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