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Noodle Nirvana at the Yokohama Raumen (Ramen) Museum

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. 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..

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!

The northern island of Hokkaido is famous for its miso ramen

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.

Noodle Review: Indo Mie Fried (Goreng)

BRAND: Indo Mie
FLAVOUR: Fried (Goreng)
TYPE: Normal
No. OF SACHETS: Four – Soupbase, flavour oil, chilli and extra thick katsup manis
WEIGHT: 80g
COUNTRY: Indonesia

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

Film Review: Ramen Girl (2008)

Director: Robert Allan Ackerman

Food Type: Ramen (if you couldn’t guess)

Country: US/Japan

Film Rating: 6/10

Foodie rating: 8/10

The Ramen Girl
I’m training to be a ramen chef.”

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.

You can buy the DVD of The Ramen Girl in the UK or the US.

Noodle Review: Samyang Kun Nambi Yukejang

BRAND: Samyang
FLAVOUR: Kun Nambi Yukejang
TYPE: Normal
No. OF SACHETS: Four – Chilli, dehydrated vegetables, soya mince and
a huge 11.8g soup base
WEIGHT: 110g
COUNTRY: Korea

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

Noodle Review: Sau Tao Shrimp-Eggs Noodle

BRAND: Sau Tao Brand
FLAVOUR: Shrimp-Eggs Noodle – Wonton Soup Flavour
TYPE: Normal (with shrimp egg)
No. OF SACHETS: Two – Soup base and sesame oil
WEIGHT: 85g
COUNTRY: China/Hong Kong

Sau Tao Brand Shrimp-Eggs Noodle (Wonton Soup Flavour) is a product that is as tasty as its name is unwieldy. Although not the most competitively priced noodle the extra money has been lavished in all the important areas – the noodles themselves are made with the titular shrimp-egg, which appear in the ingredients listing before the cheaper standard egg and result in extra bite. It doesn’t end there as the water used is apparently Alkali Water and the noodles themselves manufactured strictly using ‘Electrical drying, Fresh and clean,’ techniques for optimum consumer confidence and bags of flavour. Likewise, the soup base packs in plenty of prawn powder punch and even finds room for some dehydrated chives, a refreshing change from the occasional leek that one comes across. The oil is a sesame/vegetable blend that is not too overpowering, which means that the overall package offers a highly recommended gourmet noodle with a delicate aroma and a wonderful creamy stock.

Not for the novice as it can be easily under/overcooked but we wholeheartedly endorse this for the experienced noodler. Even the packaging is light and breezy, assured and modern with a gentle contrast between the featured blues and pinks.

*Retro noodle packet

Sapporo Ichiban Chow Mein Noodle Review

BRAND: Sapporo Ichiban
FLAVOUR: Chow Mein
TYPE: Normal/Udon
No. OF SACHETS: Two – green laver and soup base
WEIGHT: 102g
COUNTRY: USA/Japan

Sapporo Ichiban… noodles not beer

‘Japan’s No. 1 Selling Brand,’ the package announces in a handy packaging star graphic before continuing to ensure that you are aware that it comes ‘with Natural and Artificial Flavors.’ This is what we want: the best of both worlds. If you are going to put artificial flavourings in a product don’t hide it, flaunt it. Technology is your friend both in and out of the kitchen, so embrace it!

Despite the fact that this tastes absolutely nothing like any chow mein I’ve ever eaten this is a surprising winner. There is an almost jet black stock that is mightily tasty and slightly sour. There is no heat to disguise anything, just honest chemicals to tickle your taste buds. You really do have to go for this yourself, you won’t be disappointed, the noodles are just perfect and the portion is more than generous. And where else can you get a bag of gloriously green laver with your purchase, I ask you? Highly recommended.

*Retro noodle packet

Wai Wai Chilli Paste Tom Yum Noodle Review

BRAND: Wai Wai
FLAVOUR: Chilli Paste Tom Yum Flavour
TYPE: Normal
No. OF SACHETS: Two – soup base and Tom Yum paste
WEIGHT: 60g
COUNTRY: Thailand

A real winner this one – lovely flavour, bit of a tingle when eating and then wham – mighty spice in a creeps-up-on-you-slowly-yet-relentlessly way rather than the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am in your mouth approach. Top marks for ease of cooking, masses of taste and texture of noodles, also there’s a really nice lemongrass scent running through the whole affair that is a sheer joy. It’s only let down ever so slightly by the relatively small size of the portion and the slightly gritty residue that is inevitable with proper Tom Yum pastes.

