KOYO "Seaweed Ramen"

Brand: KOYO
Flavour: Seaweed Ramen
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: one
Identifiables: noodle brick, flavour powder with seaweed bits
Sodium: 0.79 grams

It's made with organic noodles. It says so right beneath the gigantic word "RAMEN" on the front of the package. I'll admit that I don't give much thought to instant noodles being organic because, frankly, I expect some portion of them to be inorganic. It is, however certified to be organic, so I suppose that's a significant bonus. I'm also assured by the packaging that it's low-fat, and that the charming illustration – not a photograph! – of a bowl of prepared ramen with veggies including star-cut carrots is purely a serving suggestion.

Now I'm imagining that gig. You're a professional freelance illustrator trying to scrape together enough money to afford crappy health insurance and gas for your ailing '87 Honda Accord, and then you finally get a cushy gig... drawing noodles. Just a few squiggles on a page, right? No prob. Except that they want a Japanese-style spoon picking some up, but none can drip over the edge of it. And they want a bowlful beneath that, with cute veggies on top. Cute veggies? Oh, and the seaweed has to be fresh and green-looking, even though you know that reconstituted seaweed looks like a wretched green-black mess. But... you're a professional. Not only can you do this thing, but your bank account practically demands it. If they want cute vegetables, then you'll give them star-shaped carrot slices.

Sorry about the digression. Where was I? Oh, yes. One package, opened to reveal one noodle brick of a slightly lighter-than-usual texture and one large foil packet with no visible notching, pinking, or other means of opening it. The scissors come out and the packaging score drops by a point. A cup and a third of water boils, noodles cook for four minutes – strangely long, but the directions insist – and then the contents of the flavouring packet are mixed in with cheerful orange chopsticks from IKEA.

The verdict? The ramen does indeed taste rather like seaweed and miso, but the texture is that of glutinous, overcooked noodles. It's not bad, but it's not good, either. It simply is, and now it occurs why the cute veggies were requested. They would be the last, greatest hope for a mediocre lunch.

Numbers: packaging 2, preparation 2, heat 1, flavour 2, overall 2
Music: R.E.M. - Green - Orange Crush


Maitre Khan "Spicy Hot Pork Rib"

Brand: Maitre Khan
Flavour: Spicy Hot Pork Rib
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: three
Identifiables: noodle brick, flavour sludge, flavour powder, veggie bits
Sodium: 3.89 grams

Spicy Hot Pork Rib? How can one go wrong? There's even a cheerful little chef-looking guy named Maitre Khan....

Hey, he looks awfully familiar....

Great googly moogly, it's Mr. Kon!

This time, the product is not in a bowl, but an unassuming plastic packet which turns out to contain a massive noodle brick in it and three smaller and easy-to-open numbered packets. One of the small packets, "20a", contained orangish-beige soup powder. A second, "05c", clearly showed a variety of dehydrated veggies, including tiny pepper rings (much to my delight.) The third packet, "15b", held a thick, dark orange mystery sludge which I could only guess to have at one time been a pork rib which was made spicy hot. There's simply no other explanation.

The directions for this one are simple. Put all the stuff in a bowl, pour a measured amount of water into the bowl, cover for three minutes, then stir and enjoy. This means that it's pretty much exactly like any instant noodle that comes with its own bowl, except without that. I wondered whether that made a significant difference in cost, but simultaneously vowed to give it a preparation rank of three simply because I didn't have a pot to clean afterwards.

The catch, really, was in finding a bowl large enough for it. Seriously, even the one pictured wasn't large enough for the brick to fit into. I had to snap the brick in half, which may come across as a brutal break from tradition for some ramen purists, but I'll have to insist that such an act doesn't really detract from the ramen experience. Thus, I prepared the ramen.

The result is a reasonably tasty, if somewhat salty and oily, bowl of noodles. The flavour's not quite as rich as I might have expected to back up the spice level, but it's not nearly as unbalanced as the disappointing "Seattle Ramen". The broth is actually quite satisfying, which is good because there's quite a lot of it. Six-hundred millilitres of hot water makes for a good bit of ramen.

It's a good thing, too. Apparently I was hungry; I finished ther bowl before I finished typing the review. So, I'll bump the rank up a notch.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 3, heat 4, flavour 4, overall 4
Music: Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts - Coyboy Bebop OST - Cat Blues


Indomie "Mi goreng Rendang"

Brand: Indomie
Flavour: Mi goreng Rendang
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: five
Identifiables: noodle brick, soy sauce, flavour ooze, chili powder, flavour powder, fried onions
Sodium: 0.92 grams

And... a second review in one day! Admittedly, it's one of the short picture-less ones, but that's because it's another Indomie packet. Save for the particularly interesting-looking ones, I'll be doing only brief reviews of these from here on in, because the packets are mostly identical. Each follows the pattern of having a coloured banner over a picture of prepared noodles – with excessive garnish, natch. This particular one has a day-glo orange banner with yellow text.

As preparation goes, it was identical to the Mi goreng BBQ Chicken in that it had five packets. As always, points off for having the packets glued together and pinked in such a way as to guarantee a disaster unless one instead employs a scissors.

The flavour is inexplicable. It's Mi goreng, all right, but with the added elements of a rendang curry. The result is something different and more complex than either, but exceedingly pleasant. In all, this ramen is as highly recommended as the others from Indomie. Just be ready for a little annoyance in preparation.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 4, flavour 5, overall 5
Music: I, Monster - Neveroddoreven - Hey Mrs.

