BRAND: Nissin Instant Noodle
No. OF SACHETS: Two – Soupbase and Flavour Powder
COUNTRY: Hong Kong
Strange. The packaging leads one to believe that this is Nissin Holland, complete with Noodleboy® and his Steaming Box®, but it’s a subtle ploy, a sleight of hand, for this is Nissin Hong Kong and what a Herculean task they have set themselves. First take the soup of a nation, pack it with a serious portion of noodles and expect it to work. There’s more. Instead of providing a miso paste, surely the logical thing to do, instead they offer a double powder combination. Madness surely? Well, yes and no.
The noodles are as good as ever, and they do not swamp the flavour, a real surprise. The flavour itself is definitely miso with a reasonable touch of a mildly fermented feel, but something is not quite right. There is a meaty undercurrent that feels incongruous and a vague scent of roast sesame that seems to have come from a different packet. Closer examination of the package reveals pork, chicken and beef, so not one for vegans as you may have initially thought. Top class tasty product that far exceeded expectations but irritatingly fell at the last fence. Write to your MP and demand a veggie version.
*Retro noodle packet
BRAND: Nissin Instant Noodle
No. OF SACHETS: Two – Soupbase and Flavour Oil
COUNTRY: Hong Kong
On goes the water, up comes a perfect aroma of pork with a hint seasoning, the stock instantly turns milky white and even the very noodles whisper, “Mmmmmmm…” in delight. To hell with the packaging and the sachet notes, you know that the noodles are going to be cooked to perfection (they are Nissin approved and their quality department is second to none) so let’s get down to business – flavour of the soup. Awesome. There is no chilli or pepper heat to speak of, this product is just pure flavour all the way through. Rich pork flavours give way to a pleasant hint of garlic, just enough so that you’d notice its absence in a light stock that is exceptional. But it doesn’t end there, oh no, there are whole sesame seeds that crack like little flavour bombs in your mouth, complemented by the subtle sesame and garlic puree flavoured oil. Simply divine. Nissin Tonkotsu Instant Noodles are unreservedly recommended..
*Retro noodle packet
BRAND: Indo Mie
FLAVOUR: Onion Chicken
No. OF SACHETS: Three – soupbase, onion oil and chilli
“I’ve got a thing about chickens,” Mickey Rourke so famously said in Alan Parker’s film, Angel Heart. Well, he may indeed but those flavour makers at good ol’ Indo Mie have got a really big thing about chickens. They can’t get enough of that hen-some taste and it shows in the diversity of every delicious poultry based product that they deliver our way. Onion chicken is no exception. It’s another fast cookin’, great tastin’, chopstick lickin’ excursion into the wonder world of convenience food and another affirmation of Indo Mie as the crown king of the budget noodle. You’d never believe that a chicken could be so versatile. Don’t read this, go to your local noodle emporium armed with one of those two pound coins and get yourself eight different tastes of quality Indonesian noodles, you know it makes sense.
*Retro noodle packet
Here at Very Tasty World we have a passion for pasta and, as our regular ramen reviews emphasise, there is a joy in the variety of internationally available variants of noodle niceness that you can enjoy at home with just a kettle, a bowl and a pair of chopsticks. Of course, ramen restaurants are also available, if you are lucky enough to be able to reach one, so you don’t even have to trouble yourself to turn on the kettle.
But what if you want more?: To learn more and to taste more? What if you want to understand the history of ramen, instant or traditional, and to try various examples with different flavours from around the country for which ramen is best known? There is only one place to go, a foodie theme park where you can learn the history and, importantly, taste many different types of ramen in all their broth infused glory. The Shinyokohama Raumen Museum (The English site is here – please be clear of the spelling with the additional ‘u’, which is correct in Japanese, otherwise you might have search engine issues) is that place, a multi-storey building dedicated to everything that is ramen. We naturally felt obliged to travel there and research our culinary favourites. We were not alone in this desire to get to know ramen because Brittany Murphy’s character Abby does exactly the same thing when she visits in the film The Ramen Girl.
