Feed the Keet.

Have you found yourself wondering how your favourite ramen might be reviewed? Are you eager to say "thanks for being zany" with the gift of some instant noodles? Perhaps you're just looking for a way to make sure I don't run out of material? Send me an e-mail to tell me what you'd like to send and I'll be glad to reply with an address and my thanks. Then, when it shows up, I'll photograph it, eat it, and blog about it. I'll even gladly include a shout-out of any sort (dedication, website link, stuff like that) if you like, so the world can know that you support the cause of fearless ramen reviews.

Also, privacy policy, won't send spam, blah blah. Come on, it's a private e-mail, I'm not gonna sell anything here. I'm just looking for a ramen connection!

Wang "Oriental Style Wang Seafood Noodle Hot & Spicy"

Brand: Wang
Flavour: Oriental Style Wang Seafood Noodle Hot & Spicy
Format: cardboard bowl
Packets: four
Identifiables: noodle mass, veggie bits, seafood bits, red pepper
Sodium: 1.96 grams

The subtitle for this post should be, "Story of Noodle Epic". Holy crap.

To start with, look at the size of that bowl! That's a real CFDDP I'm holding up there. Opening it up was epic in itself. I tore off the perforated plastic safety-seal, pulled off the plastic lid – the decorative paper disc fell off – and found no less than four sealed packets within, all labelled in Korean. This had a profound effect on my psyche; I felt slightly disoriented, as though I were in a Lovecraft story and the angles weren't adding up. One packet contained a mass of thick, apparently pre-cooked noodles. Another looked to have semi-viscous liquid within. Another, the only to bear English words ("Dried Flake Sachet") was filled with dried bits. The last, a menacing red-orange foil packet, gave no clue to its contents aside from the notation that there was precisely one gram's worth within.

I began to prepare according to directions. This involved opening all but the red packet and dumping them in. The slightly damp knot of noodles broke slightly down the centre as I arranged it in the bowl. The notched brown packet oozed forth a rich-smelling paste with the consistency of chocolate syrup; I thought I'd have to squeeze it out, but it slid free of its packet in one long glop, adding to the fear factor. I poured hot tap water (I think they intended boiling water, but there's no telling) up to the rather visible internal ridge, then microwaved the resulting mix for three minutes.

It took some careful work to get the bowl out of the microwave without burning myself, but it was worth it. That angry red-orange broth in there? It was that colour before I added the danger-coloured packet. (Photographing it was a challenge because it was steaming up the lens.) A quick stir brought forth bits of seaweed and some tiny niblets of seafood. I took a spoon and sampled the broth; I found it very tasty and tangy, with a heat level of maybe a low four.

Then, I stared at the danger packet.

It stared back at me impassively, as though daring me.

I summoned my courage, tore it open, and threw its contents into the bowl before reason could assert itself in my head.

Now, understand that when heat level gets into this range, it takes a lot more to push things. The broth did indeed redden somewhat, and the heat brushed up into the five range, definitely a pleasant challenge. Part of me wants to exaggerate and compare it to my first experience with Dave's Gourmet Insanity Sauce ("Every cell in my body is turning itself inside out at the speed of thought, and I like it! I can see forever!") but it wasn't quite there. Still, it's the hottest noodle I've had to date that also has a really good flavour, and that's worth something. The noodle texture is a bit odd because they were already sort of moist, and thus they got softer but didn't soak up all that much flavour, so it's definitely good to get plenty of broth with each bite.

So, in summary, the preparation is a bit odd but not bad, the flavour is pretty good, the chewy seafood bits are fairly nice, and the somewhat-variable heat is a great thing. It is one intimidating bowl of ramen, however. In fact, I'm not even sure I should call it ramen, seeing as how the noodles weren't dry to start with, but whatever, it's reviewed now.

Numbers: packaging 4, preparation 3, heat 4/5, flavour 4, overall 4

Music: Mario Galaxy Orchestra - Super Mario Galaxy (Wii) - Wind Garden


Nong Shim "AnSungTangMyun"

Brand: Nong Shim
Flavour: AnSungTangMyun
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: one
Identifiables: noodles, spice
Sodium: 1.10 grams

So, my wife dropped by home for lunch today. Her plan was to have a sandwich, but mine, of course, was to have that most exalted of foods... ramen. I enlisted her assistance in choosing a packet. She picked up a bright orange packet, glanced briefly at both sides, and said, "This... this is the winner." It claimed to be "Hot & Spicy". Nothing else was said about its flavour in a language that I know. Yes, love... it sounds like a winner.

