Golden Wheat "Korean Style Stew Pork Flavour"

Brand: Golden Wheat
Flavour: Korean Style Stew Pork Flavour
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: three
Identifiables: noodle wall, veggie bits, flavour powder, pork sludge
Sodium: 2.31 grams

Just look at that package. This sort of ramen can be a nightmare if you're not prepared. The packet has no fewer than four languages. Even knowing two of them, I feel ill-equipped to tackle the thing. It reads "porc cubes" very clearly, and how could that possibly scare me, right? Perhaps the best part is that special care is taken to inform me that this is a "cooking noodle". Is that a noodle that can cook? Is that a noodle one uses to cook with? Is it already in the process of slow-cooking within the packet like self-heating coffee?

The directions are simple. "Put noodle and flavouring bag into boiling water (700ml) for 5–6 minutes and then it is ready for serving." The first point I'll note is that a package explicit enough to tell me that the noodle inside is for cooking somehow misses the critical steps of opening the flavouring bag... or that there are three such sachets inside, none of them labelled in English or French. The next point is that the French cooking directions have the header "MODE D'EMPLOL" which... is... sort of close. Finally, not only are there microwave directions, but a second set of "spaghetti cooking directions" below are basically exactly the same except for omitting the flavouring. The only logical interpretation of this is as a warning sign, a method of giving the consumer a second chance to "add your favourite pasta sauce". I considered following the implicit advice, but that would be unfair to you, dear readers.

The packaging was all easy to open, and the inner packets were rather well pinked. One of those packets contained standard-issue vegetable bits. A second had sand-like flavouring powder. The third, however, held a bizarre sort of grainy orange-brown oily sludge that took real work to squeeze out of the packet and into the pot. A small glob accidentally hit the burner, and I readied myself to open a window, but not a single wisp of smoke came from the lump as it boiled away. I suppose inexplicable things happen sometimes.

After five minutes, I poured the cooked mess into the bowl and found that there were indeed tiny little cubes of something vaguely resembling fried pork. My ramen had more pork in it than the average can of "pork n' beans"! And the aroma, the thick, enticing aroma....

This ramen tastes like Pork. I could say it tastes like pork, but it's more than that; it's a lot of pork, and once I've said that I realise that it's actually more pork than pork is, so it must be the very essence of pork, hence the capitalisation. Read it a second time: this ramen tastes like Pork. There are little bits of cabbage and carrot and such, and they provide a nice counterpoint to the Pork. Cooking the perfectly-textured noodles with all the flavouring means that they've even absorbed a goodly measure of Pork. I can't stop eating it. The broth is even more intense, like a sort of unholy and addictive pig nectar or something. This instant noodle is unfairly awesome. The only way this could be better is if I didn't have to prepare it in a pot but... well, actually opened it up to find just-cooked noodles.

I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned here.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 1, flavour 5, overall 5
Music: Ryoji Yoshitomi - Wario Land 4 (GBA) - Arabian Night


Indomie "Mi goreng Satay / Mi goreng Pedas"

Brand: Indomie
Flavour: Mi goreng Satay / Mi goreng Pedas
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: five
Identifiables: noodle brick, fried onion bits, sludgy oil, flavour powder, chili powder
Sodium: 0.78 grams / 0.92 grams

According to Wikipedia, Indomie has released eleven flavours of their instant Mi goreng noodles. I have now tried six of these (1, 2, 3, 4, and the present two), and a seventh which isn't even mentioned on Wikipedia. Comparatively, Diet Coke has twelve varieties released worldwide. Every single variety of Diet Coke tastes like a rusty android urinated into a bottle. Fortunately, every variety of Indomie's Mi goreng tastes like plain Mi goreng: pretty good, and with some little thing added on top of the base flavour.

Thus, this review shall be brief. I tried my remaining two flavours in the same lunch because I was rather hungry. The label of the Satay uses a maroon theme, while that of the Pedas is bright red. Appearance and preparation are precisely the same as every other Mi goreng packet. The Satay tastes like someone added a little peanut sauce to an otherwise straightforward Mi goreng, and the resulting flavour is... basically Mi goreng. The Pedas tastes like someone added a little hot sauce to an otherwise straightforward Mi goreng, and the resulting flavour is... basically Mi goreng. There you have it.

There, done with the Mi goreng and the short-form pictureless reviews. I know you lot look forward to the pictures of piping hot ramen, so those shall return. For now, dear readers, you'll just have to content yourselves with marvelling at how everyone has a greater fascination for the "Maruchan Yakisoba: Cheddar Cheese Flavor" – arguably closer to the nature of Diet Coke than Mi goreng – than anything else on this blog.

