An indefinite hiatus.

People have been asking about the fate of their favourite ramen blogger. Did she disappear? Swear off the Internet forever? Go in search of the perfect noodle? Get consumed by a vengeful noodle monster?

I'd like to put these questions to rest. I'm still alive and well, and being productive with other things – writing short stories, reading longer stories, doing professional book design work, converting oxygen to carbon dioxide. The catch is that I also moved to a house closer to Seattle proper, rejuvenated my social life, and started enjoying home-cooked food and leftovers more often. This all tends to make blogging about ramen less of a priority, you see. Plus, I broke my camera, and I really don't want to stick my smartphone over a steaming bowl of noodle soup, thank you very much.

The final nail in the coffin – at least for the moment – is that I'm trying my hand at a low glycemic diet, mostly to make it easier to coordinate meals and shopping with my lovely wife who has been on such a restricted diet for some time. This means that instant ramen is, in general, right out. No ramen noodles... no ramen noodle reviews.

What's in the future of Cheaper Than Food: the Ramen Break? I couldn't say. I might come right back to it in a few weeks, or I might let it languish for months upon years. However, I can say with total certainty that in no way did the blog stop being fun, and it won't be my last slightly surreal project to pop up out of nowhere. I'll be sure to let folks know of future endeavours, so stay tuned. (With your RSS readers. Or whatever.)

Thanks for reading, you wacky lot. You made this two-year project incredibly wonderful.


Nissin "Cup Noodles: Manchurian"

Brand: Nissin
Flavour: Cup Noodles: Manchurian
Format: plastic cup
Packets: zero
Identifiables: seasoned noodle frustum, veggie bits
Sodium: 0.49 grams

Sometimes, we could all use a little more simplicity. In my case, I'm busy with planning for a home relocation (within the area, but still quite the undertaking) and there are many projects on my plate, so it's a good bit of stressful juggling. This means that frequently, I just can't be bothered fixing a lunch, and even facing the prospect of tasty but complicated noodles (such as those with five packets!) can be daunting. For these times, I want ramen that requires only two things: boiling water and an eating utensil. Nissin always comes through with their Cup Noodles line, and this is no exception.

I found this cup on sale at a nearby Indian market. In fact, they were on two-for-one sale, which so elated me that I forgot what I paid for the first one anyhow. It's a handsome white plastic cup with a foil lid and a yellow and milk-chocolate-brown colour scheme. The funny part is that the label proclaims that one may "Enjoy Noodles with Hot Soup" but once all is said and done – boiling water to inside line, wait three minutes, stir – there's no broth, just a thick orange-coloured sauce. I haven't any complaints about that, really, but I could imagine somebody being indignant about wanting proper broth, and if so, then simply add more water! Some people. Sheesh.

Salty! Upon tasting, the first thing that hits is just how salty this noodle seems, despite the relatively low amount of sodium on the label. The sharpness of it is added to by the spice. It tastes rather good – the sort of rich blend of flavours that one expects from an Chinese yellow curry – but a little startling because of the apparent saltiness. The noodles are a little softer than might usually be preferred, but they soak up the sauce well. The vegetable pieces are numerous, and they add a little to the overall texture.

In summary: These Cup Noodles are exactly what I wanted and needed, a simple and tasty lunch. Just have something to drink handy.

Numbers: packaging 4, preparation 4, heat 3, flavour 4, overall 4
Music: Ziwtra - Humans + Gears - Crash / Restore (Emotions)


WuMu "Steamed Noodle: Garlic and Sesame Oil Flavor"

Brand: Wu-Mu
Flavour: Steamed Noodle: Garlic and Sesame Oil Flavor
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: three
Identifiables: noodle brick, veggie bits, garlicky oil, dark sauce
Sodium: 1.00 grams

All things expire, and this holds true for instant noodles. A quick glance at the pictures will reveal that I should have eaten these a month and a half ago. I figure that the longer a product's shelf life is, however the more fudge factor one has in meeting that deadline of edibility. Milk may have only a week... give or take a couple days. Ramen can sit for a half-year; a few more weeks won't cause it to spontaneously putrefy. It turns out that even a Ramenbox doesn't last forever, but in this case it's because this is the last of the packets that were in it.

The packet itself is a handsome affair with modern styling and rich orange and brown colours. It proudly proclaims that the noodles inside are "none fried", though this doesn't necessarily imply that anything is healthy about the ramen. Aside from a brick of thinner-than-usual noodles are three packets. The one labelled "Seasoning" has, strangely, dried veggie bits. "Sauce Packing" has dark, sweetened soy sauce within it. "Oil Packing" has an oil with such strong garlic flavour that the scent of it hits like a wallop once opened. Strange translations aside, all of these are well-pinked and easy to open.