For starters, the brick is massive. The packet says it's one hundred twenty five grams, which is significantly larger than the sixty to ninety grams of the average cup or brick. The brick did not fit in Ben, and Petar was waiting to be washed, so I found Johann (!) and got to work. Disappointment set in as I realised that despite the insistence of the instructions the noodle, soup base, and additional ingredients should go in to the boiling water, there was only one packet to open and no additonal ingredients to be found. Regardless, in they went, and I waited for four minutes. The slightly longer cook time is no doubt because of slightly-thicker-than-usual noodles, and I approve.

The result was a noodle-and-broth mix that tried to but didn't quite achieve the orange of the packet, and bits of seaweed which had mysteriously popped up. Those spice packets can conceal anything and everything, dear friends. Into the bowl it went, white IKEA chopsticks were grabbed, a photo was snapped, a CFDDP was poured, and lunch, as they say, was served.

I tried some and noted the robust flavour and significant heat level, which would be a three except that it lingers on the lips for quite some time, so it ekes out a four. The wife noted that it had excellent heat and flavour... but she could not discern exactly what that flavour was. A quick scan of the ingredients (who reads the ingredients only after they've put it in their mouths? We do) revealed that the presence of not only "beef extract" but also "beef bone extract" meant that it was theoretically beef-flavoured. Thank you, theoretical cow, for your contribution to a tasty lunch! Also, I'm very appreciative of the thicker noodles, and the resulting toothier texture is well worth the extra sixty seconds' wait.

An added bit of danger did crop up when, in the attempt to gracefully slurp some noodles, one whipped up and managed to fling a bit of spicy broth directly over my glasses and into my right eye. My eyelash served well in taking one for the team; otherwise, the current music would be myself singing the "ow, my eye, my friggin' eye" song. Now, this is living on the razor's edge! ...yeah, that's as exciting as this blog gets, up until I spill something in my lap, and let's all hope that never does happen.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 4, flavour 3, overall 3

Music: Muse - Black Holes and Revelations - Map Of The Problematique


Vifon "Asian Style Instant Noodle with Tomato Sauce"

Brand: Vifon (Fine Food)
Flavour: Asian Style Instant Noodle with Tomato Sauce
Format: foam bowl
Packets: three
Identifiables: noodle brick, veggie bits, slightly green-yellow oil
Sodium: 1.22 grams

I was hoping for something spicy. I was also hoping for a bit of a scare, which is fortunate because in this I avoided total disappointment.

The package says a lot of things, and some of them are in a language I'm not quite sure how to type out even with the help of a Unicode character map. (The Greeks, upon giving written language to the Russians, made up a bunch of funny-looking letters. The French, upon giving written language to the Vietnamese, used normal letters with a glut of accent marks. I think Cyrillic letters look way cooler.) One of those bits of text reads, "Serving Dry". I still have no idea what they're on about. I thought perhaps this meant that one drained the noodles then mixed in dry pwder to form a sauce, but no....

First things first. The disc-shaped noodle brick did not fit properly into the oblong tray. The veggie packet was obvious, but the others were labelled "Flavoring OIL" (with a cheerful star above the 'I' in 'OIL') and "Soup Base". I could tell from the feel of it that the latter was liquid-filled, which filled me with gentle dread. I boiled some water, poured it over the noodles and veggies in the foam bowl, then covered it with a flimsy plastic lid which bore a semi-circular cut at one corner. Ah, to drain the noodles! How elegant, yes?

Three minutes later, it turned out to be only somewhat elegant. The noodles quickly wedged themselves in the pseudo-spout, meaning the excess water drained rather slowly and incompletely. Also, the lid warped amusingly during this process, and I worried that it might pop off and spill noodles into my sink. That didn't happen, so I peeled the lid off at the table and poured the oil in.

