Koka "Spicy Black Pepper Flavour"

Brand: Koka
Flavour: Spicy Black Pepper Flavour
Format: brick-in-packet
Packets: three
Identifiables: noodle brick, flavour powder, oily sludge, dried veggies
Sodium: 1.29 grams

Some time back, I visited friends in Boston, and at one point we found ourselves in an Asian market. This is always a good chance for me to sniff out strange new varieties of instant noodles, and that is indeed where I found the now-infamous "porc cubes". Alongside those, I found this smartly-designed packet of a Singaporean brand I'd never heard of before, Koka.

The packet does its best to appear like a modern, healthy food. Among the claims highlighted in bold are: "non-fried", "no trans fat", "low fat", and the most amusing, "no MSG added". I can't help but think that I've mentioned before, but monosodium glutamate isn't some scary chemical. It's a bit of salt with glutamate wrapped around it. Glutamates naturally occur in meats, yeasts, and many vegetables; they are what give that fifth flavour we call "umami". MSG doesn't give people headaches any more than salted beef will. Interestingly, the ingredient label for this packet does list "hydrolysed vegetable protein" which is basically a vegetable extract chosen specifically to be loaded with the same stuff as MSG. This is commonplace. Anyone who thinks they've been avoiding MSG has almost certainly been pratically chugging the stuff under a different name. (Now you know!) Also, the front of the packet claims "less than 3% fat" while the back boasts of "1% fat". Granted, this is a fair cut from most ramen, but one wonders why they can't get numbers straight.

Preparation is as straight-forward as most of these sort of packets go. There's a specific call for 350ml of water to boil the noodles in for three minutes, and that does turn out to be just about right. Along with the noodles are the sachets, one of which is a double-decker of the sort that Indomie adores. One of the halves has powder and the other liquid, but the packet is reasonably well-pinked, so it's possible to do this without a scissors for assistance and avoid the mess. These are mixed in after the noodles are cooked.

The last packet is labelled "garnishes" and has a little blurb on one side about what's inside, complete with mojibake (this is an informal term for character shift in digital text as a result of a change of encoding; now you know!) on the word "season's". The summary is that the contents change on a seasonal basis. Apparently the season of manufacture involved large amounts of garlic, which would make it a favourite season of mine, to be sure. The garnish is added to the noodles last, and though there's no instruction to stir it together, it seemed like it simply ought to be.

The noodles definitely take on a strong black pepper flavour with the accompanying long-lasting "heat" of piperine. (That's the chemical in black pepper that gives it bite in the same way capsaicin does in chili peppers. Now you know! I'm just a regular font of knowledge today.) There's also a rather impressive garlic component. Neither of these are bad things in my book, but I'd definitely warn ramen novices that this is not the nice, safe, bland "Oriental flavour" of the more common eight-for-a-dollar brands. The rich broth soaks into the noodles until what's left is a thick sauce similar to the Indian-style Maggi instant noodles, and that sauce is mighty powerful. The garnish adds yet more garlic, a boon to garlic junkies everywhere.

The verdict? If you like chajang or other dark, rich flavours, definitely seek this one out.

Numbers: packaging 3, preparation 2, heat 3, flavour 5, overall 5
Music: Ippo Yamada - Mega Man Zero (GBA) - Neo Arcadia

I find myself compelled on multiple levels to add a special segment called simply, "Electric Keet Sells Out." Last Friday, I recieved a very polite and enthusiastic e-mail from the director of marketing for an interesting new service called Ramenbox. It's like an online grocery, but specifically geared toward instant noodles, featuring a special system whereby one buys by the tray and individual prices are replaced by a number of slots per item. The prices are more or less comparable to the average international market, even once shipping is factored in. They have a decent selection, it seems, and about half of the items there are ones I haven't yet reviewed.

Now, I gather that I'm supposed to help them leverage the integrated opportunities of the value-added blogosphere paradigm to synergise real-time mindshare or something. In return for talking about the service, everybody wins, because not only will my loyal readers find a code for ten percent off their entire Ramenbox order, but I personally get a completely free (for only six dollars!) tray of ramen I can then review for this blog. There's no downside here, right?

As soon as the codes and tray of ramen arrive, I can post the discount code here for you lot, and I'll even give a full review the service. Stay tuned and tell your friends to start reading, because Cheaper Than Food is getting even cheaper!


E. Kellner said...

Well, I suppose "1% fat" IS "less than 3% fat", so at least they're honest...
I wonder if there's some kind of popular diet that encourages people to seek foods with "less than 3% fat", or something? Perhaps that phrasing is driven by marketing. *shrug*

Congrats on the sponsorship! =)

Sunny Golds said...

OMFG. I totally just ordered a $20 thing of Ramen from ramenbox. So many flavors to choose from!

Being pescatarian makes good ramen hard to find in stores.

Electric Keet said...

After some careful thought (or what passes for it in my head) my guess is that the 1% was referring to the noodles themselves, and the 3% included the flavouring packets, one of which was mostly oil.

You didn't wait for the discount code? I personally am waiting until I get my free $6 box of ramen to let folks know how well the service works. Still, let me know how it goes for you, eh?

Sunny Golds said...

I am an early adopter to the core. If it sounds like a good idea (and this undoubtedly does), I'm all over it! I'll let you know how they treat me. :)