunger, I approached a Japanese-style ramen restaurant.

There was a brief line to get a seat. While I stood, I snapped a photo of the open kitchen. I saw all manner of things being cooked in giant drums, and I smelled all manner of delightful smells. A feeling came over me of wonder and amazement. Those instant noodles I'd been reviewing all these months... many of them were attempts to replicate this environment, this food. Just how would they stack up, now that I would have a reference point?

Once seated, I recieved a simple one-page laminated menu. There were many choices, but I had to follow through on the simplest thing there; miso ramen. The only choices were how thick I wanted the broth (I went with medium) and whether I wanted fatty or lean pork (I went with fatty, the flavour's well worth it). I sipped at water and waited.

In short order I recieved an absolutely massive bowl of rich-smelling miso ramen. The noodles were completely obscured beneath a mound of bean sprouts, sweet corn, green onion pieces, and a five-centimetre disc of half-centimetre-thick barbecued pork. I snapped a photo – admittedly, I was slightly self-conscious about carefully photographing my food before digging in – and then set to eating.

The noodles were just the right texture, I felt, though long enough that it took real effort to slurp them up. The veggies were crisp and of decent quality. The barbecued pork was very tasty, and made its presence known throughout the bowl. The miso broth was quite rich, leading me to wonder about what the "heavy" broth would be like. The most surprising aspect of the meal, though, was the sheer size of it. I went in hungry, and while I did manage to get most of the noodles, there was still quite a bit of broth and other bits left when I had hid my limit.

Now, this isn't an inexpensive proposition, compared to the average instant noodle bowl. It cost, as I recall, 7.75 Canadian dollars (6.25 U.S. dollars) – I certainly should have written it down, yes? Most of the bowls I've had cost anywhere from one to three U.S. dollars. It can be worth the money to get the fresh ingredients and the sheer size of the bowl, but it's also nowhere neat instant. It may be prepared for you, but I've never had to wait more than six minutes for instant! (That's why "packaging" is a five, but "prepearation" is a one; I had to go to Canada to get the stuff, but I didn't have to clean anything up afterwards!)

The verdict? I would definitely go again and try another dish, but I wouldn't call the brick-in-packet phenomenon lost at all.

Numbers: packaging 5, preparation 1, heat 1, flavour 4, overall 4
Music: I don't recall that there was any, but it was a bit loud in there....


Nissin "Cup Noodles Souper Meal: Chicken Flavor with Vegetable Medley"

Brand: Nissin
Flavour: Cup Noodles Souper Meal: Chicken Flavor with Vegetable Medley
Format: cardboard bowl
Packets: three
Identifiables: noodle chunk, flavour powder, veggie bits, mystery ooze
Sodium: 2.54 grams

Oh, this one will take some explaining, and I don't know what order to explain in.

This is an American soup bowl. What I mean is that it's essentially a giant chicken-flavoured Cup Noodle but with slightly different veggies and many more herbs and a packet of mystery ooze called "Flavor Enhancer". There is absolutely no spice to it whatsoever, and the flavour is salty and unoffensive. The bowl is massive, and labelled only with English and Spanish directions. There is nothing un-American about the dish except that it was manufactured in China. I felt that it needed a little extra Orientalishness (is it a word? It is now) so not only did I eat it with chopsticks, but I even threw in an extra one. That's right; I'm holding three chopsticks, one for each colour of the Korean flag, in my left hand in that photo. Fear me.

Initially, the package was wrapped in cellophane, and the cellophane kept the loose packet of mystery ooze from getting lost. They could have simply put it inside the sealed bowl, but I think there was supposed to be some kind of impression that it was high-class ramen – I mean, noodle soup – because it had an extra packet. Perhaps I'm just too jaded not only by more complex ramen but also by Americanised marketing tactics, but I found myself unimpressed. I unwrapped the package, peeled the lid completely off as per directions, and then stared inside.

The noodles were in a strange shape, something like a truncated piece of a sphere. I searched for a geometric term. Circle is to sector as sphere is to... what? I gave up and opened the powder and veggies to pour them in before adding room-temperature water. Why do they even put the stuff in packets, when the standard styrofoam Cup Noodle just has it all mixed together from the start?

