Nissin "U.F.O. BIG"

Brand: Nissin
Flavour: U.F.O. BIG
Format: styrofoam bowl
Packets: two
Identifiables: noodle brick, liquid sauce, garnishing herbs
Sodium: 2.80 grams

One of my roommates presented me with a gift. It seems that she'd been to an international grocery and spotted a square bowl with garish cellophane packaging bearing a picture of tasty-looking yakisoba, the bold declaraction of "130g!", and no English save for the name of the product: "U.F.O. BIG". Preparation would be a completele mystery, since the iconic directions were covered by a post-hoc nutrition label. Apparently, alien invasion begins with instant noodles.

Fortunately, once I'd peeled away the cellophane, the foil lid on the bowl had even more detailed iconic directions. I followed them as closely as I could, guessing by the repeated digit "3" in the sea of Japanese script that the cooking time would be three minutes. The process followed as such:

  • Pull front tab 1 to easily open lid as far as line 2.

  • Remove large opaque foil packet of liquid and small translucent packet of herbs and tiny mysterious pink bits.

  • Pour in boiling water, cover with lid, and wait for three minutes.

  • Tear side tab 3 across to reveal array of drain holes, and tilt bowl over sink to drain well. Remove lid.

  • Struggle to open the pinked but nigh invulnerable opaque packet, give up, and take a scissors to it. Dock entire point from packaging score in fit of pique.

  • Pour black liquid over noodles. Stir until noodles are a uniform medium brown.

  • Open small translucent packet easily and attempt to sprinkle contents over top of noodles. Instead, watch entire contents spill out into one central mass of herbs and inexplicable pink bits.

  • Stare at pink bits for a short time, recieve no help from ingredient list, wonder why licorice extract is on there.

  • Eat with alien-green (aliens are green, of course!) IKEA chopsticks. Enjoy.

The flavour was somewhat sweet without being overbearingly so, and reasonably rich with soy and vegetable components. The noodles were standard Nissin quality, meaning they had just the right tooth and a good flavour.. The cabbage bits were a pleasant surprise, especially in how well they reconstituted. I still have no idea what the pink bits were. And yes, if I stretch my imagination, I think I can taste a smidge of that licorice influence, though I wouldn't call any of this alien. Perhaps, however, it just might be... out of this world.

No, I still don't have the marketing chops.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 3, heat 1, flavour 4, overall 4
Music: Machinae Supremacy - Jets'N'Guns (PC) - Little Green Men


Nissin Choice Ramen "Slow Stewed Beef"

Brand: Nissin Choice Ramen
Flavour: Slow Stewed Beef
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: one
Identifiables: noodle disc, flavour powder
Sodium: 0.80 grams

Nissin elected to introduce a line of health-conscious ramen in America. It's called "Choice Ramen" and it features some very interesting claims. I'll avoid getting into a discussion of modern nutrition here, but the package does state the ramen to have one-fifth the fat of their normal product. More specifically, it says "80% Fat Free", which implies that it's twenty percent fat, but there is a small disclaimer that it's a compariton to their normal ramen, which is especially strange to say since their normal ramen is about one-fifth fat to begin with. On the back of the package, somebody wised up and changed the claim to "80% less fat", but without a disclaimer. I suspect I will never understand marketing types, and I also suspect that this is a good thing.

I'll also note that the primary ingredient in the flavour mix is monosodium glutamate. This isn't inherently bad, but some people are sensitive to the stuff, so it's a point to consider.

The package itself opens easily to reveal a yellow noodle disc in its own cellophane wrapper. That's slightly strange, and I find myself wondering if this is for some genuine concern of preservation or an attempt to lend more prestige to the product than the usual ramen holds. The preparation is also slightly unusual; the flavour packet is added after the ramen is cooked. At any rate, I followed the directions and let the noodles cook while I prepared my white chopsticks. White chopsticks, because it's light cuisine, get it? Perhaps I'm catching on to this marketing thing after all.

Upon tasting, I was struck by the flavour. Far from any beef ramen I'd had previously, this was tangy but not terribly rich, and oddly a little sweet. The umami of the MSG gave added dimension in the same way a sickly yellow light might give warmth to a jail cell. I can't help but wonder if this is supposed to give the impression of slow-stewed flavour at the same time as "light" cuisine, but it all seemed almost insulting. It's probably the lower-fat formulation to blame.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 1, flavour 2, overall 2
Music: Prodigy - Mindfields (LT3M Radio with DJ Failover)


Nong Shim "Seafood Ramyun"

Brand: Nong Shim
Flavour: Seafood Ramyun
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: two
Identifiables: noodle disc, dried veggies, soup powder
Sodium: 2.42 grams

I found myself staring at the pantry shelves, wondering what to have for lunch. My eyes kept drifting to the ramen, and I'd admonish myself. "No, self, we have ramen all the time." I couldn't resist for long, however, and before I knew it I was carrying a bright red packet back to the kitchen in a sort of hypnotised shambling way. I didn't even bother getting the camera for pictures; I needed the ramen and I needed it bad.