The museum is located in Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan, which is easily accessible from Tokyo. If you have a Japan Rail Pass you can use the shinkansen (bullet train) to arrive at Shin Yokohama, which is the closest station, but there are plenty of other train services available too.
History of Ramen
The ground floor is the museum’s main area of knowledge, displaying a range of information about the history of ramen from traditional to instant. The displays include chronological timelines and also show the progression of instant noodle technology. So you can observe the pots, the packets and even a noodle unravelling.
But the proof of the pasta is in the eating. So you need to head downstairs in order to fulfil your craving. Pro tip – if you are planning to visit, make sure you do so on an empty stomach – don’t have too much for breakfast in the morning..
Sunset Shopping Street
The eating area, Sunset Shopping Street, is a recreation of a town in 1958, the year that instant ramen was invented. The whole environment has a sundowner setting with cloudy dark blue sky and street lighting which all adds to the ambience.
There are a number of restaurants where you can sample regional ramen, from miso ramen to salty soy sauce and rich, creamy tonkotsu where the broth is made by boiling pork bones for hours. The only problem is deciding which shop (or shops) to choose from, even though you know its ramen you want, the choices are far more complex than the expected ‘what flavour broth or meat/fish/vegetable combo,’ but the bigger ‘what region?’ question because each venue represents a different region of Japan’s quintessential local concoctions. Regional variations are prevalent in lots of Japanese foods such as udon (thick noodles) and okonomiyaki, so each ramen shop offering different options and all declaring their own as the very best, presents something of a conundrum to the casual noodle-slurper. We did see a number of visitors share a bowl of ramen before moving onto the next shop in order to taste as many different variations as possible. However, since our visit, the museum is clear that all adult visitors to each shop should purchase a bowl of ramen. This seems absolutely reasonable as it’s not fair to the restaurant owner to have table space taken up with multiple visitors sitting around a single bowl of noodles. Still, it’s a very pleasant choice to have to make. And these days you can order different sized portions, so if your appetite is big enough you may be able to sample many different types of smaller bowls. The street also has a traditional sweet shop, just in case you are still hungry!
Oh, and there’s even a classic kaiju (monster) poster on one of the fake hoardings – what more could you want?
This really is an essential tourist trip for ravenous lovers of ramen. Great fun for foodies in terms of understanding history of the world’s most popular instant food and also getting to eat yummy ramen.
BRAND: Nissin Stir Noodle
FLAVOUR: Jah Jiang
No. OF SACHETS:Two – Soupbase and Jah Jiang Sauce
COUNTRY: Hong Kong
Nissan’s range of Japanese noodles that haven’t been made in Japan continues with this Hong Kong licensed product. It does differ from its European counterparts. Gone is the notably sozzled Nissinboy on the packet but instead we have a striking diagonal style and a more appetising noodle shot as part of the design – they are not afraid to show off their product. The adoption of 100g as the default portion size leads to a mighty bite of high quality noodles, there is some ruthless noodle manufacturing quality control at work.
Jah Jiang is a good robust and interesting flavour that is a personal favourite of mine – varied, exciting and exotic. What a disappointment then, that this one is so insipid; no crunchy garlic soup, no fried bean husks, no clinging stickiness of tangy goodness. The sauce is so…western, like glutinous cheap ketchup. A waste of quality noodles and an insult to a great flavour. Please don’t take this too negatively, they are more than edible and the noodles are great but it was just such a disappointment in the flavour department because of what it should have been and not what it was.
*Retro noodle packet
BRAND: Indo Mie
FLAVOUR: Fried (Goreng)
No. OF SACHETS: Four – Soupbase, flavour oil, chilli and extra thick katsup manis
Indonesia, home of fine food. One of the more popular dishes to hit our shores is nasi goreng, a tasty fried rice dish with a mysterious egg on it and what do we have here but mi goreng, a fried noodle dish with (if the cover shot is anything to go by) with a mysterious egg on it. Indeed, close scrutiny of the packaging could well put off the prospective buyer, there are far too many peas for my liking (admittedly one pea is far too many peas for my liking) and the aforementioned egg looks a little suspect, the background is so white it hurts your eyes and the labelling’s colours just do not match. Add to that the intrinsic problem of creating a fried dish that you make by adding water and it’s really only curiosity and the tantalising lure of four seasoning sachets (as advertised) that leads you to part with your hard earned cash.