Then, it came time to open the soup base. I had to use scissors; there was a helpful zigzaggy edge (what should I call that?) but the packet was too strong to be torn open safely that way. What came out once it was opened looked and smelled for all the world like cheap steak sauce, dark brown and runny and sweet. I began to wonder if a mistake had been made at the factory.

I stirred all of this together with the helpfully included fork (bonus points), snapped a photo, and then took my first bite. It wasn't spicy at all, but instead had a curious sweet-sour tomatoey thing going on that was... uninspiring. I hate to say it, but for all the quirkiness involved in the packaging, it really just ended up being slightly unusual noodles, and only very slightly. Come on, Vifon! I can't fill a blog with stories of boring ramen!

Numbers: packaging 4, preparation 3, heat 1, flavour 3, overall 3

Music: Journey - Time3 - Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)


The first batch.

I know, almost a week's gap between reviews. I can explain. Not only can I (and should I) not eat instant noodles for every single lunch, but there was a bonus double-XP weekend in City of Heroes and I... well, you know. I apologise. To make up for it, however, I present some pictures I should have posted when the blog started but were forgotten in my enthusiasm.

A delicious spread of Batch One:

All of them stacked, also known as the Tower of Power:

A photo with detailed labels for everything important (if your eyesight is as poor as mine and you can't read the text, click the image to see it full-size):

There. If you're not yet frightened away, then I think it's safe to welcome you as a regular reader. You have my sympathies.

Oh, as another note, I've purchased more noodles since that photo. This could take a while....

Mi Sedaap Mi Segera "Mi Goreng Perisa Asli"

Brand: Mi Sedaap Mi Segera
Flavour: Mi Goreng Perisa Asli
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: three or five
Identifiables: noodles, chili paste, soy sauce, green onion paste, spice, fried onion bits
Sodium: 1.08 grams

Malaysia. I'm eating Malaysian ramen. How cool is that?

Well, it depends. First, my favourite pot (remember "Ben"?) wasn't clean, so rather than do the responsible thing and wash it, I simply readied the backup pot, "Petar". No, seriously, I only just named it. Anyhow, only after that did I read the instructions: cook noodles, empty the other packets into a bowl, drain the noodles, mix with stuff in the bowl. This is more complex than the average brick-in-packet instant noodle. How badly does it play out?

Now, taking a close look at the front of the packet, I notice several things. First, the only English on it is an ersatz stamp reading "Export Quality". I'm not sure how to feel about this. Would I want to eat anything while in Malaysia what wasn't export quality? Then again, I frequently eat stuff in the U.S. that I wouldn't inflict on anyone from other countries, so it's fair. Also, it's halal, which doesn't matter to me but might be good to know for all sorts of folks. (See? I didn't make any jokes at that. I may be an American, but I'm not an idiot.) Next, there's a picture of an onion with some words I can't read and a "5x" identifier. These onions have a score multiplier of five. This ramen is likely to level me up MMORPG-style, and I wonder what attack I'll get next. (Okay, now I'm an idiot.) Finally, I see that the packet is three months past its "expiration date". Bah. Those are always highly conservative estimates anyhow. I fear nothing. (Idiot-o-meter needle is pegged.)

I start the noodles, figuring I have time to prep the rest while they cook. I snap the photo of the packets, all three-to-five of them. Seriously, one of these is a three-part packet. I've never seen anything like it. Trouble is, the tear-ridges are made for separating the packets, not opening them. I fetch my kitchen scissors and, realising I've spent too much time marvelling at the modernist beauty of the thing, cut across the top. The green stuff smells strongly of onions, which doesn't surprise me, and is strangely viscous, which does. The chili paste is strangely viscous. The soy sauce – no, really, it's thicker than fudge sauce. I had to work at it. I empty the dry powder packet just as the three-minute timer beeps at me.

I drain the noodles, Keet-style. That's shorthand for, "She's too lazy to get a strainer, and instead holds the chopsticks across the lip of the pot like a dam to let the boiling water through and keep most of the noodles in." I successfully do this and avoid scalding myself. Noodles go into bowl. Noodles are stirred. The packet specifically reads, "Mix until even," and that takes work due to how thick the pastes are. I tear open the fried onion packet and toss it over the result. It looks like ramen cobbler, and smells tantalisingly of onions. I love onions.

