Instant noodles are possibly the most popular instant meal in East Asia. In my time living in Charlottesville, I often long for the multitude of choices of instant noodles I had in Japan when I studied there for a year. I always snag several boxes of noodles each time I venture to the grocery store. Compared to bagged noodles, I always prefer those packaged in cups or bowls, as I enjoy the simplicity of pouring boiling water over the dried noodles in the container and waiting three minutes when hungry.
Most instant noodles in the United States are also available to be cooked in microwave ovens. This solves the problem of obtaining hot water directly from the tap or water dispenser in America, as hot water is readily and conveniently available for me to use in Japan. Whether it's in the middle of the day when I have to rush to class or at night when I'm tired after finishing assignments, instant noodles always provide me with warmth and comfort. Also, most of the brands are very cheap and easy to store, as they don’t require refrigeration to keep. Particularly at this point nearing the end of the semester, instant noodles are perfect as we're all busy with our studies and may be pushing the edge of our budgets. After scouring a variety of brands of instant noodles in Charlottesville’s supermarkets, these are my recommendations worth trying when you crave a bite of Asian instant food.
1. Nissin Cup Noodles (Seafood or Original)
As the originator of instant noodles, Nissin will never fail to meet the expectations of instant noodle lovers. Fifty years after cup noodles first came into the market, it still ranks in the top three in the Japanese instant noodles rankings. Among numerous flavors Nissin developed, the seafood flavor pleases my palette the most. I was so surprised when I saw that it’s sold for only $1.49 per serving at Kroger, which is almost the same price at which it’s sold in Japan. The broth offers subtle hints of shrimp, which balances well with the dried crab meat, squid, cabbage and egg. The original flavor substitutes seafood for pork, which is also worth trying. I usually grab a cup for lunch on a day where I have several classes, as they are small enough to fit in my backpack. At noon, I fill it with water at the water fountain. After microwaving it at Rising Roll for three minutes, I often enjoy sitting on the window ledge at New Cabell Hall to savor my cup of hot noodles.
2. Nongshim Tonkotsu Spicy Pork & Black Garlic Noodle Soup Bowl
Nongshim is a famous Korean brand for instant noodles. Tonkotsu is the term for “pork bone'' in Japanese. Since pork bone is usually used to make soup in Japan, Tonkotsu gradually became the abbreviation of “pork bone soup'' in Japanese. The bowl’s Tonkotsu soup base is usually very dense, so I typically only use half of it to make one serving. What I love most about the meal are the noodles, which are as al dente as those in the restaurant. There are also tips on the package for how to texture the noodles to your preference. I like to sprinkle in my favorite toppings of roasted seaweed and coddled egg — that I obtain separately from the bowl — in order to add some variety to the taste. As someone who cannot handle very spicy food, I only put one-fourth of the fiery seasoning into the cup. Everyone can find the best way to enjoy this noodle soup bowl through a range of combinations.
3. Nissin Cup Noodles Stir Fry Teriyaki (Beef/Chicken)
At first, I doubted whether this instant noodle stir fry was worth my appetite when I came across it at Kroger, as I had never tried it in China or Japan before. However, as soon as I had my first bite, I decided then and there to add it to my list of the best instant noodles available. Stir Fry, as a dish without broth, always gives me a more condensed and stronger taste. So, when I am a little bit tired of noodle soup, I may turn to this Stir Fry Teriyaki. Teriyaki is a Japanese word that refers to a cooking technique of grilling the food with soy sauce and sugar. I would highly recommend this stir fry to those who love Japanese hibachi since Teriyaki is a commonly used sauce in hibachi in the United States. Also, the cups are sold for only $0.99 per packet at Kroger, which is a fantastic deal for the delicious flavor. Apart from Teriyaki, Nissin Stir Fry also offers Korean BBQ, sweet chili and hot garlic chicken flavors for everyone to find something that best suits their palette.
4. Pho’nomenal Pho Noodle Bowl (Beef/Chicken)
Have food allergies or dietary restrictions? No worries. The Pho’nomenal Pho Noodle Bowl is gluten, dairy, soy and MSG free. Pho is a Vietnamese soup dish consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat. This bowl of quick and delicious pho offers up a great taste of Vietnamese cuisine, which provides a lighter flavor than the instant noodles I suggested above. Additionally, pho could be a healthier choice, as it is not fried but dried before being packaged. I actually had no conception of instant pho before I came to the United States, and the Pho’nomenal Pho Noodle Bowl in particular not only introduced me to this category of instant noodles, but also broadened my understanding of instant noodles as a possibly healthy food choice, since they are typically thought of as unhealthy in virtue of being fried. It’s also worth noting that this noodle bowl only needs one minute to be ready after filling it with the boiling water. So, be careful not to cook it for too long or else the pho will become too soft and lose its al dente texture.