If Momofuku Ando is considered the godfather of instant ramen, then you could make a strong case that Hans Lienesch is its greatest modern-day disciple.
Since 2010, the self-appointed “Ramen Rater” has sampled, reviewed, and photographed over 1750 instant noodles from around the world on his eponymous website.
“I’d say the worst instant noodles in the world consistently come from Canada,” says Lienesch. “So often, the noodles seem to have a filmy kind of mouthfeel, and the broths are just so bland. Another I really dislike has been one from Sichuan, China—black bone chicken flavor.”
Such opinionated matters like those can be found on TheRamenRater.com, along with controversial Top 10 lists and categorical breakdowns based on heat level and country of origin. In the process, Lienesch has gained a reputation as being a powerfully-influential critic of this dorm-room favorite.
“There’s an article from 2013 that mentioned I had the ‘instant noodle industry in a chokehold,’” says Lienesch. “I wouldn’t say that’s the case, nor would I want it to be that way.”
Lienesch does admit, however, that around the time he hit the 400 slurp mark, a broader audience began to take notice of his noodle crusade. Hometown interviews led to invites from noodle companies to visit their facilities.
Japan alone comes out with 400 new varieties every year, meaning it doesn’t look like Lienesch will be slowing down anytime soon. Here the Ramen Rater identifies 10 underrated instant noodles you need to stock your pantry with.
All photos by Hans Lienesch
Prima Taste Singapore Laksa La Mian (Singapore)
The Ramen Rater says: “The noodles are thick and have a great chewiness to them—definitely on the premium end of the spectrum. The broth is thick from the coconut powder, which gives it a sort of milkiness. The accompanying laksa paste adds a deep, homey character to the broth, as though it were stewed for hours. It’s a little spicy and a little sweet, and pairs very well with onion, bell pepper, fish cake, of any kind or shrimp.”
Paldo Cheese Noodle (South Korea)
The Ramen Rater says: “A lot of people find the idea of cheese in instant noodles to be absolutely bizarre, but it’s a truly wonderful flavor combo. This one has thick ramyun noodles (in Japan they’re called ramen and have a thinner gauge; in South Korea they’re called ramyun and are thicker and chewier). The broth benefits from the spicy red powder and cheese powder sachets. Like the package shows, put in some Swiss cheese—it’s a nice addition.”
Mama Shrimp Creamy Tom Yum Flavor Oriental Style Instant Noodles (Thailand)
The Ramen Rater says: “This one goes out to all the Thai food fans. The noodles are just a tad thinner than your standard domestic instant noodles, which means they don’t swell as quickly. The broth has a brilliant color to start with, and is slightly milky. But there’s actually no dairy in this; the ‘creamy’ shrimp tom yum comes from boiling shrimp heads. The flavor is that of shrimp, lemongrass, and spicy chilis. I would recommend pairing it with some cilantro, peppers, and a slice of lime.”
Indomie Mi Instan Mi Goreng (Indonesia)
The Ramen Rater says: “This mi goreng (which translates to ‘fried noodle’) is not only particularly versatile, but it’s very unique in that it comes with so many sachets! Extras include: sweet soy sauce, which is a thick and syrupy, sweet chili sauce, seasoned oil, a dry base, chili powder, and finally a crunchy fried onion garnish to put on top. This pairs really well with a fried egg on top for breakfast.”
Koka Instant Non-Fried Noodles Laksa Singapura Flavor (Singapore)
The Ramen Rater says: “This one’s ideal for folks looking for a lower-calorie, lower-fat option. That’s because the noodles are baked. The flavor of the soup has a respectable spicy and sour seafood character, which lends itself well to be paired with fish balls, shrimp, tofu, and veggies.”
Nongshim Soon Veggie Ramen (South Korea)
The Ramen Rater says: “Looking for something in the vegan vein? Nongshim’s got you covered. The South Korean ramyun noodles are thick and chewier than your run of the mill instant noodles—plus there’s a lot of ’em. The broth is very much like Nongshim’s popular Shin Ramyun, but a tad less spicy. Get yourself some tofu puffs at the Asian market, as well as some nice vegetables, to fill this one out.”
Maruchan Creamy Chicken Flavor Ramen Noodle Soup
The Ramen Rater says: “They say that chicken soup is good for what ails you, and whenever I am feeling under the weather and in need of some comfort, this is my definite go-to. What’s great is that the broth lives up to its name—it is indeed creamy. The noodles are Maruchan’s standard fare, decent quantity and a soft character. I rarely add anything to it, but some corn would do the trick.”
Sapporo Ichiban Chow Mein
The Ramen Rater says: “This has been a favorite of mine for years because of its supreme versatility. The noodles are broth-free but have a great chow mein/yakisoba flavor, which is a salty, Worcestershire kind of profile. Fry it up with some cabbage, kizami shoga (that bright pink pickled ginger), mung bean sprouts, and of course your favorite protein.”
Nongshim Shin Bowl Noodle Soup
The Ramen Rater says: “A few years back, Nongshim decided to switch from foam bowls to plastic ones that were microwavable. One thing people don’t realize is that there are instructions on bowls and cups of instant noodles, and few of them are actually microwavable! This version comes with very tasty noodles and a broth that has heat and excellent flavor to it. My favorite add-ons for this one are cheese and kimchi.”
Nissin Cup Noodles Ramen Noodle Soup With Shrimp
The Ramen Rater says: “Recently, Nissin Foods down in Gardena, California decided to change things up a bit. The Cup Noodle has been a ubiquitous and easy go-to staple since 1971, but the product itself hasn’t evolved much—until recently. They decided to make the microwaveable cup with new materials, resulting in 20% less carbon emissions, and also by making it ‘customizable.’ How so? Now there’s extra room in the cup, so you can add a little bit of vegetable and meat in there to give it your own spin. One variation I found interesting was to add a little milk and some oyster cracks to make a seafood chowder out of the shrimp variant. With the shrimp flavor, I like to add nice big shrimp and some hot sauce.”