Most people who regularly buy instant ramen are only familiar with two types: the one in the package and the one in the cup.
Some may actually recognize the brand names of ramen noodles commonly sold in grocery stores, Maruchan, Top Ramen and Cup Noodles (originally branded Cup O’Noodles). Fewer know that the same Japanese company makes Nissin Top Ramen and Nissin Cup Noodles, and even that group probably doesn’t know that Maruchan is just a brand name for ramen produced by Japan’s Toyo Suisan Group.
But here’s what virtually none of them knows: you can buy much better instant noodles than any of those ramen brands.
It’s true that some of the best instant ramen noodles don’t have the same salty broth we’re all accustomed to. Some brands aren’t available in the familiar “Oriental” or roasted chicken flavors designed for American palates. Some might not even fit the textbook description of “ramen,” and many are more expensive than the ramen that college students and the budget-constrained have relied on for decades.
So if it makes you feel better, you can think of these products as the “best instant noodles” instead of the “best ramen noodles.”
Whatever you call them, they’re still easy to make and they’re absolutely delicious. Here are the ones to look for; some may be found in Asian or specialty supermarkets, and just about all of them are available on Amazon.
The Best Instant Ramen That’s Also the Best for You
Public Goods Original Ramen Noodles
These noodles aren’t just healthier than the brightly-colored packages of ramen you’d buy at the supermarket, they’re also a terrific introduction to the world of ramen that exists beyond Top Ramen, Maruchan and Cup Noodles. You might think of Public Goods Ramen as instant ramen training wheels, since you still make it with boiling water, rehydrated noodles and seasonings in the same way you’d make grocery store ramen. It’s just healthier and tastier.
The noodles aren’t deep fried by the manufacturer (the popular brands all rely on fried noodles), so they aren’t laden with fat; they also don’t contain the potentially hazardous preservative tBHQ found in most of the most popular ramen brands. And you don’t add a seasoning packet that contains MSG and lots of additives, either; instead. A yummy sauce made from just soy sauce and sesame oil is included.
Bottom line: Public Goods ramen has one-third fewer calories than Maruchan or Top Ramen, and only 20% of the fat, with no additives of any kind. It’s vegan, too. The taste is slightly different than you might be used to, but it’s very close – and a lot healthier.
One Culture Noodles
Here’s another ramen with a lot less fat and fewer calories than the big name ramen brands. One Culture doesn’t use tBHQ or MSG either, although it does contain added sugar, natural flavors and lots of other ingredients you won’t find in Public Goods ramen.
One Culture ramen comes in a cup (so there’s no seasoning packet), with soup that’s been made from bone broth and contains added scallions and roasted seaweed. It’s available in chicken, spicy, and two beef (Vietnamese and Taiwanese) flavors. It’s a lot more expensive than either Public Goods ramen or Cup Noodles, though.
House Foods Shirataki Ramen Shoyu
Now we’re starting to move in an entirely new direction. House Foods produces a line of “noodle” products that are actually made from tofu, and one of them is a ramen “kit.” That means it’s non-GMO and gluten-free, of course, with more protein and fewer carbs than regular ramen. However, the soup base is primarily powdered soy sauce so it contains fat and even more salt than most ramen brands.
This is another expensive but tasty alternative, and it’s a very good gluten-free one. If you’re wondering, “Shirataki” describes the noodles (which are usually chewy and ordinarily made from the konjac yam instead of tofu) and “Shoyu” describes the soy sauce that’s used.
Best Japanese Ramen Brands
We’ll be sticking with Japanese-style ramen for these listings, but they’re at least a step or two beyond the ramen noodle soups you can pick up at the supermarket.
Sapporo Ichiban Japanese Style Noodles & Original Flavored Soup
That’s quite a name, but apparently Sanyo Foods felt it was necessary to spell things out for the American market. This instant ramen is made just like the others you’ve probably eaten, by cooking the curly noodles in hot water for three minutes and then adding the contents of the seasoning “sachet.”
You wind up with a more flavorful soup than you might have previously experienced when opening a package of ramen, with the blended taste of soy sauce, garlic, chicken broth and ginger creating a very tasty meal. Don’t expect it to be “healthier,” though, since it’s loaded with salt and fat, as well as MSG and tBHQ.
If you’ve been raised on Nissen’s Top Ramen noodles, consider this “premium” product from the same company. Nissin Raoh was created to more closely resemble the noodle dishes sold at Tokyo’s ubiquitous ramen shops; it has noodles that haven’t been fried and richer umami broth (a savory taste that’s unfortunately, created with the use of MSG). There are also separate packets of seasonings and oils, which combine to produce a more luscious broth.
