Shelf Life. Your Ultimate Food Court Is Now In Session. Your Ultimate Food Court Is Now In Session.

Ramen Noodle Soup

By admin • • Jun 17th, 2006 • Category: Columns, Prepared Foods

There’s global warming, and then there’s the other global warming. As we speak, millions of cups of water are being brought to the boil, every second, in cubicles and campsites and student residences all over the world. The hot water will be poured on crinkly acreage’s of ramen noodles, creating massive airstreams of dorm-smelling vapour. Is there no escape from the ubiquitous instant noodle? As it happens, resistance is futile.

The history of ramen is the story of globalization in a nutshell, or a plastic cup. Ramen’s extraordinary popularity owes much to cross-cultural pollination, and the march of technology. At the close of the second World War, troops returning home to Japan brought with them a taste for Chinese cuisine. A version of lo mein proved especially popular, and when inexpensive flour from America flooded the market in the fifties, the new dish – fried noodles in seasoned broth – quickly became a staple. In 1958, instant noodles were invented by the industrialist Momofuko Ando, who estimated that a portable, inexpensive, and spoilage-resistant meal might catch on. Today, ramen is one of the world’s most popular foods, with regional variations in every continent. Ramen even has its own museum in Osaka, where visitors can hand crank the extruding machines and view the wizened first packet ever manufactured. Ramen was recently voted the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th century. Shelf Life is awed by the sheer poetry of the stuff: such subtle dominance, such exquisite utility. And if we ever met one of those WW2 Japanese soldiers staggering out of the jungle – plainly a person unfamiliar with the modern world, and maybe a little hungry – we’d know exactly what to do. We’d hand him a freshly prepared styrofoam cup of ramen. With its universally appealing basic ingredients (fat, carbs, and salt), and its spooky resemblance to both DNA and fiber optic cables, ramen is the perfect introduction to life on earth, 21st century style.

Humbled in the presence of the shrink-wrapped icon are this weeks’ expert judges: Crystal Asher, food stylist and cooking instructor at Dish Cooking Studio; Johanna Weinstein, co-presenter of Prime TV’s Countertop To Table Cuisine; and Chris Zielinski, Executive Chef, Ultra Supper Club. Space limitations prevent us from evaluating every brand in a given category; entries reflect the luck of the draw. Items are blind taste-tested and awarded between zero and five stars. Chicken-flavoured ramen was selected for this test.

Brand One

Annie Chun’s
Chicken Noodle Soup

64g, $1.69
widely available

Crystal: Brand One is making a good first impression – I like the dense, lightly curled noodles, I can see quite a few veggies floating around, and I’m smelling an actual chickeny aroma. The stock appears authentic – it’s murky, with a bit of fat. The taste is surprisingly complex – is there a wee bit of spice in the house? And even though the corn kernels are incredibly un-Asian they do the job.
FOUR STARS****

Johanna: This brand has a nice balance, a really interesting salty-sweet combo going on. I might be tempted to eat the whole bowl. You get more chicken smell than actual chicken taste, but the whole thing is amazing value considering how inexpensive these products are. If I was a student in a dorm I would stock up on these, and improve them with shots of Vietnamese chili sauce.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS****1/2

Chris: I’m really impressed with the taste of the vegetables – the peas taste like actual peas. They’re so good it’s hard to believe they’re dried – it’s like they came out of a can. The smell is perfect – exactly what Ramen smells like. The noodles are a bit slippery, but I don’t mind that, and I like the sweet undertone. Jo is right – add a little hot sauce and you’re good.
FIVE STARS*****

Brand One Total THIRTEEN AND A HALF STARS *************1/2

Brand Two

Sapporo Ichiban
Noodle Soup

64g, $1.69
widely available

Crystal: Brand One is making a good first impression – I like the dense, lightly curled noodles, I can see quite a few veggies floating around, and I’m smelling an actual chickeny aroma. The stock appears authentic – it’s murky, with a bit of fat. The taste is surprisingly complex – is there a wee bit of spice in the house? And even though the corn kernels are incredibly un-Asian they do the job.
FOUR STARS****