Packaging is another sure fire winner from the Wai Wai marketing department. While not as insane as the sublime minced pork packaging we nevertheless have a coy lady in a bizarre sweater smiling innocently, accompanied by the noodle ‘money shot’ here departing from the boiled egg approach but flying the flag for the lime and big prawn combo. Top marks again for the mighty Wai Wai company but come on peeps, give us bigger portions!

*Retro noodle packet

Noodle Review: Wai Wai Sour Soup Noodle Review

BRAND: Wai Wai
FLAVOUR: Sour Soup
TYPE: Normal
No. OF SACHETS: One – Sour Soupbase paste
WEIGHT: 60g
COUNTRY: Thailand

This instant noodle offering turned out to be something of a surprise because it was only on close examination of the understated packaging that you realise that it is a sour noodle soup from the mighty Wai Wai company. What, you may be thinking, have they got to hide? The answer is…another damn fine product!

The soup base paste is rock hard but dissolves like a dream when boiling water is added and it gives the final soup an appetising glossy red sheen on the surface. The noodles themselves are nothing less than exemplary in texture and the overall eating experience is topped off by a flavour that feels both comforting and authentic. Even the small portion size doesn’t let this one down as it is designed to be a soup. Top product. In awe once more.

*Retro noodle packet

Noodle Review: Nong Shim Kimchi Ramyun Noodle Soup

Brand: Nong Shim
Flavour: Kimchi Ramyun Noodle Soup
Type: Instant
No. Of sachets: 2 – Dried Vegetables and soup sachet in red packet
Weight: 120g
Country: Korea

You may, or may not, know about a particular instant sachet of foodie fun, the Nong Shim Kimchi Noodle Soup set. But, fellow ramentics, the difference lies with the name, for the product on offer here is Nong Shim Kimchi Ramyun Noodle Soup. Note the six extra letters, but weight-watchers might also notice six extra calories giving a total of 426cal. But does the taste produce extra flavour even though the net weight of the product is the same and the net weight gain on you is different? The soup sachet is distinctly different in appearance and description to its companion ramen: the green sachet on the Nong Shim Kimchi Noodle, marked with a yellow font declaring kimchi, was notably different to the extravagant red sachet which incorporates those extra words and a different font-to-background colour to emphasise its provocative declaration of ramyun flavour enhancement over the traditional option.

Well, the kimchi taste is still there and has a highly satisfactory flavour essential for a soup based kimchi noodle. The issue with many kimchi ramen lies with the flavouring which, when well implemented, is just what you want but there’s something manufacturers sometimes don’t get quite right with the texture of the noodles. Also, instant versions of products often have trouble properly realising the dried vegetables, particularly cabbage, which are essential in providing that kimchi familiarity. Here the vegetables rehydrate beautifully and even become crunchy. The soupiness is notably soupy when the correct amount of water is used. The real difference with the Nong Shim Kimchi Ramyun Noodle Soup is a distinctly pleasant, almost smoky, taste compared with the Nong Shim Kimchi Noodle Soup, which makes for a delightful subtle surprise. Even if there are those additional calories. 

Noodle Review: Mama Gangpa

BRAND: Mama
FLAVOUR: Gangpa
TYPE: Normal
No. OF SACHETS: Two – soup base and flavouring oil
WEIGHT: 60g
COUNTRY: Thailand

Mama’s ‘take no prisoners’ approach to flavour names and dogmatic avoidance of any Western ingredients lists can be daunting to the uninitiated but for those who like to live life on the edge or have a sound background in Thai cooking they offer a sense of adventure and discovery denied by other, more cosmopolitan, manufacturers. This has its good and bad sides, some are marvellous while others are downright foul but that is a small price to pay for the thrill of the ride.

Gangpa may sound like Marlon Brando in the Godfather but the noodles prove to be classed in the category marked ‘strange’. It has an exceptionally fishy aroma while cooking but very little fishy flavour. Garlicy, tingly hot, very, very earthy indeed, a hit of spinach, pepper as well as chilli, occasionally chewy, some dark green stuff, touch of citrus. What is going on?

Excellent, if unusual, noodles but the flavour…I don’t know, it might be great, it might be awful. The packaging is really comforting and rustic. An enigmatic snack that needs revisiting many times before its complexity is unravelled. Not for beginners.

*Retro noodle packet