July 6, 2022

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Food the meaning

The 5 Best Instant Ramen Hacks Online, Tested & Ranked


Instant ramen is a staple in homes all over the world. The modern iteration of the dish — created by legendary food inventor Momofuku Ando in Japan — was initially a luxury item, being way more expensive than fresh noodles back in the 1950s. Eventually, the price dropped to pennies and instant ramen (often simply called “Top Ramen” in the US, because that’s the most ubiquitous brand or Maggi Noodles in the UK for the same reason) became the cornerstone of kitchens large and small from Jakarta to Juneau. And while cracking open a bag, pouring everything into a bowl, and covering that bowl with boiling water is the easiest way to prepare the dish, there are about a million things you can do to jazz it up — whether you’re in the dorm or your own kitted-out kitchen.

When the assignment to prepare and stress test ramen hacks came across my desk, I got pretty excited. I’ve been adding American cheese, leftover meats, and onions or garlic to my instant ramen since the 1990s. But I really upped my ramen game after living in Indonesia for a year. I was lucky enough to live with someone who could really work some magic with a simple pack of IndoMie, and I carry that knowledge with me to this day (more on that later).

So, I scoured the internet and social media and found five “hacks” that felt intriguing enough to actually try. A quick note, a lot of the “hacks” out there are simply “add some leftover meat and herbs to your bowl of ramen.” And, sure, that’s fine but I needed to go deeper than just pairing last night’s leftover roast chicken breast or an egg with my noodle and season packs. So I searched for “hacks” that actually changed the texture and structure of the dish. Yes, there are add-ons as part of that, but this is about elevation and not just addition.

The instant ramen hacks are:

Let’s get into it!

5 Instant Ramen Hacks, Ranked

Instant Ramen Hacks
Zach Johnston

5. Butter Ramen

Instant Ramen Hacks
Zach Johnston

The Recipe:

This is the easiest of the “hacks” out there. Simply add some butter to the pot when you make the ramen to amp up the texture of the soup.

  • 1 pack of instant ramen w/seasoning pack
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups boiling water

Method:

  • Add the boiling water and ramen to the small pot. Briskly boil for about one minute.
  • Add the seasoning pack and butter while boiling for another minute, or until noodles are fully cooked.
  • Pour into a waiting bowl and serve.

Bottom Line:

Instant Ramen Hacks
Zach Johnston

This was pretty good. The butter did add a nice textural element but only just.

Is It Worth Doing?

Nah. I mean, it’s fine but not that much different. And if you’re going to add a fat to your ramen, why not a sesame, peanut, or chili oil? I get those won’t bring the same creamy texture as butter (that was barely there), but they’ll certainly taste better.

4. Kewpie Mayo Ramen

Instant Ramen Hacks
Zach Johnston

The Recipe:

This seems to be one of the more popular “hacks” all over social media at the moment. It’s more than just adding some kewpie mayo though (again, adding fat seems like a no-brainer). This is adding minced garlic and egg with that mayo and creating a slurry of sorts to really transform your seasoning packet into something totally different.

  • 1 pack of instant ramen w/seasoning pack
  • 1 tbsp. kewpie mayo
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1 tsp. finely minced garlic
  • 2 cups boiling water

Method:

Instant Ramen Hacks
Zach Johnston

This might be the hardest visual to get past. You go from the above to this below as the first step. It … does not look appetizing. Anyway…

Instant Ramen Hacks
Zach Johnston
  • Add the ramen and boiling water to a small pot and boil for about one minute.
  • In the meantime, add the mayo, seasoning pack, egg, and garlic to a waiting bowl. Use chopsticks or a fork to blend the mix together until well emulsified.
  • After the noodles have cooked for about two minutes, pour about one-half cup of the ramen noodle water into the slurry in the bowl. Use the chopsticks or fork to quickly combine/cook the slurry into a base sauce. You have to work fast so as not to scramble the egg — you’re basically tempering the egg with this process.
  • Lastly, pour the rest of the ramen and water into the bowl and mix until the noodles are fully coated and a creamy soup base forms.
  • Garnish and serve immediately.

