As a semi-professional noodle slurper and collector, I’ve eaten hundreds of noodles in my life, but I have a particular soft spot for one type, specifically: the instant kind. You know, those hard squiggly bricks of dried, fried noodles with accompanying seasoning packets that have long been the foundation of the American collegiate diet. Since the pandemic started, I’ve been showing off my impressive collection of instant noodles to my friends on FaceTime like a YouTube beauty guru flaunting their makeup stash.
I love instant noodles for many reasons: They have a nearly indefinite shelf life; they are an easy breakfast, snack, or — with the right bolstering — a full meal; and, they come in a panoply of shapes, textures, flavors, and colorful packaging styles. But while there is nothing wrong with eating instant noodles according to the instructions, it’s their versatility that’s made me a devoted fan. Here’s how to mash-up, deconstruct, and upgrade the dorm room staple.
1. Load up on protein
Yes, many instant noodles come with their own packets of dehydrated vegetable or meat flavoring, but they rarely provide much real taste and add zero in the way of texture. Supplementing your own additional proteins will do a lot to make your instant noodles more satisfying and nutrition-rich. Try simple items like ground meat, sausage, tofu, and leftover fried chicken — or my personal favorite ramen topping, pork char siu. Meat shortage got ya down? Just crack an egg. You can stir it right in to create an egg-drop soup effect, or poach the egg gently in the soup broth to enjoy breaking the creamy yolk.
2. Go big with toppings
Going nuts with the add-ons at ramen restaurants can mean spending $30 on a bowl of noodles (toppings normally cost between $1 and $3 each.) But at home, you can have as many toppings as the inventory of your fridge’s produce drawer allows: scallions, corn, mushrooms, kale, you name it. Not sure about what to do with all those weird greens in your CSA farm box? Add them to your instant noodles! Fact: There is no such thing as a lousy topping for instant noodles.
3. Deconstruct everything
Each element of the instant noodle package is a multi-purpose cooking superstar. The seasoning packets add a pop to stir-fried vegetables. Broken into bits, the uncooked noodles are an excellent crunchy topping for a salad or even another non-instant pasta dish. Do yourself a favor and add some ramen seasoning to mac and cheese, or how about using those instant noodles to make buns for an at-home ramen burger?
4. Switch up the liquid
To deepen the character of the soup, try cooking the noodles in vegetable or chicken broth instead of plain water. There are plenty of wilder recipes out there, including this one I’m skeptical of that uses milk, but homemade stock is a safe jumping off point.
5. Mash-up different styles
Mixing different instant noodle styles and seasoning packets is a culinary art form in itself, and can have big payoff. Jjapaguri (also called ram-don), the famous dish from the Oscar-winning movie Parasite, is actually just a hybrid of two different kinds of instant noodles — Neoguri and Jjappaghetti — and has become one of Korea’s national dishes. The magic comes from the mixing of Neguri’s spicy seafood powder with Jjappaghetti’s savory black bean powder, which ignites a lethal umami bomb. But jjapaguri is just the start. Try mixing Neoguri and curry noodles to create an exuberant, spicy curry broth. Combining super spicy noodles with something cheesy is also 100 percent never a bad idea.
The Ones to Know
Here, then, are some of the best instant noodles to stock up on, categorized by whether or not they’re “brothy” (the noodle soup kind) or “saucy” (brothless noodles with a separate sauce).
MyKuali Penang White Curry Noodle
If you love Penang curry, try adding this noodle to your cart. These wildly popular Malaysian instant noodles are considered some of the best in the world on this heavily opinionated ranking. Three whole flavor pouches — one of them is a paste — make for a deep, coconut-y taste and hearty portion size that you rarely get from instant noodles. Add toppings like fried tofu or prawns.
Neoguri, Spicy Seafood Udon Noodles
Neoguri, a Korean word for raccoon dog (neither a raccoon nor a dog; discuss), has been my top choice for ramen since I started slurping noodles at the age of three. This beloved Korean instant noodle is known for two things: thick udon-like noodles and a spicy seafood broth with actual dried seafood. It’s fantastic with any fishy topping or add-ins.
