Ramen in its virtually instant cake form – is hardly the bastion of health with it’s ghastly sodium levels. But is it quick! Living in this country as any sort of bachelor or college student – tasting many ramen noodle varieties is in its way inevitable. I preface by saying that I do not rate these on health – they are pre-fried noodles, they are begging to drive up blood pressure. I have no illusions. But for taste, convenience etc, I have test-drove several different brands.
Nissin Top Ramen – I always had a dark amusement with the “Oriental Flavor”. What does that mean? Can a flavor be less specific? Are the other flavors not oriental? Anyway, this is the cheapest and most abundant of the brands tested. It is bad, and bland – just noodles and a boring flavor packet – but you know what you are getting.
Ching’s Secret Szechuan Flavor – A significant step up from Nissin. This is still just a powder and noodle concept. The simplicity is, of course, quite lovely – Buddha would be proud. But the flavor is much, much better. Clearly this was designed for an audience with expectations – unlike the Nissin target market (the destitute). The Hot Garlic flavor is ok, but inferior.
Paldo Hot and Spicy Noodle – Now we get to the soup and dry ingredient combination. This is the more inferior of the brands. While it is a step up on Ching’s Secret in some ways, the powder is a little more one note. But it is a fuller dining experience.
Nong Shim Shin Ramyun – I remember when my Dad came back from one of his business trips to Korea with this package of noodles – this predated Nong Shim’s explosion into the US market. My only ramen exposure was Nissin at that point, so the fire of the Shin and the additional dried mushrooms and whatnot was a huge step up. In the years since I have had many Nong Shim varieties, but the Shin Ramyun still holds up. It is on its surface not too distinguishable from Paldo, but it is simple better.
Indomie Mee Goreng – Indomie, the Indonesian ramen, offers the most complex experience (still only 69 cents a pack at the market). While no dried things are included, the flavor packet is truly complex. There is dark soy, oil, and chili powders which are mixed while the noodles are cooking. Now this takes away from the laziness that makes ramen so enticing, but the flavor is much more complex than anything else out there. I like more heat than the Mee Goreng offered – but the flavor has depth that simply more chili powder (which drives Shin) alone cannot approximate.
Objectively, Indomie is the best noodle maker, with the Mee Goreng and its own Chicken Soup. But Shin still is close to my heart, and is hard to replace.