Like almost everybody else who has had to shop for their own groceries throughout their university years, I’m on very friendly terms with instant ramen noodles. Living in Southern California, however, we had a wider selection in this category than the rest of the country. The Japanese, Chinese, and Southeast Asian stores would all import their own home-grown brands, often in awesome random flavors with no English translation. They were invariably authentic, despite being, essentially, packets of dried noodles with MSG powder. There were also the American varieties, of course, which tended towards the saltier side of things but were flavorful enough in a pinch. I had a ramen craving late last fall and bought several packets to try out. These are my very biased reactions as a noodle-loving Asian-American living in a Northern European country where East Asian food of any variety has not made that much headway yet. They are here mostly to remind myself for future shopping trips, and also so you can see what happens when I’m too lazy to cook.
Blue Dragon is an UK-based purveyor of Western-made Eastern condiments and food staples. I’ve tried several different items in their range, since they seem to be the most commonly stocked line at most of our supermarkets. These items have varied from very decent to shockingly bland — enough inconsistency to make it necessary to have notes to refer to when shopping. And, as you can see, one of my favorite ways of having ramen is with 2 poached eggs and some veggies in the broth.
The first one up was Blue Dragon’s 3-minute Noodles in Chow Mein flavor. Now, when I bought this, I was slightly puzzled as to what that exactly meant, since chow mein translates to “fried noodles” and that doesn’t really specify any flavor, other than perhaps soy sauce and oil. So in that regard, I guess I shouldn’t have been entirely surprised when it ended up tasting exactly like plain unflavored ramen, despite my having added in the packet of mysterious brown powder it came with. I guess I should be glad it wasn’t overly salty, but I was mostly just confused. There was a bit of an artificial smell while it was cooking, but I couldn’t tell if that was due to the noodles or the bit of melted plastic that was left on the burner from when T boiled his new floorball stick in one of my pots to shape it. Oh, confusion. This is not an offending flavor, but it is highly forgettable and really needs something more added to the bowl to give the dish any sort of personality.
Next up was Blue Dragon’s 3-Minute Noodles in Crispy Duck flavor. This one definitely had a stronger taste, though whether that was supposed to be duck or something else was somewhat hard to tell. It was some sort of meat byproduct. There was also a bit of an aftertaste reminiscent of duck skin, so I suppose that makes this something of a success. After tasting the broth on its own, I did add a few bits of Finnish bacon (less fat) to the mix, so the end result was actually rather tasty.
The last offering from Blue Dragon was their 3-Minute Noodles in Won Ton flavor. This one had a more pronounced taste than the first packet, but less than the duck flavor. It was like the watery essence of pork wonton, I suppose. I went on the offensive this time after just a brief broth tasting, and added a couple dashes of soy sauce and sesame oil, then topping everything with the crunchy bits left over from some of my old udon packets. The end result was very satisfying. Yay!
My final take on this particular brand? It’s not really worth getting the “flavored” pre-packaged noodles. It probably *would* be worth getting the plain unflavored noodles that they also carry and then flavoring it myself with a mix of homemade soup stocks and spice blends. Has to be healthier than powdered preservative packages.
This one was a pleasant surprise — our local market also carries a few varieties of Mama Noodles, an actual Thai brand. They stock mostly the “safe” flavors (chicken, shrimp, etc) but also have Shrimp Cream Tom Yum Flavor, which I was very quick to grab. Tom yum of any sort always scores high on my list of favorite soups, so it was a no brainer. I got the “jumbo” packet, which came with a very healthy portion of noodles. I decided to toss in a can of crab meat with this particular batch, and it definitely added to the seafoody flavor. I’ve also added frozen prawns to this stuff before and that worked out even better. This brand comes with a few different flavorings that can be used together, separately, or in different proportions — besides the standard powdered flavoring mix, it also gives you two plastic envelopes — one with chili oil and one with a flavor paste. I usually go light on the chili since I’m a spice wimp, but use all of the other two packets. The result is a strong-tasting soup that definitely echoes “real” tom yum. As one reviewer said, it will do in a pinch, and I’d say living in the land of no Asian restaurants definitely falls into the “pinch” category. This stuff made me happy after the several mediocre encounters with other ramens last year and it is still something I like to pick up when I need a quick noodle fix.