Numbers: packaging 2, preparation 2, heat 3/4, flavour 4, overall 3
Music: Neil D. Voss - Tetrisphere (N64) - Magic Fluter


Nong Shim "Kimchi Ramyun"

Brand: Nong Shim
Flavour: Kimchi Ramyun
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: two
Identifiables: noodle disc, veggie bits, flavour powder
Sodium: 2.26 grams

Occasionally, I travel to other places. Sometimes, when in those other places, I visit international markets. Frequently, upon visiting those international markets in other places, I buy instant noodles I've not yet seen. This is one of those times.

Unfortunately, these aren't always terribly interesting. Nong Shim has attempted to take the winning Shin Ramyun formula and adapted it to a kimchi flavour. Anyhow, I'll cut the review short and say that they haven't really succeeded. (I decided to be a little unorthodox with this review and prepare it dry-style, but that doesn't really affect the flavour.) I associate a certain tone with kimchi, a rather more vegetably (!) sort of thing than this particular noodle provides. It's spicy, but a bit less so than Shin Ramyun, which might be a plus to many of you. The vegetable flavour does come through a bit more, and the rich slightly-beefy flavour is perhaps a little less present, but these are more nitpicks than actual distinctions. If you like Shin Ramyun, you'll like this almost as much... but I must say, I'm still planning to buy the family packs of Shin Ramyun for my regular noodle enjoyment.

Yes, I buy Shin Ramyun in five-packs. I'm that dedicated. Someday I might go back and change the numbers on my old review....

Numbers: packaging 4, preparation 2, heat 4, flavour 3, overall 3
Music: Jake Kaufman - Shantae (GBC) - Tinkerbot Boss Battle


Maggi "Vegetable Atta Noodles: Masala"

Brand: Maggi
Flavour: Vegetable Atta Noodles: Masala
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: one
Identifiables: noodle brick, flavour powder, dried veggies
Sodium: 0.97 grams

A few years back, my wife brought home a handful of interesting items she'd found at a small international market. One of them was a packet of what looked like ramen, but claimed to be flavoured with masala curry. Indian ramen? At the time, such a thing was incredible, beyond my wildest dreams!

These days, I can review such a thing objectively and scientifically. So, I started by picking a flavour at random. The result was a packet which also claimed to be masala, but with "vegetable atta noodles" which, it turns out, are wheat noodles and a foil sachet containing both flavour powder and dried vegetables. I've joked before about how Indomie adds separate packets the way Gillette adds blades to disposable razors – which is, to say, with absurd abandon – but Maggi seems to have the opposite philosophy, and in no way am I complaining.

As an interesting aside, they refer proudly to their flavour packets as "Tastemaker". I don't even have any clever comments right now. All right, just one, and it's that I can't help but think of the Tastemaker as one of those gaudy 80's era World Wrestling Foundation steroid-beasts shouting incoherently about what they'll prove in the ring and to whom. That's right... I was sincerely worried that I would open this pouch and have the Ultimate Warrior jump out at me. (Ultimate Warrior, please don't sue me.)

Unlike most other instant noodles which either intend for thre to be significant broth or require draining, these indicate a very specific amount of water. The noodles and flavouring go in simultaneously, cook for merely two minutes, and then the entirety of the result is served as is. The water is enough to cook the noodles by boiling and steam, and then it soaks into them and forms a sort of gravy with the flavour powder. It's clever and convenient, especially for one such as me who frequently prefers sauce to broth.

The cooking noodles smelled good enough. The real question was whether they would taste as good as the ones I remembered from several years previous. The sad answer is... no. It may well be a personal taste issue, but the initial scent and especially the flavour came across not too distantly from Play-Doh. (Yes... after all these years, I still remember the taste. I mean, scent.) The masala only came through strongly near the very end of the dish where the sauce had collected at the bottom. The vegetables were nice, however, and I couldn't help but think that all the dish would need is a slight tweak of the noodle recipe to be much more appealing... but then again, this may indeed be the intended flavour. I'll just have to try to find masala wheat noodles at the nearby Indian restaurant to compare.

I wonder if the Tastemaker has a theme song...? This thought distracted me so much that I forgot to photograph the cooked noodles.

