Anyone who has walked through an instant-noodle aisle knows what it’s like to be confronted by shelves upon shelves of identically shaped packets, their glossy exteriors promising bowl after bowl of slurpable noodles in hot, savory soup. There are some things all instant noodles share: All you need to know to make them is how to boil water, and all you have to pay for them is roughly the price of a single subway ride. But that’s more or less where the similarities end. There are flavors and varieties to satisfy any craving — fiery curries of every color; rich, tongue-coating miso soups; sour, lemongrass-laden broths. Some options are even packaged in single-serve cups and bowls, offering the promise of not having to do dishes in addition to getting a satisfying meal. With so many options, you may find yourself asking, Which instant noodles are the absolute best?
According to the eight experts I talked to — including chefs, food writers, cookbook authors, and other foodies — the answer isn’t as simple as the cooking process. Perhaps unsurprisingly, each person had their own favorite noodles, none of which came up more than once; the recommendations were just as diverse down to the brands, only one of which was recommended by two experts. Because of this, we forwent our typical designation of “best overall” and instead divided the instant-noodle recommendations into soupy, saucy (also known as dry), and spicy varieties. (Even these categories are imperfect — some soupy noodles would count as spicy or even saucy, depending on how you prepare them — but they should be helpful for those who already have an idea of what they like.) One thing all of our noodle know-it-alls agreed on, however, is that instant noodles only get better when you doctor them up. So along with the noodles themselves, we’ve included any cooking tips our experts shared to make a tasty dish even tastier — most of which require ingredients that may already be in your fridge or pantry.
Best soupy instant noodles
No serious discussion of instant noodles can take place without the opinion of Lucas Kwan Peterson, the food columnist for the Los Angeles Times. In November 2019, Peterson put together an exhaustive, thoroughly detailed power ranking of 31 varieties, placing each on a matrix (not unlike New York Magazine’s “Approval Matrix”) according to their taste and how much the instant noodles recalled their non-instant iterations. Since publishing his guide, Peterson told us he “hasn’t been keeping up with new ramen releases as much as I should,” but he says, “In my experience, you can’t go wrong with instant noodles from MyKuali.” (One reason is that the Malaysian instant-noodle brand is “easy to find online.”) As for his favorite: “I like the white Penang curry MyKuali,” which contains green chiles that give the white curry a satisfying heat (“white” here means it’s made with green chiles, not red).
These instant noodles from Sapporo Ichiban made Peterson’s power ranking, falling somewhere near the intersection of “Better Taste” and “Tastes More Like Thing” on his matrix. They also happen to be the favorite instant noodles of Sheldon Simeon, the chef-owner of Tin Roof and author of Cook Real Hawaii, who calls these noodles “crazy ridiculous.” Simeon explains that the “Momosan” in the name nods to their creator, chef Masaharu Morimoto, whom he describes as “one of the best chefs in the world.” Simeon adds, “Sometimes, to make the broth even creamier, I’ll crack an egg in it, stirring it directly into the soup, almost like egg-drop soup.” Then, to kick up the heat, “I add a bunch of Tabasco or black pepper. We do that at the restaurants, too — lots of black pepper in our broths.” To make these noodles an even more substantial meal, Simeon says he will occasionally toss in “leftover roast pork: I’ll freeze individual portions with sliced green onion in small Ziploc bags, and all I have to do is add it to the hot broth.”
If you’ve read New York Times food reporter and Indianish author Priya Krishna’s Strategist story about the best Indian snacks you can buy on Amazon, you might already be familiar with her favorite instant noodles. “I have been a Maggi masala noodles devotee my entire life. They are India’s answer to Instant Ramen, and they are perfect — spicy, salty, and equally delicious whether prepared really soupy or more like a loose sauce.” Krishna boosts the flavor by adding extra aromatics: “I love to doctor them up with soy sauce and a ton of cracked black pepper, and/or sauté ginger and garlic before adding the noodles and the soup base.”
Mama’s Creamy Tom Yum Noodles come recommended by Nong Poonsukwattana, the chef behind Portland’s chicken-and-rice haven Nong’s Khao Man Gai, for their tangy, lemongrass-laced flavor. She says they have been a staple since she was a kid, when she would “just crumble the noodles and put everything that comes in the package on top and eat it.” (Noodle connoisseurs know that any crunchy fried instant noodles are pretty great straight from the package.) While these instant noodles are traditionally prepared as a soup, Poonsukwattana says she instead uses them in a noodle salad in an effort to eat healthier. She adds shrimp, shallot, lemongrass, mint, and lettuce to the cooked and strained noodles and swaps out the tangy seasoning packet for a citrusy fish-sauce dressing.