Preparation isn't too bad, either. I'm a fan of noodles that cook in the bowl rather than having to get out a pot. Though a specific amount of boiling water is mentioned, a reasonable measurement would be "enough to cover the noodles and veggies by a bit" since it all gets drained off in four minutes anyhow. (Just be careful trying to drain a hot bowl. Ow.) After that, it's as easy as stirring in the sauce and oil. It's still not quite as easy as the average "cup noodle" but it's not too bad.

The flavour is actually not quite what I expected. There's definitely the sesame oil and garlic mentioned in the name of the packet, but I thought it would be slightly sweeter with the addition of the soy sauce. It turns out to be almost entirely savoury, and amazingly heavy on the garlic. I'm still tasting the garlic several minutes after the bowl is done, so this is definitely not just a hint of everyone's favourite allium. The veggies reconstitute well, but due to the nature of the noodles they tend to clump up at the sides of the bowl instead of mixing in. Still, it's a tasty ramen, if nto as well-balanced as some of the others I've reviewed.

So, that concludes this Ramenbox. I'm really not sure what to say about that. They've been good to me and I was glad to help them get started, but now they have write-ups in Wired and such. My little blog isn't exactly going to help out much on that anymore. Still, I certainly wish them luck and prosperity – and I encourage fellow ramenauts to visit, put together boxes of their favourites for ten percent off (use coupon code CHEAPERTHANFOOD), and enjoy a really interesting service that couldn't have existed before the advent of the modern Internet!

Postscript: Come on, Blogger. I liked you guys, and I was willing to put up with your image upload function being slightly broken as far as the ordering of images. And then I was willing to put up with it becoming completely broken. Now the file upload preview is completely blank. Get it together.

Numbers: packaging 4, preparation 3, heat 0, flavour 4, overall 4
Music: virt - Serious Monkey Business - Dance of the Zinger


Mì Ăn Liền "Thịt Xào Pork Flavor"

Brand: Mì Ăn Liền
Flavour: Thịt Xào Pork Flavor
Format: styrofoam bowl
Packets: four
Identifiables: noodle dome, flavour powder, oniony oil, dried veggies
Sodium: 1.03 grams

First, I had a stretch of being busy enough that ramen reviews weren't on the agenda. Then... well, you'd think that it would be easy enough to remember to buy replacement batteries for my camera. Amazingly, I forgot for several days in a row, then went out of town for a few days to help friends move, and now here I am, nearly a month after the previous review. I can only apologise and get on with it. Here, we have another treat from Ramenbox, a Vietnamese noodle soup with a name that has all sorts of unusual accents in it.

A note on the name of this bowl: Understand that I occasionally do professional document layout and design. I've created my own custom keyboard map to allow me to type nearly every accented Latin character, every (monotonic) Greek letter, and nearly every bit of punctuation I could conceivably want. Still, I find myself digging back into the old character map to pull out the multi-accented letters of Vietnamese, all so you can read the most accurate review possible. Why don't I do this for Chinese, Japanese, Thai, or Korean language script? Because that's just too geeky for even me. (Though I've been tempted to try. Oh, I do love Unicode.)

Because of the smooth finish, I initially thought the bowl to be plastic. It turns out to be rather sturdy styrofoam, with a foil top that's glued on almost too well. Inside are four packets, but only if we count the clear one containing an approximately bowl-shaped brick of dry noodles. A foil packet labelled "soup base" holds sandy powder. Another clear packet labelled "flavour oil" containt precisely that, pale oil with a few dark-brown bits of fried onion in it. The last packet holds dried vegetable bits and is labelled... "flavour oil". One wonders....

The instructions are simple enough, though slightly odd in that there's no mention of the fill line inside the bowl, just an encouragement to "pour boiling water nearly full". Three minutes and a good stir later, the bowl is full of swirling noodles and lightly-coloured broth with veggies and... something. That something is flavoured soy protein yearning to simulate pork. Oh, don't give me that look; you eat more of the stuff than you even realise. It's good for you. The appearance, however, is that of unappealing tan flakes of fish-food.