Upon opening the packet, I caught a strong whiff of seafood. It turns out that some of the seafood flavour comes from something on the noodles themselves, perhaps added to the oil that goes into them. This also meant that the packets were a little oily on the outside, but that didn't metter to me. The noodle disc and veggies went into boiling water, and four very, very long minutes passed.

I should note that sometimes I'll prepare a soup-style ramen as a dry-style. What this means is that instead of adding the flavour packet to the broth, I'll drain the noodles and then mix in the seasonings. I'd decided to do that with this ramen, especially because experience tells me that Nong Shim tends toward very spicy noodles and I love the heat overload. Yes, I'm a capsaicin junkie. Anyhow, I figured this would be a very informal review, so I allowed myself this variation on the directions.

I drained the noodles, stirred in the reddish powder, and barely got out of the kitchen before I was hungrily slurping up the noodles. I must say, this flavour is precisely as though they decided to take Shin Ramyun and make it more fishy. Salty, yes, but with a very satisfying rich flavour, and the heat carries with it a tangy roundness that really makes it sing. I'll rate this flavour as higher than the standard Shin Ramyun because of that balance. This has become a favourite, I think.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 4, flavour 4, overall 4
Music: Yoko Shimomura, Koji Kondo - Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (DS) - The Yoshi Village


Wai Wai "Oriental Style"

Brand: Wai Wai
Flavour: Oriental Style
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: three
Identifiables: noodle brick, chili powder, soup powder, garlic oil
Sodium: 0.93 grams

I dug through the box which holds Batch Three, looking for something interesting for the day's review. I found one that was small, quirky-looking, but simple. After all, there were a total of nine ingredients, all of which I had in my kitchen at the moment. If anything, I feared it would be too boring to be of interest. It was under this happy delusion that I began to photograph.

Note the complex, over-saturated arrangement of food items on the packet. We can see noodles, eggs, prawns, several types of chilis, mint, lemongrass, what might be chicken or duck, something yellow, and what looks like a tongue made of strawberry jam. None of these are in the packet, save the noodles. Pause a moment and imagine my relief.

There is a clear window on the packet which shows the medium-brown dried noodles inside, and I figured that tucked behind the noodle brick would be a single flavouring packet. To my great surprise, there were three packets inside, two of them conjoined Indomie-style. One clearly held a small quantity of ground dried chilies. Another was translucent but appeared opaque white from the soup powder within. The third, however, was an inscrutable blue packet with liquid inside. Had I missed some of the directions? I checked carefully, and here they are, verbatim and including typoes:

1. Pour in boiling water.
2. Put cover on and leave to sit for 3 minutes.
3. The good tasted instant noodles soup is now ready to serve.
1. Add noodles to boiling water 400cc. Simmer for 2 minutes,stir occasionally.
2. Remove to the bowl with seasoning. Stir,the noodles are ready to serve.

Once I decoded them, I elected to follow the latter batch of instructions, even though only the former held the promise of "good tasted instant noodles soup". While the noodles boiled, I opened the adequately-pinked packets and emptied them into a bowl, nearly squirting semi-opaque garlicky fluid past the bowl. My poor aim was, of course, a result of shaking hands... hands which shook with a mix of terror and exhiliration. During my hiatus – no, let's call it a sabbatical – I had forgotten how it felt to be in over my head, to be held hostage at the culinary whim of ramen. There's a strange joy to it.

After two minutes, I stirred the noodles and liquid together with the spices in the bowl. The result was a small hill of noodles which disappeared about two millimetres from the surface of an unappealing-looking tan broth, complete with a sheen of oil on the top. I thought of the "Lucky Me!" brand and shivered, even in the warmth of my own home. Would this be a repeat... or worse?

The truth is that the results are disappointingly – or maybe mercifully – bland. The noodles had a firm texture, possibly slightly undercooked, and they didn't soak up much of the taste. The broth itself was as murky in flavour as in appearance, being little more than garlic and chili. In fact, the broth seemed to have leached much of the wheaty flavour of the noodles, which meant that drinking the broth was actually more enjoyable than eating the noodles. Given that the ingredients were so few but the packets so many, the noodles were not cooked with the seasonings but the broth was kept, and that the broth ended up more interesting than the noodles themselves, the one word I would use to describe this ramen is "backwards".