After five minutes in the microwave and two minutes to sit, I opened the packet of mystery ooze – I mean, "Flavor Enhancer" – and squeezed it in. The liquid inside started to come out dark brown, and then changed to clear. The fear began to set in. This is America, my internal voice started to cry. We just aren't ready for things like good beer, intelligent television, and liquid that changes colour as it is poured. Nonetheless, in it went, and I stirred.

The truth is, it's not bad. It's not terribly interesting, but it does taste like chicken soup, the noodles are the right texture, and except for perhaps the cabbage, the vegetables are right. If you're looking for a gateway drug to bring timid family members into the wide world of multi-packet ramen, this might be the way to go... the truth, justice, and American way to go.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 3, heat 1, flavour 3, overall 3
Music: Rush - Exit... Stage Left - Freewill


Indomie "Mi Goreng BBQ Chicken"

Brand: Indomie
Flavour: Mi goreng BBQ Chicken
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: five
Identifiables: noodle brick, flavour powder, soy sauce, chili sauce, fried onion bits
Sodium: 0.90 grams

There's a problem with Batch Two: Revenge of the Noodle. Quite simply, I love spicy food, and I seem to have already reviewed everything in it that's spicy. Now, the booster pack I recieved from Pat McK. is full of stuff which is (or can be) spicy, so I'm making certain to use those to satisfy the cravings for real heat, but this means that the last few things in Round Two will take a bit longer to get to. For example, I've reviewed another Indomie noodle today.

Now, most of the Indomie packets look exceedingly similar; white background, photo of prepared noodles with immense amoutns of extra stuff stacked on top, solid-colour banners, and text reading "Mi goreng" in friendly italic Bodoni with more details in a semibold Helvetica. (Yeah, typography geek.) Honestly, it all feels a bit dated, and I'm always tempted to check the "Best Buy" date to make sure I didn't get a packet from the early seventies by mistake.

Fortunately, the flavour never lets me down, even if it's not quite what I expect. This one claims to have barbecue chicken flavour, though the chicken is entirely artificial. With the variety of flavours coming together in the dish, however, it's hard to say that there's any chicken in particular. After all, there are five packets in here.


Roll that around in your head for a moment. This particular ramen has more parts to it than the average sandwich. One must cook noodles and drain them, then stir in flavour powder, soy sauce, chili sauce, and oniony-garlicky-oily stuff. Finally, only right before serving, one opens the mysterious fifth "sachet" to find crispy fried onions. It's the most complex ramen I've made yet, yet it's not that much worse than any other "dry" style noodle. Still, about the only way to top this would be, say, if I had to mix one of the packets in with the noodles while cooking, a different one after, fry up a third packet of sauce before adding the noodles back in, stir in a fourth packet after adding the noodles back in, then top the mess with other bits. (Now that I mention it, I may have to invent such a thing. Who here would buy and eat Electric Keet brand ramen?)

As always, I prepared as directed. The catch is, the camera I normally use is actually owned by one of my flatmates who is presently on holiday, so I had to use the lower-quality backup, I didn't have any of my usual clear bowls, so it's a solid ceramic one this time. It's the most slipshod review ever, and I have to say, this noodle deserved better. It's every bit as good as the standard "Mi goreng", perhaps more so because the onion bits really do add to it.

Still... five packets? The preparation rating is a two, but a very low two at that. Also, I'm docking a point from the packaging because the three sauce packets were stuck together in a way that really demanded I ignore the pinking and use a scissors to release the tasty goodness within. Even with that, it's a top-notch noodle, and I'm really having to fight the urge to make a second one because it's simply that tasty.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 3, flavour 5, overall 5
Music: Tomohiti Nishiura - Dark Cloud 2 (PS2) - Veneccio


Samyang "KalGugSu"

Brand: Samyang
Flavour: KalGugSu
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: two
Identifiables: noodle brick, flavour powder, veggie bits
Sodium: 1.93 grams

I hate to accuse any ramen of being "fairly standard", especially when there are differing standards. After all, most of the ramen that comes in a brick-in-packet format has at least two packets because one contains veggie bits, and such a packet is practically unheard of for what most people think of as ramen here in the States. In this blog, however, I seem to have shifted toward the one which includes veggies, and as such, this ramen is fairly standard.

About the only particularly curious notes are in regard to the packaging. The edges of the main packet are straight save for a small patch of pinking, which would seem very modern and clever if not for the fact that tearing the packet at that spot would cleave the instructions right down the centre. In that area lies the other oddity; the Korean and Japanese instructions both call for 700cc of water to be boiled, whereas the English instructions call for only 650cc. I'm still trying to figure out how that happened.