Nissin Raoh is available in three flavors: soy sauce, miso and tonkotsu (literally, “pork bones”). The tonkotsu is the best of the bunch, even though there’s apparently no pork used to make this variety. The soup is hearty and creamy with a sweet and delicious taste, and the noodles are just chewy enough to complete the experience.
Menraku Restaurant Style Ramen
This one isn’t as good as our first two choices, but we’d take it over Maruchan any day of the week. Skip the “shoyo tonkotsu” flavor, which isn’t anything special, and try the Sichuan-inspired “spicy sesame” flavor instead. It’s spicy, thanks to the chili oil in the sauce packet and the Sichuan pepper in its flavoring packet, and the noodles are just firm enough. Again, it’s not “healthy” it’s but pretty darned good.
Myojo Ippei-Chan Yakisoba Japanese Style Noodles
Our final choice from Japan is definitely different from the Top Ramen you may throw into the office breakroom microwave on a day you can’t get out for lunch. Yakisoba sauce has a savory, tangy and sweet taste that’s produced by ingredients like Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and something sweet to balance them off. In Myoko Ippei-Chan instant noodles the sauce tastes authentic, but that’s not all that goes into the bowl.
The thin noodles are mixed with the sauce (which also has dehydrated sardines and tuna in it), lots of dried veggies like cabbage and other leafy greens, spices – and then topped with the ingredient in a surprise packet: creamy Japanese mayonnaise, which has a rich egg taste much different than the mayo we’re used to.
It’s a great change of pace.
Best Asian Noodle Brands
Here’s where we can start the debate over whether these soups from other Asian nations are really ramen – but why bother debating? Even if they’re not ramen, they’re very similar. Just enjoy them for what they are: delicious.
Thailand: Mama Noodles
It would be difficult to find many Thai homes without Mama noodles in their cabinets or pantries. In fact, these noodles are so much a part of the Thai culture that the brand has become a generic name for any type of instant noodle. And many people regularly take the noodles out of the package and stir fry them with other ingredients to make a dish they call Mama Pad.
There are about four dozen flavors of Mama noodles available in Thailand (and many of them also available on Amazon), but the most popular by far is Mama Tom Yum. It’s a variation on the hot and sour soup you may enjoy at Chinese restaurants; this tom yum soup is made with fish sauce, shrimp powder, chili powder, garlic, coconut sugar and lemongrass to provide both the sweet and sour/spicy elements. It’s not the quite same as the tom yum you’d get in Thailand, but it’s surprisingly close.
We won’t waste space listing all of Mama’s other ingredients, but it’s worth checking out the creamy tom yum (a different product than the company’s regular tom yum) which adds coconut cream to the mix, plus the very spicy shrimp tom yum.
South Korea: NongShim Shin Ramyun Black Noodle Soup
NongShim’s noodles are just about as popular in Korean homes as Mama noodles are in Thai homes, and there are almost as many varieties.
Many of them are made with ramyun noodles, which are a bit chewier than most other ramen noodles, and packets of delicious spice combinations. Shin ramyun soup is the company’s best-seller, but Shim Ramyun Black is a relatively new product from NongShim that’s even better (and about three times more expensive).
The Black variety isn’t quite as spicy but it’s creamier and richer, thanks to the use of the bone broth that comes in a separate packet. It really imparts a meaty flavor to the soup – and is the reason that the Shin Ramyun Black is so much pricier. There’s a separate packet with green onions, mushrooms, sliced garlic and even small pieces of beef to provide additional flavor and authentic texture.
NongShim’s “regular” shin ramyun is very good. Is the Black upgrade really worth the extra money? Absolutely.
Other offerings from this brand that are worth trying: Shin Bowl (basically the same as Shin Ramyun, but in a microwaveable bowl), Jinjja Jinjja (with pork broth, peanut powder and black sesame seeds), and Chapagetti Roasted Chajang Noodles (in a tasty black bean sauce). If the last one sounds familiar, a combination of Chapagetti and NongShim’s spicy seafood Nioguri was featured in the Oscar award-winning movie Parasite.
South Korea: Samyang Spicy Chicken Noodles
Our second entry from Korea isn’t as popular as NongShim’s noodles, but it may be the best if you’re a fan of spicy ramen. A great example is Samyang’s Buldak-Bokkeum-Myeon which translates to “fire chicken stir fried noodles,” or spicy chicken noodles for short.
