As assignment due dates grow closer and Uber prices continue to rise, I find myself less and less inclined to trek to the grocery store and continue to buy fresh foods. With the arrival of the autumnal season, cozy, warm meals become so enticing–as long as I don’t have to spend the time and money to consume them. Repeatedly, and embarrassingly, I find myself making ramen packets because of how cheap, easy, and delicious they are. As a beginner, I gravitated towards the chicken-flavored, Maruchan-brand ramen. This version is classic, an oily soup with a light poultry taste. I soon grew tired of the monotony of what was basically a salted noodle soup, though, and began to test out the spicier ramen packets in the international food aisle.
As a rule of thumb, the best ramen packets are generally those with Asian lettering, as they often have a deeper flavor profile with more authentic soup bases and spice mixes. I am personally fond of the flavors which require you to drink two glasses of milk while eating them, so as not to burn your taste buds off. Most grocery chains carry the Shin Ramyun brand, which includes both a soup base and multiple spice packets to create a fuller, more complex broth for the ramen noodles. Liquid flavoring works to thicken the soup and gives it a strong beef taste, which complements the chewy ramen noodles by coating them in umami-goodness while they cook. The dry flavor packet is composed of spices and dehydrated green onion, mushroom, and carrot, which round out the soup with subtleties to cut through the beef. Vegetables add both flavor and a slight texture to each mouthful of noodles. The level of spice produced by using the entirety of the liquid packet and the spice packet together is not for the faint of heart, but it is easy to adjust to a less volcanic burst of flavor by portioning the packets as desired and not adding them all at once.
Elevating the ramen experience by purchasing higher quality brands is one step towards ramen transcendence, but there are many other little tricks to crafting a dinner-worthy ramen noodle soup. The polished, Kylie Jenner-route would be to add butter, garlic powder, and a scrambled egg–but we can do better than that. I believe garlic is an herb passed down by cosmic entities to grace the food of humanity, so I’ll give Kylie that one. Rather than adding butter and a scrambled egg, though, I would suggest a form of egg that has a runny yolk, perhaps soft-boiled or sunny-side-up. The yolk of the egg thickens the soup, makes it creamier, and flavors the ramen noodles, while the white of the egg adds texture and protein so that you can pretend it is a nutritious meal. Other protein sources like tofu or pork are traditionally put in Japanese ramen, and work very well with noodles and broth. Adding soup-friendly fresh or frozen veggies like mushrooms, white onions, green onions, or jalapenos can add more of a bite to your soup and make it a well-balanced meal (though, is health what ramen is really about?). Flavoring the soup with bonus spices like hot chili oil or chili flakes, garlic powder, onion powder, curry powder, cumin, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sriracha, or even a dash of maple syrup can help cater to individual flavor preference.
I am a firm believer in eliminating ramen shame, and I encourage anyone looking for a quick, hot, and inexpensive meal during the colder months to explore this college-friendly food. Little adjustments can make ramen more substantial, and the soup is a great base for adding in meat, veggies, and spices, according to taste. To my fellow Maruchan-beginners: you can do better!
Photo: New York Times, Slow Cooker Chicken Ramen with Bok Choy and Miso