Fortunately, this bowl is surprisingly good. I say "surprisingly" because I've traditionally had a rather mediocre time of instant Vietnamese-style noodles. These noodles are typically thin vermicelli-style, meaning they tend to hold more of the broth between them. (The scalding hot broth. Be careful, ramen lovers.) That broth is simultaneously light of texture and full of flavour, so much pork and onion and a bit of black pepper. The ill-looking porkish floaty bits turn out to be tasty enough that they're not a negative. Thus, I'm glad to say that this is a tasty bowl and delightfully free of sugar. The verdict? Decent stuff, even if not brilliant.

Numbers: packaging 2, preparation 3, heat 1, flavour 3, overall 3
Music: Setsuo, Tomozou, Sato, Yuko, Kirry - Megaman X - Storm Eagle


Paldo "Hwa Cup"

Brand: Paldo
Flavour: Hwa Cup
Format: paper cup
Packets: one
Identifiables: noodle frustum, veggie bits, flavour powder
Sodium: (amount of sodium in grams, not milligrams)

Yes, it's good to see you again also, but let's get down to brass tacks, shall we?

Instant noodles are one of those little underrated joys of life. Instant noodles that come in a convenient cup are doubly so. It's no wonder that when somebody comes up with a popular taste, the next logical step is to put it in a cup. For Nong Shim, this meant converting Shin Ramyun into Shin Cup. For Paldo, it meant creating a whole new flavour and putting it in a cup that looks like Shin Cup. They call it Hwa Cup.

The Hwa Cup stands tall and proud like the Shin Cup, and the art on the cup looks highly similar from first glance. It has a strong red-and-black theme and large, imposing-looking brushed kanji ("spicy" for the Shin, "fire for the Hwa). The font choices are similar. Honestly, it looks like it's meant to draw in people who really wanted Shin Cup and found this to be twenty cents cheaper on sale. That's clever, but slightly disingenuous, I'd think. Regardless, it's worth a try, and since I got one with my Ramenbox....

The catch with the paper cup is that the foil lid is securely glued to it such that the cup deforms on trying to remove it. A little finesse and patience see it liberated cleanly, but there's such a thing as too secure. Once inside, a cluttered-looking foil packet sits on top of fewer noodles and more veggies than expected. Once the packet is dumped into the cup, it takes only a cup of boiling water and three minutes to get fully cooked ramen.

The broth is surprisingly dark red-brown and moderately oily. It carries a spicy vegetable taste which isn't bad but comes off as slightly hollow because of all the added glutamates; without any particular meat or mushroom flavour to back them up, they seem a little artificial, but not bad. The noodles are a little more rubbery than I'd expect, and their flavour is also slightly unusual in a not-quite-normal way that I can't describe very well. Maybe it's from all that soy peptide.

The final verdict? If you're looking for a vegetarian equivalent to the much-beloved but beef-based Shin noodles, Paldo's Hwa noodles are a bit less spicy but well worth looking into.

Numbers: packaging 2, preparation 3, heat 3, flavour 4, overall 4
Music: Gershon Kingsley - Music To Moog By - Pop Corn


Sapporo Ichiban "Chowmein"

Brand: Sapporo Ichiban
Flavour: Chowmein
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: two
Identifiables: noodle brick, flavour powder, dried seaweed
Sodium: 0.94 grams

Let's be reasonable, dear friends. None of us is about to read a label that insists on splitting three-and-a-quarter ounces of noodles between three servings, and especially not if the noodles are as tasty as these. Get a packet and make certain that it's all yours. After the disappointment of the first Sapporo Ichiban noodles I tried I was ready for something cheap, but these blew me away.

The packaging is somewhat more handsome than those other noodles, for a start. It's still somewhat garish and blocky, but in a friendly way. The directions are unusual, though; instead of a number of minutes, the noodles are to be stirred in merely one cup of boiling water until they absorb it all. This turns out to work rather well in practice. Then one mixes in the seasoning packet (the foil one misleadingly labelled "soup base") and top with dried seaweed (the translucent white packet which reads "Green Laver".) The end result is a bowl of noodles coated in a dark brown sauce and little green specks on top.

The flavour is fairly close to perfect. There's the same sweet-umami-salty combo familiar to all the "Mi goreng" noodles I've reviewed, and the seaweed complements it perfectly. There's even just a hint of spice, but not enough to scare off anyone with a low tolerance for such. It actually tastes somewhat of Worcestershire sauce, which isn't a bad thing... and looking at the lengthy ingredients list, that's actually in there. The noodles are firm and well-textured, and they carry the sauce well.

If you haven't yet put together a Ramenbox, there's still time to fill one at the grand opening prices (and with the discount code of CHEAPERTHANFOOD) so I highly recommend this as one of your choices. (In fact, my first Ramenbox is running out quickly....)