Numbers: packaging 4, preparation 2, heat 2, flavour 2, overall 2
Music: David Wise - WWF WrestleMania Challenge (NES) - The Ultimate Warrior


Nissin "Macaroni Macaronis: Tom Yam Goong Flavour"

Brand: Nissin
Flavour: Macaroni Macaronis: Tom Yam Goong Flavour
Format: mylar pouch
Packets: two
Identifiables: macaroni, flavour powder, oily sludge
Sodium: 1.09 grams

I've reviewed macaroni and cheese. I've reviewed not-macaroni and cheese. Now, I review macaroni and not-cheese. If you enjoy the citrus-and-spice flavour of the Thai seafood soup known as tom yam goong then read on. If you don't enjoy it, then you're dead to me. Go away! (Okay, not really. You can stay.)

This particular journey starts with a packet which initially looks like any other ramen packet, except that the contents are loose and they rattle in that hollow way that only macaroni can. Inside the pouch are two smaller packets; one is opaque and filled with what looks and smells slightly like garlic powder, and the other is translucent to show the brown coagulation of oil and spice within. The latter smells very strongly of citrus, the key note in this dish.

Preparation is precisely the same as most other instant noodles. One needs only dump the contents into a half-litre of boiling water, wait three minutes, then stir in the contents of the packets and then enjoy. However, it is my firm belief that there should be one more step explicitly mentioned, and I would write it as such: "Let sit for two minutes such that the macaroni absorbs the broth and creeps toward the edge of the bowl like wheaty semi-sentient moss." This should be the inspiration for a dish to amaze kids. It amazed me a little, and I'm old enough to have a kid old enough to blog. (To think that my parents worried about how much time I spent on the computer...!)

Normally, I'd use a clear bowl, but only blue ones were available today. Still, I don't imagine much colour would show up in the broth anyhow. Aside from familiar orange oily dots at the surface, the broth is mostly clear. The flavour is subtler than expected, but that's in comparison to a dish which is renown for embarrassing those with delicate palates. It has a pronounced overtone of lime followed by chili and mixed seafood. The resulting hot-and-sour combination is satisfyingly tangy, though the instant version only comes so close as most similar ramen does.

As a note on the heat level... well, I have a confession to make. My last few reviews might be a little off. My tolerance for spice has risen sharply over the last few months, to where I order dishes at Thai and Indian restaurants "spicy as it would be back home" and I find the results to be comfortable, but not challenging. I'll do my best to attenuate that for the ratings, but I'm probably way off nowadays because I'd mark this a two and other would probably consider it a three-to-four.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 3, flavour 3, overall 3
Music: Neil D. Voss - Star Reach (PC) - Scene 6


Ace Cook "Oomoriika Yakisoba"

Brand: Ace Cook
Flavour: Oomoriika Yakisoba
Format: styrofoam tray
Packets: three
Identifiables: noodle brick, dried veggies, dried squid slices, soy sauce, herbs
Sodium: 0.20 grams

I purchased a new camera (with the gracious assistance of my roommate, Tanya.) This means that the ramen reviews shall rise again, and with new and improved photos! Naturally, to celebrate this fact, I review a ramen with no name.

In all honesty, it has a name, but not one that I can read conveniently. There isn't a single word of English on the packaging. I had to match squiggles on the packets to squiggles in the instructions to figure out the order... though, truth told, I could have guessed at it since most yakisoba prepares exactly the same way. I even took a little time to decode the katakana and found it to be an approximation of the actual brand name, "Ace Cook". It isn't visible in the photo, but the little pig next to the brand name? I think that's Ace. Ace is happy because he didn't have to be the mascot for "Lucky Me!"

The bowl is very well-designed. It's quite similar to the one used in Nissin's UFO Big in that one peels back one corner, puts veggies and boiling water in, the peels the other corner after three minutes and drains. The big difference is that the drain spout is larger... much larger. In fact, it's excessively large. It peels back to about a third of the lid's diagonal dimension and has so many drain spouts that the top two rows never had any liquid come out of them. It's hard to complain too much, seeing as how the usual problem is that it takes forever to drain the noodles.

There are small icons on the lid of the bowl to direct this process, but they're not as straightforward as one might hope. I'm reminded of the first time I came across one of these bowls, well before I started the review blog. I thought that all the ingredients were meant to go in during cooking, like most simple noodle cups. It turns out that yakisoba is far better when it's not made as soup.

The flavour is pretty much what one can expect from instant yakisoba. It's basically slightly-sweet soy with some varied vegetables and wheaty, well-textured noodles. This is a winning combination, and this particular brand has nailed it dead on. The large chunks of reconstituted cabbage and squid are quite welcome. Squid frequently scares us Occidental folks away from such a dish, but in the quantity found here, it doesn't provide a fishy flavour so much as a rich, satisfying meaty tone which really appeals. I imagine I could hand the prepared meal to somebody who didn't know it had squid, and they'd likely never realise.