One might expect me to now tell how the positive adventure ended there, but it didn't. The results taste incredibly good with plenty of strong onion flavour, a moderate but not overpowering heat, and a great texture with the gently-crunchy fried onion bits. This stuff might very well tie with the fabled ja jang myun for my favourite instant noodle ever, and that is a tall order, friends. It's worth every ounce of effort, and only the necessity of dirtying a pot and bowl drop the overall score. It's even about half the sodium of most other instant noodles. If this were available in a convenient bowl format, it would be unquestioningly tops, but as it is, it'll have to share the position.

Well, at least it got me my next level. What attack did I get? "Awesome Noodle", which I think is a self-buff to morale.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 3, flavour 5, overall 5

Music: Cromkayer - Bound Together - The Third String


Mr. KON "Thai Tom Yum"

Brand: Mr. KON
Flavour: Thai Tom Yum
Format: cardboard bowl
Packets: three
Identifiables: noodle brick, carrot bits, dried seaweed, swirly thing, spice
Sodium: 2.46 grams

I figured I'd wait to post anything at all until I had a good scary one to really hook my readers. The first two were pretty tame, though, so today I decided to go with one that I knew wouldn't disappoint.

Holy crap.

To start with, the lid has "X-Large" printed in friendly letters. Whatever was in there, I knew I'd be eating a lot of it. Also, a quick look at the nutrition facts indicated that I'd be acquiring one-hundred-three percent of my recommended daily sodium in this meal. Great googly moogly. Then, I opened it up to see a tiny plastic fork (you can see the orange chopsticks I turned out to not even need) accompanied by a mammoth cylindrical (well, a truncated cone, but whatever) noodle brick and three packets. The packets had absolutely no identifiable text (well, none that wasn't in Chinese), and bore the ominous numbers – 18a, 03c, and 10b – the last of which contained a viscous orange liquid. One of the ingredients listed in the difficult-to-read rung around the lid is "Sour flavor". This, friends, was a winner even before I added boiling water up to the barely-visible ridge and waited three minutes.

The spice packet had little black shrivels (you try finding a better word for 'em) that I guessed to be bits of seaweed. Upon opening the bowl after cooking, I saw that they did indeed unfold into satisfying, glossy olive-coloured leaves. Somewhere in the bowl is one of those little swirly discs with the zig-zag edge, you know the ones. I anticipated that the heat for this bowl would be a four based on its classification as tom yum, and if it were anything less I'd be disappointed. The yellow-orange oil floating on top was deceptive, as it shook my faith for a moment, but... well, the flavour was completely different from what I expected and thus exceeded my hopes.

Let's talk about the flavour. There's a sharp spice combined with a light but almost acrid taste. "Sour flavor", indeed. It smells and tastes only faintly of seafood, but there's a citrus note that overpowers like a sousaphone versus a wind quartet. The strange part is, none of it tastes particularly bad, just... very, very odd, and strangely bland.

A third of the way in, I found myself wondering if I'd be able to finish it. I started to get that puckering-throat thing that says, "You're drinking vinegar, or something akin to it." I downed some CFDDP (Caffeine-Free Diet Dr Pepper, and that's the last time I'll spell the name out) and found the tastes not terribly complementary. Two-thirds of the way in, I saw the swirly thing and also a little long rectangular thing which was a thin layer of dark pink on top of a white bar. It was either the world's smallest maguro nigiri-zushi, or the world's worst-dressed hyphen.

Then I got down to drinking the broth. Let's just do the numbers, shall we?

Numbers: packaging 4, preparation 3, heat 4, flavour 2, overall 2
Music: Blue Öyster Cult - Rock Band (X360) - Don't Fear the Reaper

Nissin "Curry Flavor"

Brand: Nissin
Flavour: Curry Flavor
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: one
Identifiables: noodle brick, curry powder
Sodium: 2.06g

(This is actually from 2008 July 16.)

I had a little dental work done this morning, so I decided that once the anaesthetic wore off, I'd take it easy for lunch. Warm salty liquid is very soothing to just-irritated areas, but I didn't want anything terribly spicy. Thus, the Nissin Curry Flavor noodles. (Yeah, curry will probably be the least spicy of this lot.) Curiosly, the side says "Nissin Demae Ramen"... is that a specific brand name? Anyhow, I generally trust Nissin for decent eats, so this really seemed like it'd be the most comfort-foodish of the bag of tricks waiting for me.

