It’s been 60 years since the first freeze-dried waves of instant ramen noodles relaxed into boiling water, transforming from flaky brick to salty bowl of flavorful soup in just a few minutes, and for just a few yen. Within five years of releasing its first packages of chicken-flavored instant ramen on Aug. 25, 1958, Nissin Foods was selling more than 200 million servings of ramen a year in Japan.
Globally, we now consume about 70 billion servings of instant noodles each year, and Nissin has competitors all over the world. As anyone who has ever slurped a packet of cup of noodles on a lunch break or in a dorm room knows, they’re fast, simple, and satisfying. But they’re even better when you doctor them with your own blend of condiments, add-ins, and extras. Find someone who loves instant ramen, and you’ll likely be talking to someone who has developed their own personal touches to make the noodles even better.
I caught the ramen recipe bug in college, when a friend taught me her trick for transforming “Oriental flavor”-ramen into something close to magic. You make your ramen according to the package, then squeeze half a lemon and drop a big splash of sriracha over the top. Mix the sauce into the broth, then add a few drops of sesame oil. If you have a minute, add a soft boiled egg and some chopped scallions. Before you ask—no, these steps do nothing to ameliorate the sodium you’re about to consume. But they do make the whole thing feel much less like a dorm room snack.
My colleague Rosie Spinks takes that approach a step further. First, she cooks pancetta and bok choy together in a pan. She then prepares her Nissin tonkotsu ramen according to the package instructions, and tops her noodles with the greens, an egg, sriracha, and scallions. Always scallions.
Phoebe Gavin, another Quartz colleague with a love for high-low dining, sautées mushrooms and freezes them in single servings, then adds those to hot instant ramen, along with hot sauce, a squeeze of lime, a fried egg, and Thai basil, if she has it on hand. Her ramen of choice is the Shin bowl from Nongshim, a popular Korean brand.
On Serious Eats, J. Kenji Lopz-Alt published an extensive, though likely not exhaustive, guide for fancying up instant noodles, whether you’re talking packet or bowl, Japanese,or Korean. “Sometimes that little flavoring packet just isn’t enough,” he writes. “As such, I’ve spent a lot of time devising ways to upgrade my ramen in cheap, easy ways. Ghetto gourmet, if you will.”