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