Boil water, open packet, open little flavour packet — in this case, labelled "Ga Rei Mein Soup Base" – and prepare as directed. The noodle brick had me worried for a bit, as it's slightly larger than my favourite little ramen-cooking pot, though it took only a few moments for it to conform. (I've named the pot "Ben" for absolutely no reason. Expect the name to change on a daily basis.) The result, as can be seen, looks like most chicken ramen in all its glorious yellowness.

The result is actually not spicy at all to my palate, but has a modest and pleasing curry flavour. There is, however, no doubt at all that this innocuous little meal harbours eighty-six percent of my daily recommended sodium intake. Really, there's nothing terribly notable, good or bad, about this ramen; it may as well be any of the basic Top Ramen flavours, comforting and inoffensive.

So I washed it down with some Caffeine-Free Diet Dr Pepper. How's that for offensive?

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 1, flavour 3, overall 2
Music: Manfred Linzner - Iridion 3D & II Arranged Soundtrack Perfect Selection - Iridion 3D: Medley

Paldo "Kimchi Noodle"

Brand: Paldo
Flavour: Kimchi Noodle
Format: Foam Bowl
Packets: Two
Identifiables: noodle cake, powdered spice, generic veggie bits like onion, carrot, and so forth
Sodium: 2.02 grams

(This is actually from 2008 July 15.)

For my first real review, I chose a simple one, mostly because I was in a bit of a hurry to get some noodle in me. and I had other work to do. It was a joy to pull a foil-lined lid away from a foam bowl that didn't disintegrate, and the fill line is unmistakably clear. Now, this is my kind of ramen. I started some water boiling, tore open the spice and veggie packets, and sprinkled them in.

The package declares, "Kimchi taste!" One might imagine that implicit in calling the flavour "Kimchi Noodle", but in my experience Oriental-flavoured ramen tastes nothing like Orientals, so I won't begrudge a disclaimer.

I poured the boiling water in, waited three long minutes, then snapped a photo of the expected sort of orange-reddish oil on top of broth and noodles. I dug in. I don't know about "Kimchi taste!" but it certainly wasn't bad, and the only difficulties I had were in trying to eat when it was still too hot, and keeping the noodles on my chopsticks. (Yes, they're lime-green Ikea-brand plastic chopsticks, but I had to buy them. Look at the little nubs! They're fun to lick.) Anyhow, it's what I'd consider a decent ramen experience, if uninspiring.

Then again, now that I'm happily slurping the broth, the heat's catching up with me. Not bad at all. Satisfying, gritty finish. (The grittiness is from leftover spice bits that have settled; these can either be an exclamation point or a Mr. Yuk face, depending. In this case, it's closer to the former.) I'd put this on the enjoyable end of average.

I always wait until after the experience to look at the ingredients. That's when I stumbled on the little surprise: salted shrimp. There's shrimp in the kimchi? That explains the slightly fishy note in the aftertaste. It's rare that I'm surprised by what's gone into instant ramen. Well met, Paldo. I look forward to taking on your "Yukejang" later on.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 3, heat 4, flavour 3, overall 3

Music: Konami Kukeiha Club - Perfect Selection Dracula Battle - Requiem for the Nameless Victims

It's cheaper than food.

How does one start a ramen review blog? Like this.

Instant noodles are a near-universal food. They range from absurdly inexpensive –Maruchan and Nissin offer basic brick-in-packet lines that almost always fall in the four-or-more-per-dollar range) – to sophisticated multi-dollar bowls. They are shelf-stable, generally simple to prepare, and filling. They are legendary for being the staple food of income-challenged students, as they serve both the place of quick eats on their own and a base upon which nutritious meals can be built.

Who am I, so wide in the ways of ramen? My name is Jessie Tracer, though I more often go by Electric Keet. I'm a freakishly (and gladly) tall woman who is in denial about turning thirty and has nothing better to do than talk about noodles. More seriously, I'm a freelance (read: amateur) graphic designer and electronic musician living with my wife and a couple close friends in a small flat wedged in a gorgeous part of the Seattle area. I am not, in fact, a starving college student.