First impressions could not be more wrong. This is an awesome product, textbook noodles that cook exactly right in a delightful tangle, all golden and shiny, from your chopsticks. The smell is heavenly but just wait for the taste. It’s sweet and tingly and savoury and light. The balance from the sachets is perfect, there’s not too much chilli and the katsup manis is incredible, sticky and sweet and pumped with soy goodness. Go and buy a crate of these now!
*Retro noodle packet
Director: Robert Allan Ackerman
Food Type: Ramen (if you couldn’t guess)
Film Rating: 6/10
Foodie rating: 8/10
The subgenre of ramen based foodie films came to its apotheosis with the noodle nirvana of Tampopo (1985). Here the Japanese pasta sub-subgenre gets an American twist with The Ramen Girl, a learn-to-cook Japanese foodie film set in Japan and, surprisingly for a Hollywood film, it has a significant amount of (helpfully subtitled) dialogue in Japanese. It is also a romantic comedy, albeit one centred on food and culture; so more a ramen-tic comedy.
Abby (Brittany Murphy) has travelled to Tokyo to be with her boyfriend Ethan (Gabriel Mann). But it seems that he couldn’t care less, taking a job in China at the first opportunity, he leaves her alone in his half empty apartment. Weeping with sadness at her situation she enters the eatery across the road, which is right in the middle of closing for the night, bawling her eyes out. Bemused by the distraught foreign girl in their midst, the owner and his wife give her some of the remaining ramen to see if it will assuage her misery and persuade her to leave so that they can go to bed. Abby devours the ramen and quaffs the broth and, in doing so, becomes intoxicated by the ramen experience. She comes up with an obsessive idea – to learn to cook ramen. So she seeks lessons from chef and owner Maezumi (Toshiyuki Nishida). But this is not a simple student and mentor situation as Maezumi is a tough employer who gets her to engage in tasks such as cleaning the bathroom rather than cooking. It is not aided by the fact that even though the establishment’s sign marks it as a soba restaurant (そば蕎麦 – buckwheat noodles) its unhappy proprietor is regularly anything but sober. But Abby pursues her new career by persevering. She does manage to develop a social life and find new friends when she visits a club in Roppongi where she re-meets a bunch of western acquaintances, including Gretchan (Tammy Blanchard) and they get talking to Japanese salaryman Toshi Iwamoto (Soji Arai), who seems to be a bit more coherent than his associates. Abby and Toshi start dating and so her relationship blossoms alongside her ramen tuition. But then her progress comes to a frightening prospect when she learns that, “The master’s coming in two months.” This renowned ramen critic’s evaluation could result in laudation or humiliation. Maezumi is surprisingly optimistic about Abby’s chances and establishes a wager with a rival ramen proprietor which could lead to major consequences for both Abby and his well-established business. He even takes Abby to visit his mother who reveals her own profound ramen philosophies. What holds for Abby, and indeed Maezumi, in the future?
The Ramen Girl is a mixed bowl of ramen and broth that is distinct in its exploration of cross-cultural misunderstandings and the humour or challenges that result. The main characters have rounded back stories but ultimately the food is the driver to the events in this film. Learning ramen from a sensei seems to be a similar process to learning kung-fu from a sifu. There are difficult, strenuous, apparently mundane tasks that go on for an age before actual understanding the required skills to implement the technique that the master is teaching. These are important to Abby’s understanding even as they are apparently futile.
The competitive nature of developing cookery skills for a discerning master is a theme in many cooking films such as Jadoo-Kings of Curry, King of Cooking, Nina’s Heavenly Delights, and Eat Drink Man Woman. Here, the emphasis lies with the broth, its creation and its flavour, not to mention the side effects on the palette and spiritual/emotional response of consuming the concoction, is central to this film’s (very discrete) philosophical assertions. Early on we see how Maezumi’s creations can, in the right circumstances, create impulsive mirth and happiness in his clients as Abby declares, “I wanna make people happy the way you do.”