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 2, flavour 2, overall 2
Music: The Alpha Conspiracy - Cipher - Cross Product


Nissin Cup Noodles "Mast Masala"

Brand: Nissin Cup Noodles
Flavour: Mast Masala
Format: plastic cup
Packets: zero
Identifiables: noodle frustum
Sodium: 1.35 grams

Naturally, given the overblown anime name of this batch, I'll start it off with an Indian dish. I found this cup at a nearby Indian grocery, and given that I'm a fan of the cuisine I simply had to grab it. Plus, it's clearly labelled as a "Proprietary Food" and that's just not a context I often see the word in. I'm guessing that it means Nissin is the only company putting instant Indian-styled noodles in a cup. Is that worth bonus points?

The cup is plastic, not styrofoam. I do prefer the plastic because it's far less likely to be crushed into oblivion by clumsy pallet handling, and it's somewhat more recyclable – though I'd be more impressed with that were it not for the difficult-to-recycle foil lid and the additional cellophane around the whole package. (Tell your friends, CTF is going annoyingly green. In fact, all these electrons are one-hundred percent post-consumer content!) The plastic cup is slightly tricker to handle when hot, however, and requires that the consumer be more intelligent than the product. (I'm shaky on this point, but learning with every attempt.)

I got a closer photo of the inspirational text on the side of the package. You know, I could probably dedicate this blog to the memory of Dr. Momofuku Ando.

The cellophane covered the nutritional facts on the lid with a paper sticker bearing nutritional facts. This is less absurd when one considers that the latter is the U.S.-style fact sheet indicating the serving size facts and the one on the lid... isn't. Either way, it should be noted that Indian cuisine is frequently the most efficient way to eat vegetarian without accidentally eating healthy at the same time. Regardless, the lid came off with little effort and no tearing. In fact, you'll notice in the photos that I erred by pulling the whole lid off instead of peeling half back. (Like I said, I'm learning.)

After cooking the noodles by pouring boilign water in and waiting for three minutes, I noted that there was rather less broth than most Cup Noodles. What was there, however, was fairly rich and spicy, with a good amount of pleasant but not spectacular flavour. The noodles themselves are quite standard for the format, meaning they in no way conflict with the seasonings. I sincerely wish this flavour were available locally instead of via import, as it would then be as inexpensive as the shrimp Cup Noodles and I'd likely make it my regular instant noodle.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 4, heat 3, flavour 3, overall 3
Music: Yuzo Koshiro - Etrian Odyssey 2: Heroes of Lagaard (DS) - Labyrinth VI ~ Forbidden Forest

Round Three: Graceful Noodle Savior Ramen 7 SPLASH!

Amazingly, this batch doesn't scare me, except for most everything in the top-left corner. And the top-right corner.


Indomie "Mie Keriting Goreng Spesial"

Brand: Indomie
Flavour: Mie Keriting Goreng Spesial
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: five
Identifiables: noodle brick, vegetable bits, soup base, thick soy sauce, chili paste, oniony oil
Sodium: 1.14 grams

Before I talk about today's noodle, I'd like to talk about cell phones. Right now, I'm using my T-Mobile G1, built on the Android platform, to take pictures. There are a number of reasons to use the G1: sleek and snappy user interface, 3G data network, fairly tight integration with Google's wealth of online tools, full keyboard, and it's not a freaking iPhone. If you care at all about the quality of the camera on your cell phone, however, it will disappoint greatly. Nothing frustrates quite like having to struggle through ten pictures to get one that doesn't have motion blur just to end up with a photo that has poor focus and lousy colour balance. This situation is far, far from ideal. It's also why I have no picture of the final product, but don't worry; it looks about like one would expect, namely noodles with brown sauce and veggie bits.

I'd also like to talk about world politics for a moment, but I won't. I have a noodle review to get to.

On the package, below the brand name, there is a small line of black all-caps text which reads, "Special Quality Instant Noodles". That's a good start. The line below that, larger and in mixed-case red type, reads, "Mie Keriting Goreng Spesial". Below that is another all-caps line like the first which reads, "Special Fried Curly Noodles". I suppose I can understand some subtle differences between these three lines. After all, one line says nothing about quality, one line says nothing about curly, and another line doesn't say much of anything in English. Still, I couldn't help but feel that somehow I was wotnessing a bit of overkill in the attempt to impart the notion of "special noodles" upon the consumer. Thus, these must be very special noodles indeed.

The brick of flat, slightly wide noodles is a bit larger than the usual Indomie packet but not as large as their jumbo packets. As always, however, the flavouring sachets are in a two-and-three configuration, and as always the ones with the liquid are pinked in exactly the wrong way. As noodled boiled and I opened tiny packets, I found myself imagining the reaction of the first envoy of an extraterrestrial species whose first contact with humanity was not through direct conversation or through bovine vivisection, but a packet of Indomie noodles.

