2010-04-06

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

8 comments:

Vulpis said...

(catching up on the site after not having visited for a while)

Huh--I haven't tried the Annie Chun's brand, but those instructions seem kinda odd. I *have* had quite a bit of Simply Asia's Honey Teriyaki and Sesame Teriyaki sets that have similar 'pre-cooked' (as opposed to the dried stuff we usually see), and neither of them says to 'pre-soak' the noodles--you just throw them, the seasoning/veggies, and the sauce in with a bit of water, drop the lid on, and nuke. Seems to work just fine.

Anonymous said...

Annie Chun is the reason why I never bothered with Tofu again.My experience with her brand of Udon bowl was that bad.

Anonymous said...

I just tried to make this NOT using the instructions...place the "brick" in first, the the noodles and put hot water from the tap to water line and then micro for 2 minutes, no draining needed, stir and add flavor pouch...works just like any other instant noodle bowl. I like it!

Max said...

I bought some of these at the Japanese shop round the corner and there's no English instructions at all. So I'll follow your hilarious instructions. Can't wait to eat my soggy play-doh noodles, with stale tasting vegetables and mystery strips. I am wondering if this is eaten in Japan or if it's some kind of April fools joke played on non-Japanese people.

Max said...

It smelt so bad I couldn't take a mouthful, and normally I'll eat anything. I'm off to McDonalds.

kirsten said...

The description of the fried tofu was dead on. It was like some horrible fibrous scrubbing pad. I put a dab of sugar in and chucked the pads. It was edible. Thats about it.....

Anonymous said...

ok so when it say add water for the second time, i must have added too much because this bowl was just tasteless...the white noodles did not soften in the boiling water at all and had an awful texture. won't be buying again.

Isis said...

I agree completely. The udon was plain sad. The first step really did work for me, though. But I had to take some chopsticks and help them along. For a college kid, however, they're convenient. I might try a different dish of theirs but I can say for sure that I'm not spending any money on the udon bowl from now on. I'd rather spend more money for better quality (or less money for cheap, sodium-rich Cup Noodles).