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 1, flavour 5, overall 5
Music: Wave Master - Sonic Advance 3 (GBA) - Sunset Hill Act 2


Wu-Mu "Spicy Flavor Tomato Ramen"

Brand: Wu-Mu
Flavour: Spicy Flavor Tomato Ramen
Format: brick-in-packet (times four)
Packets: two (times four)
Identifiables: noodle brick, dried veggies, flavouring sand, chili oil
Sodium: 1.78 grams

My wife elected to come home for lunch and join me in a ramen review. Naturally, I thought back to the previous Wu-Mu offering and decided to try the other four-pack of theirs. That way we could each have our own bowl. This one takes up three slots in a Ramenbox, which is fair given how much ramen is in it. It's a friendly package, though typographically insane; there are six different typefaces in use for the English text and four for the Chinese!

The directions for cooking are similar, also, including having to dig around in the Chinese text for the amount of water. Amazingly, this one recommends 600cc of water, which means quite a bit of broth. The packets – which really do have to be cut apart to be used – are in a similar configuration, with the foil one holding dehydrated veggies and some flavouring powder and the clear one holding a bright red-orange oil. The noodles themselves are slightly orange also on account of having tomato paste as one of the ingredients. This is where the lycopene comes in, as proclaimed on the front of the package.

Then again, let's talk about the package. It's full of slightly askew English and odd claims. One corner of the front of the package states, "Approved by BSI ISO 9001 and excellent food GMP in Taiwan." We generally don't think about everyday food being approved by any particular organisation unless it's meat, and even then, we tend to just assume. It's a bit eye-opening to see it out in the open like that. On the side, a line reads, "Credited as model company for sanitition." Well then. I feel safer already.

The noodles are fairly average in texture and taste. The broth absorbs well into them, lending a rather spicy blend of tomato, sesame, and coriander flavours. Coriander being the same thing as cilantro, the sensitive folks may want to steer clear; my wife turned out to not care for that aspect of the flavour. I enjoyed it, though there's a rather odd slightly skunky aftertaste I just can't seem to place. The vegetables consist mostly of pepper rings, though there are bits of carrot in there and a mushroom labelled in the ingredients list as "Jew's Ear", oddly enough.

I'll enjoy the rest of these noodles, but next time I'll likely use less water.

Added note: Make sure you wat it when it's hot. Don't let it stand and cool down at all, because the flavours seems to mutate into being... kind of barfy, really. I don't know if I should dock it a point for that....

Numbers: packaging 2, preparation 2, heat 3, flavour 3, overall 3
Music: Sigur Rós - Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust - Góðan Daginn


Annie Chun's "Udon Soup Bowl"

Brand: Annie Chun's
Flavour: Udon Soup Bowl
Format: plastic bowl
Packets: three
Identifiables: noodle mat, flavouring liquid, brick-o-stuff
Sodium: 0.92 grams

I've been eating instant noodles for a long time. I wasn't quite raised on them, any more than I was raised on Lucky Charms or hot dogs or any of the other lifespan-shortening foods I ate when young. I do recall my father preparing the ramen and throwing extras in. He'd add a little dried seaweed here and there, or minced onion, or perhaps chopped up bits of mystery lunchmeat, or whatever seemed like it might go in nicely. He'd been to Korea, and apparently he'd learned the wise ways of turning several bits of cheap food into something a little more interesting than any single component would have been. Now I'm older than he was when he started getting really creative with ramen, and I appreciate the technique more than ever.

This, friends, is why it seems absurd to read the label of a higher-priced fancy instant noodle like Annie Chun's Udon Soup Bowl – the one that proudly proclaims that it includes all-natural vegan bok choy and shiitake mushrooms in an earth-friendly biodegradable bowl – and see that it suggests adding more shiitake or some sliced tofu or cooked shrimp or chicken for "an even more flavorful soup". Who keeps spare cooked shrimp just sitting around? And at this price, shouldn't there already be plenty of mushrooms?

Nonetheless, I took a break from my Ramenbox and, at the encouragement of one of my loyal readers, reviewed one of the bowls I'd received from Pat McK. so long ago. This one has outer packaging meant to invoke the rich colours of an expensive Japanese restaurant. Once the cardboard sheath is off and the cellophane is removed, an ivory-coloured bowl opens to reveal a sealed packet of thick pre-cooked noodles, a fuchsia-coloured packet with liquid soup base which turns out to be mostly soy sauce, and a white packet with a brick of dehydrated stuff. What stuff? Authentic Japanese stuff, most assuredly.