"These Earth people really love their instant noodles, Captain Ach'kanaitsa," one would say to the other, bobbing his egg-shaped head.

"Yes," that one would say to the first, "but these flavouring sachets cannot be opened properly by either telekinesis or direct physical manipulation without their contents spilling uncontrollably, Dave!"

"Are you serious, Captain? Must I fetch a scissors?"

"No, Dave. If their civilisation is so primitive that they cannot figure out which edge of a packet to put the ridges on, then we'll need more than that to deal with them. Prepare the anti-neutron planet penetration beam!"

Earth would be totally demolished thank to poor packaging design. Thanks, Indomie!

Once I followed the directions – "Take out noodles from water and drained well" was my favourite part – I had a bowl of noodles which looked very much like every other Indomie dish, save for the addition of tine vegetable and TVP bits. That's about how the flavour worked out, also; moderately sweet and rich, though not so oniony as usual. I don't know about them being particularly special, but these noodles certainly are enjoyable. It's almost worth the very real risk of failed intergalactic relations.

Numbers: packaging 2, preparation 2, heat 3, flavour 4, overall 3
Music: III - Remastered Tracks Rockman Zero TELOS - Prismatic


Wang "Rice Noodle: Anchovy Flavor"

Brand: Wang
Flavour: Rice Noodle: Anchovy Flavor
Format: cardboard bowl
Packets: two
Identifiables: noodle filaments, soup base, brick of dried stuff
Sodium: 0.82 grams

I bet you forgot about me, didn't you?

You know, I felt bad over the last month that I just hadn't had the chance to do a proper review. It seems like I was doing them nearly every day, and then suddenly there were a lot of great leftovers in the fridge and I wasn't falling back on ramen. Then, I remembered that I have a higher calling, a mission, a real purpose. Mine is to bring the true, real, raw world of instant noodles to the rest of you fine people that you may vicariously experience the joys and sorrows and sheer bloody terror of this incredible medium for culinary artistry. (I also remembered that I'd left one of the bowls from the previous batch untouched, and I'd better get that out of the way before I started the next one.)

I had second thoughts when I looked at the package. Rice Noodle... Anchovy Flavor.

Now, I like anchovies. I frequently order pizzas with anchovies, I like anchovy in Caesar salad (blended with the dressing or bits added after), and anchovies are a fine way to add depth to the flavour of all sorts of dishes. Those anchovies, however, are either a paste or filets packed in liquid of some form. I knew that these would have to be dried, and as we all know, strange things happen to dried meats and fishes. I opened the package hesitantly, but filled with the same sort of eager but morbid curiosity I had when watching the Care Bears movies again recently. (As a note, the verdict is: Care Bears Movie II, fairly decent and watchable, but the first film... something went wrong in ways I can't quite explain.)

As the water slowly came to a boil, I stared apprehensively at the brick which came out of the "flake" packet. It seemed to be a lightly pressed block of suop base and vegetables and... yes, you can clearly see them, dried anchovies. The smell wasn't bad, but it definitely caused me to stop and think about just how far I'd come from thinking that the dried shrimp in Cup Noodles were something unusual. Had I perhaps gone too far? Might I have ended up out of touch with the common people's ramen and found myself perched in some ivory noodle tower? I poured boiling water over the soup block and the loose, translucent noodles and considered for two very long minutes whether I was on the right path.

When I opened the bowl, I was greeted by a rather standard-looking mass of cooked noodles in fairly clear brownish broth, and several things which appeared to be waterlogged twigs. I realised that these were reconstituted anchovies. I allowed my sense of duty to overcome my fear, and set my chopsticke to pucking up a goodly mix of noodle, carrot strip, and anchovy.

It turns out that the flavour of this bowl is rather well balanced. Despite the reputation of anchovies for being exceedingly salty, it seemed no saltier than any other ramen I've had and in fact less so. (The numbers back this up.) There was a bit of that rich, fishy flavour, but it didn't overpower the seaweed-and-mushroom-and-veggie component of the dish, and overall the broth isn't all that strong. The noodles are rather fine, which takes getting used to after so many bowls with rather thick noodles, but the effect works.

This just goes to show that sometimes our fear is misplaced. What seems scary – anchovy ramen! – can be decent, and what seems harmless, like cheese ramen.... All right, that was a poor example.

Numbers: packaging 4, preparation 4, heat 3, flavour 3, overall 3
Music: Hideyuki Fukasawa - Street Fighter IV (ARC) - Africa Stage