Nongshim Shin Ramyun Noodle Soup
Shin Ramyun might be the very first Korean instant noodle brand, as well as one of the easiest to find internationally: I still remember the exciting moment when I found Shin Ramyun in a random gas station in Alabama. It’s known for its spicy broth, and doubles as an excellent noodle for Korean ramen beginners. Top this with a slice of American cheese to tone down the spice and pump up the greatness.
Prima Taste Laksa Coconut Curry Lamian Noodles
This Singaporean instant noodle inspired by traditional laksa has a paste sachet that can and should be used for stir-frying vegetables, too. The noodles are rounder and less wavy than others, and the white powder adds the signature creaminess.
Thai cooking doesn’t shy away from acid, and neither do these Thai instant noodles, with just the right balance of acidic and salty flavors. The wavy noodles and the powdery seasonings make a great snack — though it may not be hearty enough to be a standalone meal. Beef it up with a hard-boiled egg and other vegetable toppings, like scallions.
Sapporo Ichiban Tokyo Chicken Momosan Ramen
Think Japanese shoyu ramen, in instant form: salty, slightly smokey, and clean tasting. It’s great with plain old white-meat chicken breast — which is hard to say about anything, really.
Paldo Gomtang Oriental Style Noodles with Beef Soup Base
Not all Korean instant noodles are spicy! This mild, creamy Korean noodle soup is inspired by gomtang, or beef bone broth. It has an intense beefiness and is excellent with hearty greens like cabbage or scallions. Add some ground beef to make it more filling.
Nongshim, Jjapaghetti (Noodle Pasta with jjajang Sauce)
“On Sundays, I’m the chef for Jjapaghetti” has been a Korean catchphrase for more than a decade. A combination of two dishes — jajangmyun (black bean noodles) and spaghetti— this saucy Korean instant noodle is also what spurred the ram-don trend after its crucial role in Parasite. The accompanying savory black bean sauce is all it really needs, though I highly recommend a luxe drizzle of truffle oil, too.
Indomie Mi Goreng Instant Stir Fry Noodles
If you haven’t tried this Indonesian instant noodle, stop what you’re doing and fix that immediately. The package comes with a liquid seasoning mix of savory onion-flavored oil, sweet-spicy chili sauce, and sweet soy sauce, creating a salty-and-sweet coating for the wavy noodles. Any optional toppings like grilled steak or boiled eggs are just gravy.
Samyang Extra Hot Chicken Flavor Ramen
Are you up for #FireNoodleChallenge? Join the leagues of people who’ve filmed themselves slurping these dangerously spicy noodles. There are multiple flavor options available, from carbonara to curry, and all of them equally fiery. Cover this with lots of mozzarella cheese to tone down the heat to the point where you might actually enjoy it.
Tseng Noodles Scallion With Sichuan Pepper Flavor
This Taiwanese instant noodle is all about texture. Its curling, knife-cut-like strands are a perfect match for the sauce. There are many different flavors, besides this scallion one, such as black sesame and shallots. Depending on the sauce, the noodles textures vary. Think of this as gourmet-tier, since it costs slightly more than other noodles, but it’s totally worth the splurge.
Paldo Bibim Myun Cold Noodle
The spicy, tangy, sweet sauce of these Korean noodles will wake up even the dullest of palates. Cook the noodles until they’re just al dente, or still a little firm, then rinse them under cold water to get rid of any residual starch and achieve peak bounce and chew. The sauce packet is an excellent salad dressing, too. Add some chopped cucumber and hard-boiled egg for a clutch midnight snack, or add some ice cubes for a cooling summer treat.
Mom’s Dry Noodle Sichuan Spicy
The Taiwanese knife cut-style noodles cling to the oily, spicy sauce for maximum slurpability. Top with a fried egg or fried cubed tofu and you can almost pretend you’re at a restaurant.