So, I split the difference and boiled somewhere between 650 and 750cc of water. Then, I added everything, idly wondering why it was even in different packets if it would all be boiled together for the exact same amount of time. (My curent guess? It's probably to keep the powder from clumping.) The wide, flat noodles took six minutes to cook, double the usual amount.

The result? Well, it's mushroom-and-noodle soup. The flavour is mostly mushroom, with a little bit of fish and other seasonings but nothing strong enough to jump out at my palate. The veggie bits were standard, carrots and seaweed and onions and a couple other assorted things. The noodles had pretty much the same "bite" as the average ramen noodle does. There was no spicy heat at all to the dish. Honestly, I found myself utterly uninspired, but not disgusted. It's edible, it's tasty enough, but it's about as boring as one can get without being an active disappointment.

Sorry about that. I'll definitely have to make up for this with something really odd for my next review....

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 1, flavour 2, overall 2
Music: Electric Light Orchestra - Strange Magic - Last Train to London


Nong Shim "Doong Ji"

Brand: Nong Shim
Flavour: Doong Ji
Format: plastic tray
Packets: two
Identifiables: noodle disc, veggie and fish bits, chili sauce
Sodium: 1.06 grams

This blog, this adventure into instant noodles, has been a heck of a ride so far. Expectations have been defied at every turn, and I've experienced some interesting foods I might never have known before. It is in this theme of discovery and wonder that I present today's ramen.

First, the package clearly states that Doong Ji is "Authentic Korean Cold Noodles in Chili Sauce", with the "Chili Sauce" part in larger type and in boldface. They consider this very important. In fact, the package has many strange points to make. On the back, there's an explanation that Nong Shim keeps to traditional methods (Ripe Korean pears and freshly crushed red peppers are aged to perfection for seven days... fascinating!) and something about air-drying the noodles to maintain firmness. The package also claims that the noodles are convenient because they're packaged in single servings, directly contradicting the nutrition facts label which insists that the servings number two. Also interesting is that the package is rather specific about how to boil the noodles. There are warnings about keeping the heat low when boiling so the water doesn't boil over, and how to keep the noodles from boiling over, and various thigns that all seem like elementary parts of cooking.

I opened the outer wrapper. This was not so simple a matter as it should have been, mostly because the single notch for tearing open the package would have guaranteed the destruction of the directions; I instead opened one end as I might a package of cookies. (Mmm, cookies.) Inside, I found a thin plastic tray containing a dark brown noodle disc (!) and two packets. The tray didn't seem sturdy nor smooth enough to be a serving dish; instead, it was primarily to keep the noodle disc from being crushed, I would assume. One packet held veggie-and-fish bits. The other packet, completely opaque, held some sort of liquid, and had the directions for cooking repeated on the back... in Korean. I shrugged (as is often necessary in this business) and set to preparation.

I understand now why there were all those warnings. For some reason, these noodles are indeed prone to causing some pretty impressive boiling. Three minutes later, I found myself draining the noodles in a strainer because I was afraid to lose the vegetables, especially given several cycles of rinsing to get the noodles cold, which always seems a little bizarre. Cold noodles? I just cooked this stuff, and now I'm... what, uncooking it? You got to be hot before you can be cool!

The noodles and un-dessicated (ressicated?) veggies and fish went into a bowl, and I poured the sauce packet over it all. The scent was instant and recognisable. I stirred, quickly, and sampled some of the thin, cold noodles. My theory was confirmed. A better way to quickly describe the flavour is this: Imagine that I took a bowl with some slightly-sweeter-than-usual kimchi and mixed in cold wheat noodles and a few bits of salted fish. That's what I had in my hands, dear friends, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that I was ecstatic. I've always loved the flavour, and I had just gotten it from a shelf-stable package of instant noodles!

The thing is, it took somewhat more prep than I'm accustomed to for an instant noodle lunch. In fact, nearly all the convenience of a packet of ramen was lost, save the single-serving amounts; I had to involve a pot, a strainer, a bowl, and my own chopsticks for this ramen! That really does bring the overall score down, along with the sense that the thin-but-firm texture of the noodles is wrong somehow. Still, I feel that anything else which claims to be kimchi-flavoured noodle will pale by comparison, and that's worth a lot. Don't think of it as a convenient lunch, merely one that you can keep around for days in which you have time to cook but not to buy fresh ingredients.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 5, flavour 4, overall 4
Music: The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots - Are You A Hypnotist??