The food in the film is 95% ramen based but there is a notable exception where cross-cultural cuisine is the focus of one delightful scene. It’s Christmas and Abby, wearing an elf hat and having had her attempts to decorate the restaurant savagely mocked by Maezumi, has returned to her flat where Gretchan has moved in. The pair celebrate with a drink and a KFC Bargain Bucket, a familiar food take away for an American but KFC is also the Christmas meal that one eats in Japan. The romance of the film is definitely ramen-based, however, when Toshi takes Abby on a date to visit the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum, foodie heaven, which also offers a historic depiction of ramen throughout the years as well as the flavours of broth throughout the regions of Japan – with the inevitable consequences of a bloated but happy stomach.
The Ramen Girl is a mixed concoction of East meets West which, whilst not departing from genre expectations, at least blends them together in a different way that is sweet and fun. Not haute cuisine but satisfactory for when you feel peckish.
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FLAVOUR: Various Types – Beef, Chicken, Vegetarian, Shrimp
TYPE: Rice Porridge
No. OF SACHETS: Three – Soupbase, chilli and Flavour oil
WEIGHT: 55 ± 4g
OK so they’re not noodles, I was in a rush, alright, and just saw the A-One label and the flavour, realising my mistake later. So don’t hassle me. Anyhow I’m not going to overburden you by reviewing four non-noodles so I’m lumping (prophetic term) them together in one compilation review. Satisfied now? Right, now that’s sorted out – A-One instant porridge, just add water. Beef porridge. Doesn’t quite sound right does it? Beef, yes (unless you are veggie or vegan, which is cool). Porridge, yes. Beef porridge? Well A-One do exactly what they say on the packet, it’s a beef flavoured porridge made with rice. And jolly tasty it is too. And so are the other ones. It really shouldn’t work but it does.
Yet again our A-One friends have maintained a variable weight on the packet, yet again the sachets give your teeth a work out and yet again they have come up with a class product. One word of warning, do stir vigorously at the start of cooking or it’ll be lumpy chewy powdery crud for you matey.
FLAVOUR: Kun Nambi Yukejang
No. OF SACHETS: Four – Chilli, dehydrated vegetables, soya mince and
a huge 11.8g soup base
These big noodles come in their own happy noodle home, a massive insulated white bowl with detachable sunflower yellow plastic lid to ensure all the flavours are well sealed in during cooking. Naturally such luxuries come with a price tag but every once in a while you need to treat yourself and hang the expense. So I did. And jolly nice it was too.
The noodles cooked evenly and were of an ideal consistency, the soup base was hot and tasty with hint of garlic and a lip-licking sweetness that really satisfied. As far as the vegetables went there was definitely a feeling of variety – carrots, leek, peppers and even what appeared to be (and indeed tasted like) egg. (Subsequent ingredient examination revealed the inclusion of imitation egg flake!) Add to this a total absence of peas and you have one classy package. The only slight disappointment was the soya which, while of a suitable texture and not domineering in any way, had the merest hint of a metallic aftertaste. Lots of flavour, lots of noodles (only tackle when very hungry) and lots of fun.
*Retro noodle packet
Miso is the very essence of the fifth flavour umami, that enigmatic taste of ‘savouriness’ or ‘deliciousness’ and forms the flavour base of so many Japanese dishes. At its heart it is basically a fermented mix of soy beans, rice, koji (aspergillus oryzae, the national mould of Japan – really!), salt, water and time…
Like many Japanese foodstuffs, miso has regional variations. As a general rule (and there are always exceptions) the colour of finished miso is darker in the north, and lighter in the south of the country. Kyoto is famous for sweet white miso, for example. This means that it is possible to encounter a wide variety of miso on your travels – from rich umami to salty to sweet and with textures from smooth to chunky.