The instructions are confounding. They're readable enough, being in plain and error-free English, but I will reproduce them here with commentary in parentheses:

Microwave Cooking Directions: (I usually worry when these are listed first.)
1. Place noodles in bowl and pour a cup of hot water over the noodles to soften. (They didn't soften. How long was I supposed to steep them?)
2. Using lid, drain water from noodles. (Does this mean the cooking is done?)
3. Add soup base and toppings to moistened noodles. (The toppings are more like one single topping brick.)
4. Add 1 to 1¼ cups of water and loosely cover with lid. (Not the same water I poured out, then? And why isn't there a measuring line inside the bowl?)
5. Microwave on high for 1–2 minutes, until noodles are hot. (I gave them a minute and a half and they were still sort of tepid. One minute? Not likely.)
6. Stir well and enjoy! (The stirring is necessary, as the topping hadn't completely separated into bits.)
No microwave? Add 1 to 1¼ cups boiling water to soup base, toppings, and noodles. Cover with lid and let stand 2 minutes. (Wait... isn't this easier? Wouldn't this make more sense? How do the microwave directions help at all?)

The result is a bowl of softer noodles in medium-dark brown broth, a splendid array of vegetables, and some things that might be intended to stand in for fried tofu but come across more like drowned pork rinds. The flavour is... confusing. On one hand, there certainly is plenty of the much-heralded umami component, that essential fifth axis along which all tastes are measured. On the other, the noodles taste and smell more like soggy Play-Doh than anything one would eat past the age of four. I don't recall udon tasting quite like this before. I'll have to refresh my memory at one of those expensive Japanese restaurants I mentioned. Unfortunately, the flavour is further sunk by stale-tasting vegetables and the mystery strips. It's just not meant to be.

Overall, I can't really recommend this, but I'm open to comments from anyone else who's tried the same stuff and found it pleasant. Perhaps it must be consumed immediately after manufacture, before the Play-Doh sets. That's not the way this bowl should remind me of my childhood.

Numbers: packaging 4, preparation 2/3, heat 0, flavour 1, overall 2
Music: ott - skylon - rogue bagel


Mama "Shrimp (Tom Yum) Flavour"

Brand: Mama
Flavour: Shrimp (Tom Yum) Flavour
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: three
Identifiables: noodle brick, flavour sludge, soup powder, chili powder
Sodium: 2.42 grams

I really must find a more suitable host body.

This weak, inferior, human shell is vulnerable to all manner of hazards; radiation exposure, temperature extremes, rapid pressure changes, and so forth. That defeats me this time? A viral infection called the "common cold". Bah! Such difficulties will not impede my master plan, however!

It so happens that my master plan includes eating spicy noodle soup. For this reason, I love the well-known Thai dish called tom yum goong. It's got spicy heat and onion, tangy kaffir lime and lemon grass, and tasty seafood. What more can one ask from a soup? Having it ready in the comfort of one's own home in three minutes and with minimal effort, perhaps.

The Mama brand interpretation of this classic dish is not quite the same as the original, but the truth is that it'll do in a pinch. For one thing, it's fairly easy to prepare. The directions – printed, like everything else on the package, against a very shiny packground with pink stripes, making the small text difficult to read – guide one to put everything within the package into a bowl, pour 400ml boiling water over it, and let it sit covered for three minutes. Even taking account this host body's compromised state, I can do this!

The noodle brick seems fairly standard, though with slightly thinner noodles than most ramen. There are three packets, however, and that brings the preparation score dangerously close to being docked back down to a two. One packet has the brand name on it... in Thai. This contains a gritty flavouring paste the colour of tamarind. The other two packets are in a classic pair of shiny side-by-side pouches. one is labelled with the brand name in both Thai and English; this contains what looks like sand with bits of herb in it. The other is also bilingual, but this time it's actually descriptive, warning the unwary eater that it holds chilli powder within.

After three minutes' cooking in hot water, the result is a thin broth with orange dots of oil at the surface, and an abundance of noodles, The flavour is as described above; the sweet lime takes front and centre, with the lemon grass and seafood trailing behind, and a good level of heat throughout. I actually enjoy this particular arrangement, but others may disagree simply because it's not exactly balanced. Thus, I have to say that my verdict is: don't be afraid to include it in your next Ramenbox and give it a try (remembder the CTF discount code!) but don't fill the whole box with this flavour unless you already know that you'll really, really like it.