If your eyes slightly popped at the price, know that the 20-pack of noodles comes with a long-handled spoon you can use to prepare them.
Food writer Cathy Erway, author of The Food of Taiwan, pointed us to these noodles that come with an extra ingredient to make the dish, well, extra. “They have this little packet of black-garlic oil, which creates these little droplets of black oil across the top of your bowl — a nice touch that feels kind of fancy for instant noodles,” she says. Erway also cracks an egg into her noodles as they cook. “An egg is imperative: About halfway through the cooking process, I crack one into the center of the pot with the noodles and don’t stir it anymore,” she says. “A couple minutes later, the noodles and egg are cooked; the yolk is usually still a little soft.” Occasionally, she adds more: “If I happen to have some fresh leafy greens like spinach, I’ll also drop them into the pot toward the end of cooking.”
Best saucy instant noodles
Sometimes you want noodles sans a whole bowl of broth. That’s where saucy noodles come in. As San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Soleil Ho explains, this type of instant noodles — which includes her favorite, Indomie Mie Goreng Satay Noodles — is also known as dry noodles because “there’s no broth.” The ones she recommends have “a strong savory flavor that comes from an onion oil and fried onions,” she says. Like other experts we talked to, Ho has been eating these since she was “in elementary school, when my cousins and I would prepare ourselves instant noodles when our parents were out.” Like Simeon and Erway, Soleil adds an egg — sunny-side up — to her noodles. And while it “does not make them healthier,” Ho says she also likes to “sear them really quick in a wok so they get that nice and smoky wok hei flavor. Then I finish with a chile oil, like Fly By Jing or a homemade Cambodian variety.”
These dry barbecue-chicken-flavor instant noodles from Indomie are another favorite of Peterson’s. (Close readers will recognize Indomie as the only brand on this list recommended by two experts.) Like the soupy black-garlic noodles Erway loves, these come with fixings in the form of tiny packets of chicken-flavor seasoning, fried onions, seasoned oil, chile oil, and a thick, sweet soy sauce. Peterson explains that those who find themselves overwhelmed by the choices in the instant-noodle aisle should look for options with add-in ingredients. “A good test is the sachet rule,” he says. “There’s usually (but not always) a direct correlation between the number of sachets of different things — oils, sauces, powders, dried veggies — included in a package and how good it is. The more, the better!”
The favorite dry instant noodles of Yooeating’s Irene Yoo are a made-for-convenience take on a Korean-Chinese classic. “Chapagetti is an instant version of jjajangmyun and has been a favorite since childhood,” Yoo says. She describes these “inky black noodles” as “intensely savory and saucy and super-fun to eat.” Unlike the add-boiling-water-and-you’re-done varieties on this list, Chapagetti involves a bit more preparation. “There are two different camps on how to best prepare Chapagetti,” Yoo explains. “Either you boil the noodle water down enough to create the sauce, or you boil the noodles and then remove some water before adding the sauce packets.” To zhuzh these up, Yoo says she’ll sometimes “fry up some chadolbaegi (thinly sliced beef brisket) to put on top, then drizzle them with a bit of truffle oil — or sesame oil when I’m feeling less ridiculous.”
Best spicy instant noodles
This beef noodle soup is also beloved by Yoo, who says “Shin Ramyun is a very classic Korean instant ramyun and the standard against which I measure all ramyuns.” She explains that it’s “different from other beef-flavored instant noodle soups in that it is spicy and very umami forward,” noting that it’s neither “too greasy nor one note.” Yoo adds that these noodles are “endlessly adaptable” and suggests a litany of ingredients — “an egg, some chopped scallions, cheese, or even meat or seafood” — as ways to gussy them up. They come with a seasoning packet that she calls a “flavor bomb” and says it can be used with more than just the noodles: “I’ve added it to kimchi-jjigaes or other stews in a pinch.”
In developing Immi, the instant-noodle brand he co-founded, Kevin Lee told us he did a lot of research on his competitors. After trying a bunch of their products, he says his favorites (aside from his own) are Tseng’s Scallion With Sichuan Pepper Noodles because they taste delicious straight from the package. “The best part is you don’t really have to doctor them up at all,” he says. “This flavor is meant to be eaten dry — coated with the sauce and without soup — so it’s already packed with enough flavor and spice.” The noodles, Lee adds, have an interesting backstory: “Tseng Noodles is a Taiwanese brand that started from a Taiwanese spicy-crab restaurant. During a time of financial struggle with their restaurant locations, they pivoted to launching instant noodles, using the same sauce they used for their spicy crab.” He notes the noodles have a “wide, scallop-edged shape” owing to a special manufacturing process that “puts the dough through eight-to-ten sets of kneading procedures.”
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