I feel that the only way to improve the bowl itself would be to include a fork... or a naruto.

Numbers: packaging 4, preparation 4, heat 1, flavour 4, overall 4
Music: po! & Mustin - More Than Mario - Zebes Sunrise


Pulmuone "Fresh Noodles with Black Bean Sauce"

Brand: Pulmuone
Flavour: Fresh Noodles with Black Bean Sauce
Format: plastic bag
Packets: four
Identifiables: noodle nest, bean sludge
Sodium: 2.02 grams

Two months! I know, all you Keet fans out there are wondering if I fell off the planet. Rest assured that I did not. I have, however, had a turbulent time of it, and the worst part is that the camera I was using gave up the ghost. I didn't want to use my phone's camera because it's not the greatest, but the replacement camera I ordered is on indefinite backorder and I didn't want to leave everyone hanging forever.

This particular dish is quite a departure from instant ramen, but it's fun enough that I had to share. It's a sizable plastic bag from the refrigerated section of the market. It has a nice picture on it of a bowl of jjajang, a Korean noodle dish with black bean sauce. Note that the picture does not have the sauce mixed in to the noodles. That's because once mixed, the result is a terrifyingly nasty-looking concoction which could turn one away on the spot if not for the delightful smell of it. It's not only real food, but it's really good food when done right.

When I tore the large bag open, I found four packets inside, two matching pairs. One pair was translucent, showing the sturdy-looking what noodles inside. The other pair consisted of thick silver mylar pouches like one might see holding ready-to-eat meals in a camping supply store.

The first part of assembling the dish was easy; boil water, add noodles, cook for four minutes, drain. The catch is that the second part involved boiling more water and heating up the silver packets, then opening the hot packets over the noodles. That's right, it requires either a second pot, or the patience to fill the first one again and then let the noodles get cold while the sauce heats. I went for the second pot. Then there's the tricky step of opening a thick plastic packet full of hot black bean sauce and not making a disaster or scalding oneself. There are notches on the packets for this, but the force required to tear them open makes that a difficult and messy proposition, so a scissors came in handy.

Fortunately, the result was very pleasant. The black bean sauce is heavy, but well-balanced. The deep, rich flavour of it goes well with the wheat noodles. The vegetables weren't terribly plentiful, but quite welcome. The catch is that there's perhaps too much sauce for the noodles, and I'd have balanced them out differently, and with a little less sauce I might have had an easier time picking noodles up with chopsticks. The other catch is that preparation is a little complex and possibly risky. This isn't a pour-and-forget cup noodle; this is an instant meal that has to be kept in the fridge until it's prepared. For that, however, it's incredibly tasty.

Anyhow... you're unlikely to find this outside a Pal-Do Market or similar international place, so just enjoy the pictures. (Then go read Thirteen Ribbons, the serial writing project I've been engaged in while I haven't been reviewing ramen.)

Numbers: packaging 2, preparation 1, heat 0, flavour 5, overall 3
Music: Jivemaster - OCRemix - Sonic 3D Blast Power Puppet


Indomie "Mi goreng: Meat Ball Fried Noodles"

Brand: Indomie
Flavour: Mi goreng: Meat Ball Fried Noodles
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: five
Identifiables: noodle brick, flavour powder, soy paste, oniony oil, chili powder, fried onions
Sodium: 1.26 grams

Most Indomie packets look rather similar, save for the colour trim and the colours of the bar showing the type of noodle. In this case, the packet is green and the bar is red with yellow text. It should be noted, however, that I tried the "Jumbo" packet, which also had a friendly pink bar with gaudy red-and-yellow-gradient letters reading "JUMBO". Supposedly, it is three servings' worth when prepared. Also of note is that the untranslated name of the dish is "Rasa Baso Sapi", which happens to be exactly what Yosemite Sam always mutters under his breath.

Interestingly, the noodles only take ninety seconds in boiling water to achieve a perfect texture. Ninety seconds isn't quite enough time to get all the ingredients into the bowl without making a mess, though having a scissors handy will allow such. As usual for Indomie, the various ingredient packets are arranged in pairs and tripleys, and they are pinked in the least helpful way.

As flavour goes, I haven't much to report. They might be "meat ball fried noodles", but they don't taste phenomenally different than any other Mi goreng I've had from Indomie. I might be able to distinguish them in an immediate comparison test, but otherwise I really wouldn't know a difference. That's just fine with me, really, because like most other Indomie flavours, these are too addictively tasty to be weighed down by such small concerns.