Now, I'm going to go curl up with a box of tissues and my various handheld game consoles.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 3, heat 3, flavour 4, overall 4
Music: Dean Evans - Waterworld (SNES) - Diving


Sapporo Ichiban "Original"

Brand: Sapporo Ichiban
Flavour: Original
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: one
Identifiables: noodle brick, flavour powder
Sodium: 2.06 grams

I've heard it said that the Japanese are fond of salty foods when drinking. Of course, so are we Americans (don't be fooled by my Commonwealth spellings!) but while we choose peanuts and pretzels, they choose edamame and ramen. Either way, we're talking about legumes and wheat. Thus, it shouldn't surprise that while we think of the name Sapporo primarily as a brand of beer, it is also a brand of ramen. (The two brands, however, are not of the same company.)

As one might expect, this ramen is optimised for easy recognition and preparation. Like many others, the package is simple and colour-coded to match the flavour within. The noodles take only three minutes to cook. There's only one flavour packet and it is added after the noodles are done. This is truly a ramen with impairment in mind – it could only improve if it were to appear in a cup instead. Thus, there's rather little to tell about the packaging or the contents. It's refreshingly unchallenging.

Once cooked, the nicely firm noodles are strongly wheaty, but of a dry sort that tastes almost dusty. The flavourings are impossible to pinpoint, save for soy. It's lightly sweet, rather salty, and completely nondescript. In other words, it's precisely the sort of accompinament to a Sapporo lager because it makes you want to drink more. On its own, however, it's not terribly notable.

To sum up: If you're looking for interesting flavours to put in your Ramenbox, you can safely pass this one by.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 0, flavour 2, overall 2
Music: Hybrid - I Choose Noise - Choke (feat. John Graham)


Komforte Chockolates "Ramen Noodle"

Brand: Komforte Chockolates
Flavour: Ramen Noodle
Format: bar
Packets: zero
Identifiables: chocolate bar
Sodium: 0.11 grams

A week ago, devoted reader Pat McK. (yes, the one who sent me my very first arrived-in-mail ramen) e-mailed me to ask if I'd seen the Komforte Ramen Noodle chocolate bar. I had not! I made vague plans to swing by the nearest Uwajimaya at some point to pick up one of these curiosities for review. Before I had the chance, however, my good friends Jason and Sylvia gave me a bar as a gift! After today's ramen, it would make the perfect dessert, yes?

The packaging is amazingly straightforward. It's a bold red and white package without gradients, pictures, or logos, but plenty of text set in Futura. I'm more than okay with that. This is the sort of design I absolutely adore, and it's not too much exaggeration to say that it really heightens the experience for me. Within that outer sheath is dark brown foil wrapping, similarly understated while still clearly designed. I love this sort of thing!

The chocolate itself is a well-tempered solid bar with break lines to make it four parts. Each is somewhat shiny with a wave pattern on it reminiscent of ramen noodles (though this may simply be the pattern they use for all their bars; I don't know yet.) The bar is 53% cocoa content dark chocolate with, as expected, crisp uncooked ramen noodles woven into it. The first piece I ate seemed a bit uneven and had rather few noodle bits, but the second had rather more. They provide a strange sort of crunch, not as noticeable as crisp rice but enough to give a curious texture to the bar and add a little bit of the wheaty lightly-fried goodness that only a brick of instant noodles can provide. Overall, the ramen plays only the tiniest role, so those looking for a chocolate-coated noodle brick won't find it here. It's also not terribly sweet, and that's a good thing even though it might be a little dark for the tastes of many.

Still, it's chocolate with ramen in it. I'm having to really work to not devour the rest of the bar before my wife can try some. Thanks again for pointing me at this, Pat, Sylvia, and Jason!

Numbers: packaging 5, preparation 5, heat 0, flavour 4, overall 5
Music: Jean-Jacques Perrey - Moog Indigo - Passport To The Future

Paldo "Green Tea Chlorella"

Brand: Paldo
Flavour: Green Tea Chlorella
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: two
Identifiables: noodle brick, veggie bits, flavour powder
Sodium: 1.66 grams

Take a look at that thing. It's like a weakling packet of Maruchan was exposed to gamma radiation and mutated into a giant green shorts-wearing monster, except without the shorts or the sad music whenever it leaves town for another. This, truly, is a massive brick of green ramen. But this is no mere dye job like crappy beer at some pub that's desperately pretending to be Irish around St. Patrick's Day. This is honest green, green by lineage and by right. This is true green.