(If you prefer super-spicy food, there’s a 2x Spicy Hot Chicken flavor that delivers the same amount of heat as eating an entire jalapeno pepper. At one point the soup became the subject of an online challenge that almost broke the internet.)
Back to just plain spicy chicken soup, though. The noodles in Samyang’s original offering are ramyun and noticeably fatty; there are several ingredient packets that contain roasted sesame, soy sauce, red pepper oil, chili pepper, red pepper, black pepper, onion, curry powder – and that’s just for the “hot” variety, which only packs half the punch of the Samyan 2x!
If you become addicted – and you very well might – you might want to check out some of Samyan’s other versions like curry hot chicken, carbonara hot chicken, kimchi hot chicken, mala hot chicken (which actually numbs the tongue), and believe it or not, cheese hot chicken fried noodles.
South Korea: PalDo Mr. Kimchi Ramen
The fermented cabbage known as kimchi is an acquired taste for many in the West. It tastes of garlic, chilies and ginger, and is integral to an enormous number of Korean dishes. And that nation’s PalDo noodle company makes two very good versions of kimchi instant noodles.
The Mr. Kimchi soup we’re focusing on comes with noodles and a kimchi sauce, but there’s another variety that includes dehydrated stir-fried kimchi. The noodles are somewhat thin and the packet of veggies doesn’t contain any surprising ingredients, but the star of this noodle soup is the yummy and tangy kimchi flavor that comes through loud and clear.
Another PalDo offering worth your attention is the Jajanmyeon (black bean sauce) noodle soup, which actually comes with a packet of black bean sauce rather than just spices that replicate the flavor. It’s rich, sweet and delicious.
Singapore: Prima Taste Noodles
There are only six varieties of this company’s noodle soups, and they’re the most expensive choices on this list at about $3.50 per serving. They’re worth finding.
The most popular is Prima Taste’s Laksa La Mian. It features the distinctive taste of laksa paste, a blend of dried chilies, shallots, lemongrass and spices that’s then sautéed in oil. The paste is mixed into a broth made from shrimp and coconut milk powder, and mixed with chewy but soft lamian noodles. The finished product is creamy and tastes of shrimp and ginger, spicy and delicious but not overwhelming. It’s beautiful-looking as well, with little red flakes floating to the surface.
Other great Prima Taste instant noodle dishes include Curry La Mian, which incorporates curry paste instead of laksa; fish and prawn soups with lamian noodles; and two versions of crab-flavored lamian noodle dishes, one accented with chili sauce and the other with black pepper. Yum.
Indonesia: Indomie Mi Goreng Instant Stir Fry Noodles
Mi goreng means fried noodles in Indonesian (and is sometimes called bakmi goreng). It’s a traditional dish, made by stir-frying wheat noodles in oil with garlic and onion and a selection of vegetables, proteins and spices.
Indomie’s instant version is extremely popular in Indonesia, but the name is a bit misleading. You don’t actually fry the noodles yourself; they’re already been fried (as many other ramen noodles are before being packaged), and you just rehydrate them to make soft, springy noodles to mix with the other included ingredients. They’re quite tasty.
There are a number of Indomie Mi Goreng noodle flavors; among the best are rendang (coconut and beef), satay (with peanut flavoring) and barbecue chicken. The original flavor, however, comes closest to the fabulous dish you might enjoy in Indonesia. That’s largely thanks to the amazing selection of ingredient packets that come with it: dry seasonings, spicy and sweet chili sauce, garlic oil – and bawang gareng (fried onion) that you sprinkle on top just before eating. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Making the Best Instant Ramen Even Better
These are all great choices, but they’re still instant ramen (or instant noodles, if you prefer).
It’s easy to turn them from fast food into a fast meal, though, by adding traditional ramen ingredients or toppings. It takes just a few minutes to chop up veggies like fresh cabbage, scallions, mushrooms, onions or seaweed, which will make your ramen healthier, tastier and more authentic. Similarly, adding some tofu or cooked protein (pork, chicken and beef will usually match best with these varieties of ramen) will transform your bowl of ramen into a true Asian meal.
The finishing touch? An egg. Whether you prefer hard- or soft-boiled eggs, fried eggs or even scrambled eggs, adding one to your ramen noodles is the best way to include more protein, kick the taste up another notch – and prepare ramen the way it’s meant to be eaten.
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