Numbers: packaging 2, preparation 3, heat 3, flavour 4, overall 4
Music: Toshiharu Yamanishi - Thunder Force III (GEN) - The Grubby Dark Blue (Stage 3: Seiren)


Thai Kitchen "Spring Onion"

Brand: Thai Kitchen
Flavour: Spring Onion
Format: plastic bowl
Packets: three
Identifiables: loose noodles, flavour powder, veggie bits, oniony oil
Sodium: 1.36 grams

I don't like you anymore, Thai Kitchen, and I really wanted to.

For starters, the packaging of this bowl made little sense. The cardboard sleeve had tabs to pull it apart, as though one might wish to reassemble it later for a souvenir. Not even I do that. Then, the thin paper lid to the bowl tears when attempting to lift it, meaning that the attempt to retain a coherent enough lid that it acts like one is a tall order indeed. Then, I had to go digging around in the loose noodles to find the oil packet – which I only knew was in there because the instructions mentioned it – and after all that, it was the sort that needed to be opened very carefully lest it squirt oniony chili oil all over. That stuff is red. It stains.

Furthermore, the packaging tries to plain that the bowl is two servings. I know I let other ramen slide on this because it's sort of endearingly irritating (endearritating!) like a young puppy chewing on one's slippers. This is a product with careful focus-tested package design and flawless English. I want to tell it, "No, you're a big dog now, stop trying to eat my bloody couch!"

The couch-eater – I mean, the ramen bowl – was easy to assemble. Open packets, pour into bowl, four boiling water to line, cover for three minutes, and enjoy. Why do they always put that little assumption there? Enjoy? I'll be the judge of that.

It turns out that it's a very mixed bag in this case. The flavour is actually rather good, if you like lots of onion. I love lots of onion, so this is a real treat. The catch is, the noodles stayed disturbingly firm, and they're short. This means that they're very difficult to pick up with chopsticks because they don't drape and they're slick. Slurping them is right out. A spoon would make it genuinely impossible. What good is an oniony delight if I have to work so hard at eating it? The broth is incredibly satisfying, at least, but I don't think it really salvages the dish on the whole.

As an added note, I'm slightly annoyed because the battery compartment lid on the camera just broke. I might simply tape it in place. I place the blame squarely on you, Thai Kitchen!

Numbers: packaging 2, preparation 2, heat 2, flavour 4, overall 2
Music: Shnabubula - OC ReMix - Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance Behold the Winged Cathedral


Sapporo Ichiban "Kitsune"

Brand: Sapporo Ichiban
Flavour: Kitsune
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: one
Identifiables: noodle brick, soup base, graham cracker
Sodium: 1.94 grams

All right, it's not really a graham cracker. In person, though, you'd wonder, as it looks like one, feels a bit like one, and even smells a bit like one but saltier. It is most certainly kitsune-flavoured, though.

Here's an explanation, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Fox spirits are said to be particularly fond of a fried sliced tofu called aburage, which is accordingly found in the noodle-based dishes kitsune udon and kitsune soba.

What I have here is, therefore, kitsune ramen. It cooks like most any ramen at the start, if slightly longer; boil 600mL water, cook noodles for five minutes. This is quite a bit of water, but the package claims to be enough to serve three, so it's either too much or not enough. The noodles are wider than usual, but they seem similar to average ramen noodles otherwise. After that, the seasoning and fried tofu block are stirred in and it's all cooked for another thirty seconds before serving. When the cracker – I mean, aburage – was added, it almost immediately began to reconstitute and puff up.

The flavour is a bit difficult to describe. The broth is well-rounded, salty and very slightly spicy but rich with soy and gently spicy. The noodles have a good consistency. The tofu is a bit better than one might expect given its humble dried-slab-in-a-packet nature, but it's also strangely sweet. It's a little difficult to pull apart with chopsticks in the bowl, and it practically begs to be broken into small pieces before it's cooked so one can get a bit of that sweetness spread over many more bites. Still, the dish is well worth the effort.

I don't know if this tastes anything like foxes or fox spirits, but if it does, then I know why they've made themselves so difficult to catch. They'd all be eaten up by now otherwise!

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 2, flavour 4, overall 4
Music: Andrew Sega (Necros) - Orchard Street


Indomie "Soto Mie Flavor"

Brand: Indomie
Flavour: Soto Mie Flavor
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: three
Identifiables: noodle brick, chili powder, flavour powder, seasoning oil
Sodium: 1.36 grams

Today's mini-review covers an Indomie flavour which is slightly baffling. There are only three "sachets", for one thing. The chili powder is expected, the "bumbu sauce" powder packet is usual for Indomie products, but the seasoning oil... was chartreuse. Seriously. The package itself is lime green with a yellow banner, and the seasoning oil splits the difference, which is slightly unsettling.