Johanna: This brand has a nice balance, a really interesting salty-sweet combo going on. I might be tempted to eat the whole bowl. You get more chicken smell than actual chicken taste, but the whole thing is amazing value considering how inexpensive these products are. If I was a student in a dorm I would stock up on these, and improve them with shots of Vietnamese chili sauce.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS****1/2

Chris: I’m really impressed with the taste of the vegetables – the peas taste like actual peas. They’re so good it’s hard to believe they’re dried – it’s like they came out of a can. The smell is perfect – exactly what Ramen smells like. The noodles are a bit slippery, but I don’t mind that, and I like the sweet undertone. Jo is right – add a little hot sauce and you’re good.
FIVE STARS*****

Brand One Total THIRTEEN AND A HALF STARS *************1/2

Brand Three

Nong Shim
Oriental Style Noodle with Soup Base
75g, $.89
widely available

Crystal: Spiral noodles, and lots of Unidentified Floating Objects – is that a radish? And is this other thing a bamboo shoot? I’m picking up an odd sub-flavour that might be mustard seed. The dark green floaters could be seaweed, which is interesting. Nice sweet/salty balance, but the taste is extremely inconsistent. Every once in a while my tongue gets an afterburst of chemicals.


TWO STARS**

Johanna: At first I thought the green bits were spinach, or seaweed. I’m still trying to figure them out. But whatever they are, they’re not good. Call me crazy, but I think that Brand Three tastes more like seafood than chicken. And there are so many nuggety ingredients in here – this product is like the Lucky Charms version of ramen. Or All Dressed.


ONE STAR*

Chris: Mysterious. Check out the seafood discs that look like radish slices – I think they’re fish product, a pollock-type thing. Brand Three is really about seafood, with any chicken element way in the back and all this other stuff in the foreground. But the texture of the noodles is pretty likable.


TWO AND A HALF STARS**1/2

Brand Three Total FIVE AND A HALF STARS *****1/2


Brand Four

Chef Woo
Oriental Noodle Soup
110g, $1.79
widely available

Crystal: It comes with a plastic spoon – no, it’s a spork! With teeth-like little tines. But I can’t be bought off with a free implement, oh no. First of all, Brand Four smells really off-putting, like musty onion, or curry. The noodles look gluggy, like they’re gluten-free, and they taste awful. The vegetables are artificial. The more the whole thing sits there the more glutinous it’s getting.


ONE STAR*

Johanna: I agree: the aroma is like curry. This is one of the few brands we’ve seen with no corn. But that’s the only thing it’s got going for it. The noodles are chalky, and there’s a greasy aftertaste creeping up on me. Some noodles look like a bad perm: this brand tastes like a bad perm.


ZERO STARS

Chris: There’s a current of tiny chive bits all circulating around the perimeter of my bowl. The musty aroma is from white pepper, which seems to be the only discernable flavour here, and that’s where the heat is from as well. If you can get past the poor texture of the noodles maybe you could dress this one up with flavours you add yourself.


ONE AND A HALF STARS*1/2

Brand Four Total TWO AND A HALF STARS **1/2


Results: The souped-up qualities of Sapporo brand won the day. Judges were slightly less bowled over by tied second-placers Annie Chun and Nong Shim. Remaining entry Chef ‘Sporky’ Woo noodled off somewhere, looking ropy as hell.

Off The Menu: There’s MSG, of course. And various powders, additives, and preservatives. Add these together with the noodles, the freeze dried vegetables, and the water, and you have ramen – or do you? It turns out that ramen is one of the few packaged products that really does contain a unique ingredient. It’s called kansui, and it gives the noodles their distinctive flavour and texture. In pre-modern China, many foods were made using well water, a highly alkaline source rich in minerals derived from dissolved grass, wood, and roots – kansui. Today, the substance is made from sodium, and potassium carbonate and phosphate. Organic-loving Shelf Life would like to see a return to roots, literally. We’re waiting for the day when someone manufactures traditional gourmet ramen, featuring that old tyme earth juice.

Share
Tagged as: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.