We visited a miso factory/koji park on a trip to Kanazawa on the western coast of Japan. Shinkansen (bullet train) construction reached Kanazawa just recently, in 2015, and the city is now easily accessible from Tokyo; the journey takes around 2.5 – 3 hours. It’s a great city with a lively market (which has some amazing seafood restaurants) and one of the top three gardens in Japan. The miso factory is located at Ohno machi (Ohno port), which is a bit of a journey; you can catch a bus from the Kanazawa station area (ask for the location of the bus stop at the tourist information centre inside the station concourse – it’s a five minute walk away) and it’s the very last stop. When you arrive at the sea you are there. You’ll likely be the last ones on the bus. Alternatively you can get a taxi. The journey from the station takes around 20 minutes but the cost is considerably higher than the bus. Then just walk over the bridge to the little island.
As an aside, at the far end of the island is a charming museum of mechanical toys which has a brilliant hands-on exhibition where you can spend hours playing games and enjoy viewing antique toys and games. The staff were absolutely delightful and very much wanted to make sure we enjoyed the exhibits. They were also very helpful when it came to supplying a timetable for the bus journey back into the centre of Kanazawa.
There are many historic mechanical puppets – karakuri – on display. The museum is a memorial to Benkichi Ohno,a master craftsman who lived in the area from 1831. Many of his creations can be seen at the museum.
Some exhibits show you how the puppet mechanisms work.
Some dolls are cute(ish) which turn into scary (incidentally these words are, respectively, kawaii and kowaii in Japanese, be careful not to confuse the two!).
Around the circumference of the main building there are tables and chairs set out with all sorts of puzzles that you can try to solve.
It’s a really hands-on museum and it was lovely to see families with children of all ages sitting together and working out solutions to some of the puzzles.
This doll is 300 years old, from the Edo period. The craftsmanship is exquisite.
After a lovely diversion, it was on to the Yamato koji park, just a 10 minute walk away at the other end of the island. It’s part factory, part museum, part shop and part café. There weren’t any specific tours when we visited but the staff were super-helpful and directed us to a display where we could understand how miso is made.
Miso basically contains five ingredients: water, koji, soy beans, rice, salt. Koji thrives on the rice. Then it is mashed with the soy beans, salt and water. After about six months yeast forms. The miso flavour develops thanks to the interactions between the yeast and the koji. Fermentation can take as long as three years.
Soy sauce is made using a very similar process and ingredients to miso but uses wheat instead of rice. A mash is formed and then it’s pressed (like olives for olive oil). After fermentation, the resulting liquid is soy sauce. It was fascinating to taste the difference between pasteurised and unpasteurised soy sauce. Unpasteurised soy has a more complex flavour because some of the aromas are lost in the pasteurization process.
Some the the traditional fermentation vessels are enormous.
You can also dip your hands into a koji hand bath which will, apparently, give your skin a soft and delicate sheen. It’s quite nice to be able to dip your hands into a warm bath, especially on a cold, wet day. Apparently two minutes is the optimum time – there is a timer so you can check. And yes, we can confirm that our hands did emerge from the bath silky-smooth.
There is a shop with an extensive variety of products and you are able to sample before you buy. It is particularly interesting to be able to taste different sauces.
Amazake is a sweet, low alcohol drink made from fermented rice and koji. Amazake literally means ‘sweet’ (ama) ‘sake’ (sake, which can be used to describe alcohol). You can buy the paste, mix with hot water and drink. It’s sweet and has a smooth, creamy texture. And for a delicious dressing, you can mix amazake with ponzu soy sauce (ponzu is a citrus juice comprising Japanese fruits sudachi, yuzu, and kabosu and vinegar mixed with soy sauce to give an amazingly tangy, salty flavour) in the ratio 1:1.
And one of the best foodie souvenirs – for the adventurer who cannot travel without seasoning – spray soy sauce, conveniently packaged in a container that would even fit into your hand-baggage.
They also have a café and ice-cream maker. Amazake and soy sauce ice-cream were on offer and we tried both. Soy sauce ice cream sounds so wrong but it was delicious, full of rich salty umami flavour that complemented the creamy ice-cream.
What was also rather lovely was that the CEO, Mr Yamato, was on site that day and came to say ‘hello.’
We shopped for as many products as we could fit into our luggage. One particular packet that we were very happy to find was that of inoculated rice koji. It was also conveniently flat for packing and much cheaper than koji that we can purchase in Europe.
Making our very own miso was most definitely going to be one of our foodie missions on our return home. To be continued…