This is a broth style, as opposed to most of Indomie's other noodles which are a dry style. When I added the seasonings to the cooked noodles, the scent that rose up from the bowl was distinctly fruity. I thought of breakfast cereal, specifically Trix. You know, the obscenely brightly-coloured cereal with the rabbit on the box? It turns out that "Soto Mie Flavor" means "chicken and lime soup" or something to that effect.

It's actually quite tasty.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 3, flavour 4, overall 4
Music: Norio Hanzawa - Bangai-O Spirits (DS) - Forbidden Fruits Rhapsody


A Taste of Thai "Coconut Ginger Noodles"

Brand: A Taste of Thai
Flavour: Coconut Ginger Noodles
Format: cardboard pyramid
Packets: four
Identifiables: rice noodles, coconut powder, spice mix, herb mix
Sodium: 0.91 grams

I know I keep having these month-long gaps in the reviews. That's mostly a good thing, being a combination of staying busy and having rather good leftovers in the fridge to rely on. Today, however, I saw this A Taste of Thai box with its curious inverted truncated pyramid shape and I heard the call.

Next time, I'll let it go to voicemail.

To start with, the directions on the box were slightly erroneous. They assume that removing the packets will leave the noodles in the box, which it turns out is simply not the case as the noodles come in their own packet. Furthermore, they direct to close the carton while microwaving, but a label on the top of the box – annoyingly pasted directly over the opening and locking tab, I'll add – read, "New Box! Revised Microwave Instructions: Keep Carton Open When Cooking." In the interest of total disclosure, I'll add that the punctuation there is my personal touch, as there was none on the package.

One packet contained noodles. Another packet contained three packets; two were opaque silvery things (one with the word "COCONUT" stamped unceremonoiusly on it as though an afterthought) and the third was a small clear packet which appeared to contain marijuana. It turns out, after a cursory glance at the ingredients, that the green stuff was actually coriander leaf. If coriander has been legalised in your state or country, you're welcome to it. I was obligated to partake of mine... purely as a matter of science, of course.

Cooking involved putting a cup of water into the box with the noodles and putting it in the microwave for three minutes. When I opened the microwave afterwards, there was a thin layer of hot water at the bottom of the carousel. I wondered if perhaps a leak had formed. I wondered if the bottom might give out when I lifted the carton. Neither was the case, however, and I stirred in the other packets' contents, marvelling at the amount of white powder which came out of one of them. Coconut is not something to be taken lightly. Another minute of cooking – and a quick wipe of the bottom of the carton – and I had a finished product. What would be the result of such strange machinations?

Truth told, the result was a rather unappealing mass of noodles which couldn't decide whether to stick to the inside of the box or each other, so they obligingly did both. Despite my best attempts, the seasonings weren't quite thoroughtly mixed in. I found it to be an unrewarding dig to the bottom, and one I can't recommend to anyone else. I've had worse, but I didn't pay nearly so much for it.

Numbers: packaging 2, preparation 2, heat 2, flavour 2, overall 2
Music: Malc Jennings - Robocop CPC Zone OC ReMix


One More Cup "Kimchi"

Brand: One More Cup
Flavour: Kimchi
Format: cardboard cup
Packets: two
Identifiables: noodle frustum, veggie brick, veggie bits, flavour powder
Sodium: 0.88 grams

So soon after the U.F.O. BIG, I decided to try another package which had minimal English on it. This time, all the text was Chinese except for the word "Kimchi" in a purple triangle and big friendly script letters reading "One More Cup" across the picture of a bowl of the stuff. Now, the name "One More Cup" leads me to wonder about the possibilities. When I lived in Ann Arbor, MI, there was a coffee joint called "Not Another Café", and the question was whether that was a declaration of uniqueness or a pander to the common groan of seeing yet another trendy café pop up in the area. Now I live in a place where there are more cafés than stop signs...

...but I digress. My mind conjures a bizarre commercial for this product in which a group of Taiwanese office workers are readying to eat lunch. One says, "If I have to eat one more more cup of instant noodles, I swear I'll—" He is cut off by a flash of light and the ramen cup in his hands has miraculously changed to the One More Cup brand. He slurps some noodles, grins, and gives a victorious thumbs-up to the camera. Then a monkey steals his suit jacket and the whole group laughs about it in freeze-frame.