How did I end up in this gig? A couple friends of mine called me one day to say, "We're stopping at a Japanese market before we drop by your place. Any particular types of ramen you'd like us to grab?" When I indicated one or two sorts but a general request to be pleasantly surprised, they took it seriously. I recieved an overstuffed shopping bag of every imaginable variety, no duplicates, and a simple request for payment: they would cover the bill if I reviewed the whole mess for their enjoyment. So, here it is.

Here's how the ratings will work:

Brand: (as listed on package)
Flavour: (as listed on package)
Format: (brick-in-packet, cup, bowl; paper, cardboard, foam, plastic)
Packets: (number of packets to open in addition to main package)
Identifiables: (ingredients which can be identified before cooking)
Sodium: (amount of sodium in grams, not milligrams, just for fun)

Here's where I'll put the review proper. Don't expect too much of the acerbic, insulting style that's all the rage with the kids these days. This isn't a videogame review blog. Do expect a bit of silliness, oddity, and an attempt to sound worldly in the ways of instant noodles.

Numbers: packaging V, preparation V, heat V, flavour V, overall V
Music: (whatever I've been listening to as I eat)

Let me explain that a little bit. For each category, I rate the ramen experience from one through five, five generally meaning better. As a general guide:

packaging 1 = abysmal: disintegrates on cooking, no tear-tabs on packets
packaging 2 = lacking: flimsy, broken, needlessly difficult to open
packaging 3 = standard: standard foam cup, corrugated-edge brick packet
packaging 4 = elegant: comes with fork, lid comes off cleanly, spiffy look
packaging 5 = brilliant: novel design that works, as convenient as dining out

preparation 1 = complex: I could have made grilled cheese for all this effort
preparation 2 = difficult: you mean, I have to put it in a pot?
preparation 3 = normal: sprinkle packet then add boiling water? I can do that
preparation 4 = easy: no packets, or two packets but they make sense
preparation 5 = simple: self-heating, or microwave without adding water

heat 1 = none: brown mustard, safe for the timid
heat 2 = mild: horseradish mustard, most people can enjoy it
heat 3 = medium: Horsey sauce, some call it spicy
heat 4 = hot: jalapeño slices, too hot for most
heat 5 = scorcher: habañero and up, ring of fire

flavour 1 = nasty: sour, foul, couldn't finish, won't ever touch again
flavour 2 = blah: bland or slightly unappealing, will eat if nothing else is around
flavour 3 = average: generic but identifiable, would eat again for a quick lunch
flavour 4 = good: enjoyable and interesting, would get the urge to have sometimes
flavour 5 = awesome: very tasty and inspired, I'll ask for it by name

overall 1 = heinous: I'd rather skip lunch today, thanks
overall 2 = mediocre: if it's on sale and I'm tired of cold cereal for lunch
overall 3 = decent: yet another in a long list of okay lunches
overall 4 = positive: I could make a sandwich.... better yet, I have a hot lunch!
overall 5 = awesome: sure, you can eat out for lunch, but I'm having this

Yes, I dock a point for having to get a pot out to make lunch. Despite my frequent use of British spellings for English words, I am an American citizen and thus I am entitled to be lazy. (This is actually one of the very few ways in which I resemble an American, however.) It's my bias; I significantly prefer self-contained meals, since they truly epitomise the notion of an instant lunch. In summary, these ratings are somewhat subjective... but aren't they always? Feel free to argue any particular brand's rating, I won't take it personally.

At the time of this writing, the extremes I've experienced have been:
packaging 4 (many of the nicer plastic bowls are like this) through 2 (packets required scissors, but the meal came with a fork; how's that for mixed messages!) preparation 4 (many foam-cup noodles are like this) through 1 (I once had a yakisoba bowl with three packets and no English instructions... and I guessed wrong)
heat 1 (most stuff on American market shelves) through 5 (you bet your sweet bippy!)
flavour 1 (couldn't finish, I can't even remember what it was trying to be) through flavour 5 (I'm a sucker for a particular brand of instant ja jyang myun I can't find anymore)

I hope you, the reader, enjoy reading this blog as much as I, the eater, am enjoying writing it.