Ramyun, which you may know by its Japanese name “ramen”, is a noodle soup from The Orient. Those of us who are not Asian by origin or ancestry probably think of ramyun as a cheap instant noodle soup, but in Korea and Japan it is an actual food with restaurants devoted to its preparation and everything! The dehydrated product we find on store shelves bears as much resemblance to “real” ramyun as a dry packaged chicken noodle soup does to homemade. The packaged variety is a favourite among Asian students because it costs next to nothing, can be made in just a few minutes, and keeps on the shelf almost forever.
My first encounter with ramyun was in college and desperately poor and hungry. There were little packages of Sapporo Ishiban Ramen for 25¢, I think it was, on the shelf at a local grocery store so I bought a bunch of the chicken and shrimp ones. Starvation probably biased my opinion but they tasted great and they filled the belly.
I became close friends with a classmate of mine and her boyfriend, Khải Xoắn. One fateful day at his apartment, Khải Xoắn invited me to stay for dinner. He had a whole box of ramyun packages, took a couple out, and then went into the fridge. He was adding extra stuff to the ramyun! Brilliant! I was amazed at what a difference a couple of green onions, an egg, a couple of dried shrimps, some fish sauce and some Chinese cabbage could make.
Years later I met the lovely woman who would eventually become Mrs. HoaiPhai. I was teaching English Second Language and she was one of my students. One of the other students, who we found out was a distant relative of my yet-to-be wife, tried to matchmake us — it worked.
One time during his bid to put us together, he invited himself and me over to her apartment for an after-class snack. She was terribly unprepared but did have some Korean ramyun.
For those of you unfamiliar with Korean cuisine, it’s a lot like Japanese except that it’s got a kick. Korean food is loaded with garlic and coarsly-ground chili powder. I’m no stranger to spicy food — I love it. There are no Korean grocery stores in my area so we make a couple of runs per year to near Toronto, and we always pick up at least one throw-pillow-sized bag of the Korean chili powder.
Anyways, she added all kinds of stuff to the packaged soup, like shrimp, chicken, and seaweed, and it was absolutely fabulous. So today I’ll give you some ramyun pointers using the very same type of packaged ramyun that helped sparked a fire in my heart (not to mention a burning sensation in my intestines) for the woman I was to marry.
How to Make Enhanced Ramyun
Maybe you’ll do as I did and try ramyun “unplugged” without adding anything. But to get the most out of those little packs, you’ll really want to take it up a notch and personalize it to your own tastes by adding stuff to it. Here’s how to do it…
1. Run out and buy yourself some ramyun. If you’re into spice, I highly recommend the brand pictured above, Nongshim Shin Ramyun. If you prefer it blander, try something else. Not familiar with the stuff? Take a chance, buy several different types! They cost less than a buck each!
2. Inside the package is one or more envelopes of flavourings and a brick made up of one really long continuous noodle. If you’re like me, you won’t want to fight with the giant noodle all through your meal so you should crunch up the contents while the package is still completely closed. If you enjoy a challenge and have a Black Belt in long noodle handling, skip this crunching stage.
3. Check the directions on the package for the amount of water they say to use, measure it off into a pot, and start heating it up with a boil in mind. Since these are instant noodles, you won’t be draining off the water so use the amount the package says. I always follow directions to the letter the first time I try a product and if I think I can improve upon it, I’ll make a mental note and adjust the recipe the next time. [Doesn’t “Mental Note” sound like a good name for a heavy metal band?]
4. Gather your “extra” ingredients and cut them up remembering that the cooking time is only about five minutes. I like to add chicken or shrimp but you can add or omit any kind of meat, vegetable, or grain. Use up some of those leftovers you have in the fridge!
5. If the water’s boiling and you have a couple of ingredients that need to be cooked longer than the cooking time stated in the instructions, fire them into the pot taking note of the water level once they’re in. Once these extras are cooked, top off the water to its original level and bring it back to a boil.
6. Carefully open the package of ramyun and remove the packets of flavourings. Add the flavourings to the boiling water and stir for a few seconds. The flavourings provided tend to be very salty and the Shin Ramyun spices are quite fiery (but most ramyun flavours are not piquant). Try adding half the packet’s contents, give it a taste, and add more if you like.
7. Add the noodles and set a timer for the amount of time recommended on the package. Keep the water on a low boil — too rapid a boil will reduce the broth making it too strong-tasting. Don’t overcook! Instant noodles get mushy in a hurry!
8. If you have any ingredients that will cook in five minutes, add them immediately after you put the seasonings and noodles in the pot and simmer uncovered, stirring every once in a while.
9. Once the noodles are cooked, serve into large bowls and garnish with green onion, kim chee, pickled Asian radish, seaweed, coriander leaves (a.k.a. cilantro) or whatever floats your boat. Toss in a couple of croutons or some lobster meat if you like… it’s your lunch. I also add a squirt of lime juice to play with the spiciness of the Shin Ramyun flavour.
There you have it. A meal fit for a king! Well, OK, maybe a meal fit for the guy who polishes the king’s shoes, but it is tasty.
Don’t be afraid to experiment not only with different brands of ramyun but with extra ingredients as well. There’s no reason why you cannot add some “western” ingredients, like oregano, a smidgen of BBQ sauce, tomato paste, potatoes, etc.
If you’re really adventurous, you can buy large packages of Asian 5-minute noodles and make ramyun from scratch! For broth boil some pork and chicken bones together with a little minced ginger and fresh garlic (the secret to won ton soup) or use the last bit of Thanksgiving leftover turkey soup, adding soya sauce and/or fish sauce to give it an Asian character.