Indomie "Mi goreng"

Brand: Indomie
Flavour: Mi goreng
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: four
Identifiables: noodle brick, soy sauce, onion oil, flavour powder, chili powder
Sodium: 0.84 grams

I mentioned a short time back that Pat McK. sent me a whole boxful of instant noodles. Today, I finally opened up the most well-known and anticipated of those... the "Mi goreng" flavour. The picture on the wrapper shows brownish noodles with a variety of vegetables, a couple prawns, and a fried egg on top... but only the brown noodles are within. Also, be aware that the packaging proudly declares not merely that the dish is halal, but that there are four seasoning sachets within. Consider for a moment the implications of this last part. First, who uses the word "sachet" anymore? Second, four of them? Anybody who's read Watership Down knows that this is the highest number that bunnies can count, so we're really pushing some limits here.

I examined these four sachets. It turns out that they come in grafted Siamese-twin-like pairs. One has the seasoning oil, "minyak bumbu", which is a disturbing blend of pale yellow fluid, murky brown sediment, and little white flakes as one might feed to fish. Next to that is "kecap / soya sauce" which turns out to be the thicker sort, rather like salty chocolate sauce. The shird sachet is called "bumbu sauce", but contains white powder which smelled a bit garlicky. Adjacent to that was the final packet, the chili powder, labelled "cabe". The yellow line art on that is inexplicable; a mutant chef with a small pumpkin for one shoulder snapping invisible fingers at a chili half again his height. I think they're doing a dance number.

I boiled four hundred millilitres of water as directed, all the time wondering who a number was even specified if I'd just have to drain the stuff afterwards anyhow. In a bowl (the instructions say plate, but really, that's absurd) I mixed the full contents of the four sachets – they were, by the way, rather easy to open, even if getting all the sediment out of the seasoning oil packet was troublesome. The noodles cooked in three minutes, and drained easily. I stirred the mess together, snapped a photo, and then thought to myself, "Self, normally we type while eating. Why not simply eat now and type afterwards?" The delightful scent of the oniony ramen had gotten to me, and I could contain my hunger no more!

The noodles are reasonably sturdy, but the best far is the flavour. Oniony, garlicky, and with a fried flavour that I couldn't stop eating. Pat suggested that the previously reviewed Mi goreng might actually have the edge on taste, and I'm inclined to agree, but that doesn't count this one out by any means. The effort to make it is certainly worth it, and I find myself incredibly tempted to open the second packet and make it a large lunch.

Final verdict? If you can't find that other stuff, then stock up on this.

Numbers: packaging 4, preparation 2, heat 3, flavour 5, overall 5
Music: David Byrne - Sounds of True Stories - Freeway Son


Ottogi "Bekse Curry Myon"

Brand: Ottogi
Flavour: Bekse Curry Myon
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: two
Identifiables: noodle brick, veggie bits, soup powder
Sodium: 1.94 grams

Is there anything so misunderstood as curry? Honestly, take a look at the Wikipedia article on it and just try to figure out exactly what curry is, I dare you. Well, Ottogi seems fond enough of the phenomenon, and not only do they produce a curry-flavoured ramen, but they page it in a gold-tone wrapper. Classy, no?

Of curious note are the directions on this package. The first direction is to "Bring 450cc of water and vegetable flakes to a rolling boil. Add noodles and powder soup into boiling water. Cook for another 4 minutes and serve." That, my friends, is a single direction. The entire preparation and consumption of the dish is condensed into part one of two. What more could there possibly be?

Direction two is, "Adjust the amount of powder soup as needed. Add kimchi for better taste." Oh, now you tell me! I already served the noodles, you see....

Also interesting is that the package proudly proclaims that a total of three-hundred milligrams of Turmeric (capitalised as such!) is included for my health. Is turmeric particularly healthy? It turns out that it certainly could be. I feel healthier already.

The cooked ramen was, admittedly, a bit surprising. I'm accustomed to seeing bits of seaweed, carrot, and other odds and ends, but this marks the first time I have ever seen broccoli in instant noodles. It's a bit like driving one's morning commute and passing some guy on a unicycle. It's not within the realm of impossibility, but it's so startlingly unusual that one's co-workers will certainly hear about it. In fact, it almost completely distracted me from the potato bits.