It's not the first time I've reviewed green ramen, so that part didn't surprise me. In this case it's not spinach that's responsible for the colour, but green tea powder, also known as matcha, which has become terrifyingly trendy. I must admit that I don't normally enjoy green tea all that much, but it is with the heart of a scientist that I pursue knowledge of this type of instant noodle. (Don't ask me which scientist; I assure you, he was rather surprised when I took it.) I have to admit that I thought a Chlorella was a type of compact car that could almost be the size of the noodle brick, but it turns out to be a nutritive, photosynthesising algae, which is nearly as useful.

Preparation is as simple as packet ramen gets. Everything is well-pinked for easy opening, including the outer package itself. Boil 550ml water, dump the contents of every packet involved in to simmer for four minutes. The outcome is a colourful mass of light green noodles, dark green seaweed, bright red pepper rings, and light brown broth. It barely fit into my bowl.

The taste is... blended. What I mean by that is that no particular flavour stands out much. There's a bit of green tea, but it doesn't overpower, meaking it pleasant even to my palate. The seafood base is slightly stronger, but it doesn't stand out in front either. There's a little spice, a level of saltiness that one expects from most ramen, and warm vegetable notes. This ramen may come across as nothing special, but despite its freakish mutant appearance, it's a well-rounded and mild-mannered noodle, worthy of our admiration. Perhaps there's a moral to this story, but I'm choosing to ignore it in favour of pointing and laughing at funny-looking ramen packages. I'm one of the mean kids.

Wait, the moral of the story is... if you're going to order something from Ramenbox, you can't really go wrong with this.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 2, flavour 4, overall 3
Music: Jean-Jacques Perrey - The In Sound From Way Out! - Cosmic Ballad


Nong Shim "Neoguri"

Brand: Nong Shim
Flavour: Neoguri
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: two
Identifiables: noodle brick, veggie bits, flavour powder
Sodium: 2.08 grams

Ever since I received it from Ramenbox (did you remember the CHEAPERTHANFOOD ten percent discount code?) I've had instant noodle fans knocking on my door, begging me to review Nong Shim's Neoguri. They want to know if it's as spicy as Shin Ramyun. They want to know if it's got more seafood flavour than Shin Ramyun. They want to know if it fills the bowl and the soul like Shin Ramyun. The answer to all these questions and more is an emphatic yes!

Similar to its fiery cousin, Neoguri starts with a brick of noodles. These are rather pudgy-seeming noodles, agreeing somewhat with the attractive package's claim of "Udon Type Noodles". Perhaps they're a bit thicker than those in Shin Ramyun, but I can't see opening a packet of that just to find out, because there's plenty to eat here! This is one of those rare times that a packet says "two servings" and just might actually mean it. Given that these are to be boiled in nineteen-and-a-half ounces of water (twenty would be right out, you see) it's a fairly sizable meal.

The simplicity of preparation is a joy, really. Toss the noodle brick in along with everything else – all at once! – and count off five minutes. The product is a rather opaque orange broth in which fat noodles swim happily along with bits of seaweed, carrot, and "sea tangle" (which turns out to be kombu). The flavour really is basically Shin Ramyun, just as spicy but with more seafood and seaweed flavour, and I approve of this heartily. If you're like me and have made Shin Ramyun your stable instant noodle, consider supplementing it with Neoguri. If you dislike the former for the spiciness, however, you'll find no relief in the latter.

Say... why did I rank Shin Ramyun so low the first time around? Perhaps I didn't realise how good I had it....

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 4, flavour 4, overall 4
Music: Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka - Super Mario Land (GBC) - World Music 3


Ibumie HarMee "Mi perisa udang: Prawn Flavour"

Brand: Ibumie HarMee
Flavour: Mi perisa udang: Prawn Flavour
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: five
Identifiables: noodle brick, vegetable oil, seasoning powder, soya sauce, chilli powder, onion bits
Sodium: unknown

Here, we have the fourth and final ramen gited me by your friend and mine, "Hana from MIT". This time, it's a warm, friendly, bright red package witha picture of noodles in broth with prawns stacked on top. I must admit a weakness of mine; I think I'd eat nearly anything with seafood stacked on top of it. Sadly, there's no seafood in the package, and I didn't have any prawns handy....

A pattern has evolved in these Malaysian instant noodles. The instructions for preparation are strangely specific about the amount of water involved – 270ml in this case! – and at least there's a mention of how long to cook the noodles this time, but from there it's not even obvious how many packets we're dealing with because all the directions say is "add seasonings and stir gently". I expected one packet, perhaps two. There are five.