Simply Asia "sesame teriyaki"

Brand: Simply Asia
Flavour: sesame teriyaki
Format: cardboard box
Packets: three
Identifiables: loose noodles, sauce, sesame seeds
Sodium: 2.55 grams

(This is actually from 2008 December 06.)

Here's yet another field review, though this time it's not at a ramen restaurant but instead my parents' home in Louisiana. The story is simple; I was there to visit them, the subject of lunch came up, and Sarah – a friend of the family who lives with them – suggested these noodles that my father had purchased on sale. We had great fun reviewing them together. Thanks for the assist, Sarah!

The box helpfully lists the included packets as containing "Authentic Asian Noodles", "Simply Asia Sauce", and "Toasted Sesame Seed Topping". I always worry when any descriptor which sounds perfectly legitimate on its own has the word "topping" added to it. It's like pasteurised process cheese food. "Pasteurised" I can understand, "process" is innocuous enough, "cheese" should be hopefully obvious, but "food"? Do we really need reminding? Is it so distant from what we'd normally think of as food that we have to be told it is, in fact, edible? In that case, yes. Fortunately, inspection of the sesame seeds revealed that they were perfectly normal, and the the spurious label of "topping" was purely for the sake of adding a word.

This noodle, it turned out, was a cold style. We boiled the noodles in a pot according to the directions, rinsed them in a strainer under cold water, then returned them to the pot and added sauce. Only after portioning the resulting mass into two bowls did we add the sesame seed "topping". (In other words, don't let that sodium number frighten you; that's for three servings, and I only ate half that.) Consider this in the ratings; the only factor that makes this less a pain in the butt than the infamous five-packet Indomie "Mi goreng BBQ Chicken" is that it has only three packets and they're pinked appropriately, even if the sesame seeds did stick to the inside of their packet due to static electricity. Coutnering that is the fact that I absolutely had to get a strainer out. No quick-and-cheap straining of the noodles through chopsticks here.

How's the dish taste? Well, the noodle texture is a bit firm but slippery, meaning that eating with lacquered chopsticks can be a real challenge. The sauce is a bit too sweet for my taste, which makes me wonder if that's going to be a disappointing pattern for the Simply Asia brand. The flavour was reasonably decent aside from that, but definitely aimed more for a side dish than a main course, hence the low overall ranking.

Ah well. The visit was pleasant, regardless.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 1, heat 1, flavour 3, overall 2
Music: I, Monster - Neveroddoreven - Some Thing's Coming


Simply Asia "szechwan hot & sour"

Brand: Simply Asia
Flavour: szechwan hot & sour
Format: plastic bowl
Packets: four
Identifiables: noodle mass, soup base, fried shallots, veggie brick
Sodium: 0.69 grams

Four dollars! I saw this bowl on the shelf at the grocery store when I was supposed to be picking up milk and red peppers. My wife taunted me. "You know you want to," she said.

Four dollars! It looked like a typical noodle bowl, though with those Western design sensibilities on a full-colour cardboard sheath. Neon pink spot colour? How... Wired Magazine.

Four dollars! Geez, could what was inside really be worth that? That's an expensive bowl, considering I could hit the international market and drop half that for a bowl twice the size.

Of note about this bowl is the fact that there is no high-fructose corn syrup (only pure cane sugar), no trans fats, and nothing to stop it from being vegan. I don't keep vegan, but I figure it's worth mentioning. Also of note is that is has surprisingly low sodium. Might it actually be... healthy?

Upon opening the flimsy-seeming plastic bowl, I found four well-pinked and well-notched packets. One held a mass of pre-cooked thick noodles. Another contained a brownish soup base. The other two were opaque. One was labelled only with a cryptic string of letters and numbers, but seemed to be the packet of shallots mentioned in the cooking instructions. The other claimed to be vegetables, but it had some sort of hard oblong inside. My interest in the weird was piqued. I opened it to find a strange sort of hard mass of vegetable bits press together, bound by some sort of white filler. (It turned out to be difficult to photograph well because of my unfamiliarity with the advanced features of the camera, hence the bizarre colour balance of that pic.) I was overcome by conflicting feelings. Part of me wanted to reject such a brazen and pointless display of food technology such as to make perfectly natural vegetables look like a dishwasher detergent brick. The other part wondered why everybody didn't do things this way because it was, to put it bluntly, awesome.

I put the noodles, soup, and veggie brick (!) into the bowl and poured water up to the fill line. I put the lid on the bowl – loosely, as directed – and microwaved it all for two minutes. This turns out to be a messy proposition, as I opened the microwave afterwards to found some oily water and veggie flakes pooled outside the bowl. Perhaps I should have used cold water, not room temperature? The package didn't specify....

I sprinkled the shallots on top, snapped a photo, then stirred. For four dollars and a mess in my microwave... is the taste worth it? Well, that's hard to say. It's got veggie flavour, certainly, with a sort of soyish aftertaste, but it's rather sweet and edgy in odd ways. I'd explain it to visual persons as such: Imagine that someone hands you a beautiful landscape done in woodcut, rich and dimensional, then a photocopy of the same image. The photocopy has no depth, no colour, sharp edged areas of dark and white, and none of the subtle tactile enjoyment – but it is technically the same image....

That's a bit of an exaggeration, but I'll say that the soup is somewhat a disappointment. Spicy, but not quite managing the rich flavour to back it up, and with uninteresting noodles. The bits of tofu are an awfully nice touch, though, and the veggies were fairly recognisable once cooked. As a bonus, however, the bowl comes with a spoon.

Four dollars? I'll wait until it drops to two or less.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 3, heat 3, flavour 3, overall 3
Music: AE - Super Street Fighter Turbo HD Remix (X360) - Mountain Breaker (Akuma Stage)