Bottom Line:

Instant Ramen Hacks
Zach Johnston

This was way better than it looked at that first stage. It’s creamy and an umami bomb. It’s pretty rich and overall an elevated instant ramen experience.

Is It Worth Doing?

This got to be a little much around the second half of the bowl. It was still good but of the five bowls we tried (between four people for lunch), this was the only bowl that was not emptied. Still, if you’re looking for elevated instant ramen that’ll really fill you up, this is the play.

3. Roy Choi Instant Ramen

Instant Ramen Hacks
Zach Johnston

The Recipe:

When I read that Roy Choi did this back in his 2013 Tasting Table interview, I felt like I’d found a long-lost brother. As mentioned above, I’ve been doing something akin to this since the 1990s. Choi’s version is more advanced since he’s, you know, a trained chef and I was a teenager, but this is amped-up instant ramen for the ages.

  • 1 pack of instant ramen w/seasoning pack
  • 2 slices of American cheese
  • 1 green onion (whites and greens separated)
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 medium egg
  • Sesame seed for garnish
  • 2 1/2 cups boiling water

Method:

  • Add the 2 1/2 cups of boiling water and ramen to a small pot. Boil for two minutes.
  • Add the flavoring pack, whites of the green onion, and butter and stir together while cooking for another minute or two.
  • Drop in the egg and turn off the heat, use chopsticks or small tongs to fold the ramen noodles over the egg to “cover” it. Let sit for at least two minutes so that the egg poaches.
  • Gently pour the ramen into a waiting bowl. Layer the cheese over the noodles and garnish with sesame seeds and the greens of a green onion.
  • Let rest for a minute or so to let the cheese get melty and serve.

Bottom Line:

Instant Ramen Hacks
Zach Johnston

Cheesy ramen? Yes and thank you! But it’s the egg that’s the star of the show with this one. It gets this barely-set jammy nature that works wonders as a little protein surprise when you’re pulling your ramen up to your mouth. Basically, this is what the butter “hack” above wishes it was.

Also, I realized too late I was out of sesame seeds, hence you don’t see them. But… I like sesame seeds, so… I’m sure it would have added a little something.

Is It Worth Doing?

Absolutely. You’re taking a little more time by poaching the egg slowly in the ramen noodles, but it’s 100 percent worth it. That said, this still feels more added to than elevated. There is a creamy texture thanks to the butter and cheese but it’s not too wildly different. Still, come on, this is great.

2. Dry/Fried Ramen

Instant Ramen Hacks
Zach Johnston

The Recipe:

This is touted as “Kylie Jenner’s Instant Ramen Viral Tiktok Hack” all over the internet. I think 275 million people in Indonesia would beg to differ. Granted, I wasn’t introduced to this style of instant ramen until I lived there, but this is a touchstone of home and street cooking in Indo. So, I’m going to give you the recipe I learned in Jakarta which, frankly, makes Jenner’s “hack” about a million times better.

  • 1 pack of instant ramen w/seasoning pack
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1 tbsp. sambal olek (or any hot sauce)
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. green onion (white part only)
  • 1 tbsp. oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 4 bok choi leaves, thinly sliced on the vertical
  • 4 Thai basil leaves, thinly sliced on the vertical
  • 2 cups boiling water

Method:

  • Add the boiling water and instant ramen with the seasoning pack to a small pot and boil for two minutes.
  • In the meantime, add the butter, about 1/4 cup of the ramen noodle water, sambal olek, minced garlic, green onion whites, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and egg to a hot non-stick frying pan (medium-sized) on high heat.
  • As soon as the egg hits the pan, use chopsticks to start scrambling the egg while mixing the sauce. You should get a very small curd scramble and a sauce that’s about the consistency of an Italian Sunday gravy (Bolognese sauce).
  • Dump the noodles into a colander to strain, toss a few times to get some of the water off the noodles, and dump them right into the frying pan. Use chopsticks to roll the noodles through the sauce so that they’re completely coated and let fry for a minute or two.
  • Kill the heat and add the bok choi and Thai basil. Use chopsticks to roll the noodles around, allowing the greens to fold into the noodles.
  • Use chopsticks to slide the ramen into a waiting bowl. Garnish with the greens from the green onion and some sesame seeds (or ground peanuts) and serve.