These non-standard ramen vegetables did not deter me in the least, friends. I gladly sampled the sturdy noodles in their rich, ochre (mustard yellow? yellow-brown? curry-coloured?) sauce, and I found them reasonably good. The noodles were slightly less firm than I'd have liked, and a touch slimy with the sauce, but that's almost a nitpick more than a criticism. Plenty of curry flavour came through without any unexpected overtones. There wasn't really any broth, but a very loose sauce; I imagine that cooking in just a little less water would have done wonders for this.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 3, flavour 4, overall 3
Music: Linus Åkesson - Fratres (Arvo Pärt)


Myojo "Ippeichan Yakisoba"

Brand: Myojo
Flavour: Ippeichan Yakisoba
Format: foam tray
Packets: four
Identifiables: noodle brick, veggie bits, assorted spices, soup base, mustard mayonnaise
Sodium: 1.70 grams

I must confess a love for the "dry-style" noodles. I know that these are not technically "ramen", as they lack broth, but they are instant noodles and such I intend to continue enjoying and reviewing them. In this particular case especially, that is a fortunate decision.

I was up late and jonesing for some noodle, so I picked a semi-random item from my sizable collection. Myojo was running at a fifty-percent success rate, in my estimation, so I knew this could be risky. Also daunting were the four packets included. Four! To make it truly epic, one of those packets was labelled "mustard mayonnaise", which to American ears may seem like saying "cat dog". Generally, these are two separate ingredients, and to merge them is madness.

I must say, however, that the packaging design impressed me. Not only is the look of the outer wrapper top-notch, but once that's peeled away the inside has a very modern design that inspired confidence in the eater. This is no slap-dash noodle; it is hi-technical excellent taste and flavour. It's also extremely convenient and well-considered, right down to the awesome-looking peel-off drain spout. I considered it notable enough to get a separate picture of it after opening. It looks like the sort of future in which I wish to live. It impressed me enough that I decided to slip it a rank five for packaging even though it doesn't come with its own eating utensils.

But, the loyal reader may ask, how is the product for taste? Surprising in many ways. The mustard mayonnaise, sweet soy soup base, vegetables, and spices combine to form a delightful yakisoba flavour which doesn't overpower the thin, wheaty noodles in the way one might expect from such ingredients. The texture is pleasant, neither particularly greasy nor sticky. This is a perfect recovery from the previous disappointment.

I wish there were more in the bowl. That, dear friends, is a ringing endorsement.

Numbers: packaging 5, preparation 3, heat 2, flavour 5, overall 5
Music: Michiru Yamane, Yasuhiro Ichihashi - Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (DS) - Requiem of a Night of Falling


Pal-Do World "Seattle Ramen"

Brand: Pal-Do World Inc.
Flavour: Seattle Ramen
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: two
Identifiables: noodle brick, veggie bits, soup powder
Sodium: 1.99 grams

One wonders what precisely goes into "Seattle Ramen". I live rather near Seattle, and I'm in the city on a regular basis. It certainly has a unique feel, a certain style that I love, but I don't really associate it with a flavour, except perhaps espresso. (I swear, I've consumed more coffee in my two years here than I did in my entire lifetime before that.) I don't see espresso in the ingredient list, but I do see Alaska pollack as the very last ingredient in the soup powder. That... will have to do.

On the surface, the package and everything in it comes across as a clone of Nong Shim's "Shin Ramyun", that standard of instant noodles. It looks the same and cooks the same, so one can get the gist of it by revisiting that review. The noodles even absorb the broth the same way.

The flavour, however, is very different. It has less of the full-spectrum beefy flavour I recall from Shin Ramyun. The noodles are edgier, with spice (a high four) and an almost acidic-seeming high end without all that much below it to give the feeling of a hearty broth. The broth itself is better, but still spicier than expected and in an off-balance way. It's rather like eating a salad made of predominantly green pepper slices; if there are other flavours, they're masked by a hollow earthy flavour that's supposed to be support, not main attraction. The result is a rather dissatisfying meal which, honestly, I find myself finishing not because it's tasty, but because it's not truly repellent. I hate pitting one ramen directly against another, but given a choice, I'd take the Shin Ramyun.

And no, it didn't taste like espresso.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 4, flavour 2, overall 2
Music: Yuka Honda - Memories Are My Only Witness - Some Days I Stay in Bed For Hours