I mean... have any of you ever had that dream?

It took me a short time to decode the directions while I peeled the foil top away from the cup. I know what a few numbers look like in Chinese (hint: the first three are dead easy, as is zero) so I was able to deduce that I was to pour 320 cubic centimetres of boiling water into the cup. There is no line to assist in this. I also guessed, by looking at which characters in the instructions matched the packet, that the soup powder went in before the water was added. I simply assumed that everything in the vegetable packet was to be dumped in before the water. It turned out that the vegetable packet was not to be a group of loose veggie bits, but a single orange cake. By now, however, I'm kind of accustomed to that.

I searched around in the instructions for a number. My suspicions were confirmed, and I waited three minutes after pouring in the boiling water. Then, I had my metal chopsticks handy – they were only a dollar-fifty at Daiso! – and all that remained was to photograph and eat. (The truncated photograph is because either the camera or the memory card is on the fritz and I haven't bothered diagnosing which.)

While the flavour was somewhat reminiscent of what it claimed to be, it really came across more as barbecued pork with a little kimchi on the side, which is by no means bad but definitely not at all what I was expecting. The noodles are quite standard "cup noodle" fare, meaning just firm enough but nothing to write home about. The vegetables are a welcome addition, and the cabbage bits do have a vinegary taste to them which is pleasant to those of us fond of kimchi. I'll give the flavour a four because it is that good, but the cup really should read "Spicy Pork" instead of "Kimchi".

How will I get that commercial out of my head, though?

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 3, heat 2, flavour 4, overall 3
Music: Shpongle - Tales of the Inexpressible - Dorset Perception


Chewy "Thai Rice Vermicelli: Tom Klong (Smoked Fish) Flavour"

Brand: Chewy
Flavour: Thai Rice Vermicelli: Tom Klong (Smoked Fish) Flavour
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: one-plus-three
Identifiables: noodle cloud, flavour powder, oniony oil, chili powder
Sodium: 1.33 grams

As we all do, I fall into a good few patterns of predictability. Asked to choose a number from one through ten, I will almost always choose five. Presented with objects of equal quality but differing colour, I will almost always choose the purple one. Served two dishes of food, only one of which is spicy, I will almost always eat the spicy one first. Brought to a bagel shop for lunch, I will almost always order a bagel with lox and onions, because I love smoked fish and onions. When I pick up a packet of ramen with more Thai writing than English and a label that incidates that it is spicy and flavoured with smoked fish and onions, the first question is not whether I want it or even if I want it presently, but how fast can it be prepared?

In this case, the answer is, "about three minutes". This, friends, is why I love instant noodles.

Seriously, there are only ten ingredients listed on the packet and four of them are rice, fish powder, onion powder, and chili powder. There's nothing more complex or weird than monosodium glutamate. The package opens easily, and within it is a soft cloud of ultra-thin rice noodles and a packet containing three packets within. No, really, there's a packet packet within the packet of ramen. The three small packets contain a common spread; a foil packet with soup powder in it, a thick clear packet with oniony oil, and a small thin packet with chili powder. The small thin packet was actually a alrge tin packet, though, and it was stuffed so full of chili powder that some was trapped in the heat-sealed edge. I found it a bit endearing.

The directions recommend putting all the ingredients into the bowl and adding two bowls of boiling water. To be precise, they say, "Add 350ml (about two bowls) of boiling water," which indicates little more than a translation error when they meant to say "cups", but isn't it an amusing image? At any rate, one needn't involve a pot to cook anything, which is a definite plus. The result, when cooked, is a bowl of mostly-clear broth with a bit of orange colour from the chili powder and a mass of perfectly-cooked rice noodles.

The flavour of the dish boils down fairly well to what it says on the package. It tastes like smoked fish and not much else, save for some onion. I find that wonderful because I really like smoked fish and onions both. It's rather spicy because I dumped in the entire chili powder packet, but obviously that's en entirely optional component and could be adjusted as desired. However, it has been rather well-established that I am a bit of a masochist and will generally go whole-hog. This, I do for you, loyal readers; this, I do for you.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 3, heat 5, flavour 4, overall 4
Music: Tim Follin & Geoff Follin - Silver Surfer (NES) - BGM I


Noodle King "XO Sauce Flavored"

Brand: Noodle King
Flavour: XO Sauce Flavored
Format: plastic tray
Packets: two
Identifiables: noodle mass, dried veggies, flavour sludge
Sodium: 0.52 grams

Before I opened this package, I had no idea what "XO sauce" was. What I did know was that the tray was a high-class production, all black and very slick. Upon opening it, I was even more surprised; the plastic lid matched, and the bowl itself had a clear plastic liner inside which seved both to create a smooth surface so the veggies wouldn't get stuck in creases and to create an insulating gap of air so the outside of the bowl would stay cool. Very spiffy!