Two foil packets containing chili powder and soup base are in a classic paired configuration, each with pinking that forces a tear along the long edge. A similar pair of conjoined clear packets holds palm oil (orange, with lots of flavonoids!) and kecap, a thick and sweetened soy sauce. Finally, there's a small packet with bits of fried onion, which is delightful but flawed in that there is no notch, no pinking, no tear-strip to open the little thing, and it's been imperviously sealed in a way that would put radioactive waste barrels to shame. I had to take a scissors to it. (Actually, I used a hole punch because it was at hand. Don't ask how that happened.)

I mixed the seasonings with the cooked noodles and stirred; the result is a mass of rather sturdy noodles in red-brown broth. (I really have to find some way to remind myself to get a photo of the cooked noodles.) When I say sturdy, I mean that these are very solid, satisfying noodles that could give Cintan a hard run for their money. The flavour of the broth is reminiscent of too many other things to pinpoint, prawns and chilis and onions and soy and fried stuff. All together, it's like the slightly more wet cousin of mi goreng, and I'll be honest here – that fills me with a smile. This is definitely the winner of the set.

Thanks again, Hana! Next review, I return to the goodies from Ramenbox. Stay tuned, ramen fans and fanatics!

Numbers: packaging 2, preparation 2, heat 3, flavour 5, overall 4
Music: Matthew Ebel - Goodbye Planet Earth - Everybody Needs A Robot


Maggi "Perencah Asam Laksa"

Brand: Maggi
Flavour: Perencah Asam Laksa
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: one
Identifiables: noodle brick, flavour powder
Sodium: unknown

The third of the ramen flavours I received from "Hana from MIT" (thanks again!) turns out to be a very interesting one, a set of strange contradictions. I'll eschew the usual chronological style of my reviews and go with a more Powerpoint-ish point-by-point system for this one. Consider it a belated Valentine's Day gift, if you're into that sort of thing (and baby, there's almost nothing wrong with that if you are.)

The packaging of this Malaysian noodle starts out simultaneously more colourful and more "designery" than any of the common brands in the States. There are subtle gradient effects, a photo that doesn't look nearly so abhorrent as one might expect, and a cheerful illustration for cooking directions. Those directions are amusingly simple, however. They consist of a picture of a pot of water already over a flame with the noodle brick, the flavour packet, and two 200ml cups of water being dropped or poured in. It seems to imply adding ingredients at the same time, but that goes against conventional wisdom given that the noodles have to cook for two minutes and they'll barely be warming up if the water starts out at room temperature. It's an odd bit of ambiguity for a package that reminds me of the over-explained over-designed packages aimed at American audiences.

The over-explanation is saved for the flavour packet, which is pinked and has a clear (if small) instruction to "tear here". If one can assume boiling water but not figure out how to open a packet with zig-zag edges, then... well, I was going to remark on the absurdity of that, but I do wonder about folks who would wonder why I need instructions to boil water for such a simple food but assume that foil packets are natural. It's a culturally relative thing, perhaps? I wonder if the Na'vi make noodle soup. Wait, no, I don't.

I boiled the water first. It turns out that I may have been wrong, somehow. After two minutes' cooking, the noodles actually came out a little mushier than I'd usually like, which by contrast lends credence to the previously reviewed noodle's claim about noodle springiness. I expect mushiness from four minutes or so, but two-minute noodles really should be a little more al dente, even if they're not terribly Italian.

The single flavour packet turns out to generate something more complex. The pungent-smelling orange broth is rather tangy with a seafood-and-citrus theme, and some spice. More than most other noodles, I can see folks being split on whether this is good or not; I'm rather enjoying it, but I could see it being a real turn-off for some people in a way that most seafood ramen wouldn't be due to that moderately astringent note. It's almost balanced by being so overpowering in the citrus aspect that it seems like a feature. Without knowing the dish this is based on, I can't really tell if it's authentic or accidental. In fact, I think I'll just level the numbers across the board for this one, even if I like it a little more.

Post scriptum: There's a little semi-glurgey bit on the back of the package about the "just-in-case noodle traveller" who always packs instant noodles in their luggage just in case wherever they're going runs out of their culturally signature food. Somehow, I don't think I'll be bringing these noodles with me on my next trip. Then again, I just might for the bizarreness factor....

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 3, heat 3, flavour 3, overall 3
Music: Inoue, Nozaki, Hirarin, Kame - Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones (NES) - China ~ Chin (Kungfu Master)