Bottom Line:

Instant Ramen Hacks
Zach Johnston

This took me back. It’s so good and satisfying. You get little bits of fried scrambled egg with a truly spicy and umami-bomb sauce. It’s also fast. This took exactly five minutes from start to finish (with a mise en place already set up).

Is It Worth Doing?

I’ll put it this way, this is the bowl everyone fought over and wanted seconds of. Still, you don’t quite get the depth of the next one with this crowd-pleaser. That said, I made this again for breakfast the next day with my leftover mise. It was a great way to start the day.

1. “Make-Your-Own-Base” Instant Ramen

Instant Ramen Hacks
Zach Johnston

The Recipe:

The “make-your-own-base” instant ramen seems antithetical (how can it be “instant” if I’m making soup base?). But in the end, this is the best way to truly elevate any instant ramen pack to the stratosphere and beyond. And it really only takes about six minutes instead of three. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for a very long time.

  • 1 pack of instant ramen
  • 1 1/2 cup stock (I used beef)
  • 1 tbsp. oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. mirin
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 1 tsp. red Thai chili paste
  • 1 tsp. green onions white
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • Juice of one lime
  • 4 bok choi leaves, thinly sliced on the vertical
  • 4 Thai basil leaves, thinly sliced on the vertical
  • Chili oil
  • 2 cups boiling water

Method:

  • Add the stock, oyster sauce, soy sauce, mirin, fish sauce, red chili paste, green onion, garlic, white pepper, and lime juice to a small pot and bring to a rolling simmer. Use chopsticks to stir so that the chili paste integrates into the soup base. Allow to simmer for about five minutes.
  • In the meantime, pour the boiling water over the instant ramen and boil for two to three minutes.
  • Strain the ramen in a colander and place them in a waiting bowl. Place the bok choi and Thai basil over the noodles.
  • Pour the simmering soup base over the noodles and greens and use chopsticks to fold the noodles around once or twice in the soup base.
  • Garnish with green onion tops, sesame seed, and about a teaspoon of chili oil. Serve.

Bottom Line:

Instant Ramen Hacks
Zach Johnston

This was delicious. The soup base was funky, sweet, spicy, full of umami greatness, and just a little sour. There were dimensions at play that you’ll never find in a seasoning pack; and that’s why this wins this ranking, hands down. You just can’t beat making your own, quick soup base.

Is It Worth Doing?

Yes! Granted this doubles your cooking time from around three minutes to five or six minutes (if you have everything ready), but it’s beyond worth it. There’s nothing that comes close to having the same complexity as this on this list. This is the truest and boldest “elevation” you can do to instant ramen noodles, because it becomes “real ramen made with real soup.”

Final Thoughts

Instant Ramen Hacks
Zach Johnston

I have a whole drawer full of instant ramen soup packs. I rarely use them since making your own quick base is such an easy play. It’s so bright and spicy and, well, delicious and you barely have to put in more effort (once you’ve sliced some veg that is). In fact, I’d wager that once you start dialing in your own quick soup base, you won’t go back to the packs either. That said, it also takes a lot of ingredients to rebuild the flavors in a good instant ramen seasoning pack (so there’s some level of upfront investment).

Still, as much as I dig making my own soup base, frying up some ramen is the comfort food I long for. It’s fast and delicious and hits a nostalgic button for me. It’s, again, pretty fast to make. Even with slicing and dicing, you’re still looking at ten minutes or less from fridge to plate. While that’s not “instant,” it’s fast enough for the quality of the meal you’re getting from a humble packet of instant ramen noodles.



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