The other contents of the bowl were more standard. There was a roughly-circular mass of yellow dried noodles, a mostly-opaque white packet containing dried veggie bits (including corn!), a mostly-opaque red packet containing some sort of pitch-black flavouring sludge, a small piece of paper with standard preparation instructions on one side and microwave oven instructions on the other, and a small plastic fork for convenience. This was beginning to seem like the perfect businessman's lunch. You know, bring in a really spiffy-looking noodle bowl, prepare it easily with hot water, and there's even a fork included. No mess, no fuss!

Unfortunately, there were a few hitches. To facilitate the preperation of the "dry style" noodles, two corners of the lid had three small cuts to form waterspout holes, but they had to opened manually and it was a bit of a challenge. Also, while the bowl itself was somewhat insulated, the lid got very hot after three minutes of boiling water under it, so draining the noodles was slightly uncomfortable. After cooking, the sludge packet opened easily with a notch on the side, but the sludge inside was slow to squeeze out and it left a good bit of gritty remains which simply couldn't be coaxed from the packet.

The smell was... very odd, slightly fishy, and rich without being particularly distinct. It reminded me of fried rice, which makes perfect sense when one reads about XO sauce. Imagine somewhat brown noodles that taste rather like salty fried rice, and you have about the right idea. (Apologies for not having photos of the prepared noodles; I got a little ahead of myself.)

The catch, of course, is that the noodles were undercooked despite strict adherence to the directions, and they had a strong flavour of their own that was slightly unexpected (though not unpleasant). Also, the sauce was somewhat clumpy, so there were noodles without much flavour and then pockets with a very strong salty-seafoody punch, though even then it didn't seem very spicy at all. It seems like the dish would have been far more pleasant were it not for these facts, as the flavour was rather enjoyable. I find myself wondering if the microwave directions might have been the preferable option, so I'm allowing a higher score based on the idea that warming the sauce sachet a bit and cooking the noodles slightly more would have helped.

Numbers: packaging 4, preparation 3, heat 2, flavour 4, overall 3
Music: Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here - Wish You Were Here


Cream of Wheat "Instant: Original Flavor"

Brand: Cream of Wheat
Flavour: Instant: Original Flavor
Format: paper packet
Packets: zero
Identifiables: loose farina
Sodium: 0.16 grams

Sometimes, one will spot a ramen which is clearly meant explicitly for the American market. It will seem to prepare like any other instant noodle, but the packaging will have Western sensibilities and the flavour of the stuff will bear almost no resemblance to Eastern cuisine. This was such a case. From the cheerful chef pictured on the box to the stalks of wheat also pictured on the box, the packaging sets the seasoned instant noodle eater ill at ease. Merely one solid colour for the background? Where is the photo of the expanse of noodles accompanied by meats and vegetables of all sorts? Even Samyang Ramen had that much.

It turns out that the box contained twelve packets within it, each an individual portion. I knew from the size that I was probably buying a multi-pack, but I didn't realise how small the individual packets inside were; twenty-eight grams is less than half the size of even the smallest ramen packets! I opened one up – easily, even without any sort of pinking on the packet – to find that rather than noodles, it contained what appeared to be coarse-ground wheat with nothing indicating additional spices, herbe, or vegetable matter. Undeterred, I boiled two-thirds of a cup of water as directed.

At first, when I poured the water over the fine sand-like pile in my bowl, it appeared for all the world like... wet sand. Chopsticks – even from IKEA – would not do for this, so I grabbed a plastic spoon to help. After a minute of stirring, however, the product soaked up all the water until it had a sort of gritty paste-like consistency reminiscent more of grits than ramen. Hesitant but unwillign to back down from a challenge, I spooned some up.

The very short cook time is definitely in its favour, but because it's not fried, it has less flavour than one would expect from even unadorned wheat noodles from Nissin or Ottogi. In no way was it bad, but it simply doesn't have anything to recommend it when there are incredibly enjoyable flavours to be had. It turns out, from looking over the box more carefully, that there are other flavours including such things as "cinnamon swirl" and "strawberries 'n cream". As unusual as ramen varieties have been, even the sweetest of them still held firmly to the savoury camp. Fellow noodle lovers... I simply don't think America is ready for this product.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 1, flavour 2, overall 2
Music: The Who - Who's Next - Won't Get Fooled Again