The best instant noodles flood the body with warmth and comfort. It’s what we crave on blustery winter days, during all-nighters (in the library or elsewhere), or when we’re too tired to do more than boil water. And as any college student knows, even the best instant ramen invites experimentation beyond what’s included in the package. With the help of veggies, a jammy egg, or chili crisp, the chewy noodles can be a blank canvas for a light afternoon snack or a full-blown, protein-loaded dinner. Our staffers’ favorite instant noodles hail from around the world, from ramens out of Japan to instant jajangmyeon from Korea. All are sure to fulfill your late night cravings and speedy dinner needs.
At my Australian boarding school, these endlessly riffable Indonesian instant noodles were the ace card: they trumped all other food trades in the dormitory. Since those years, I’ve stopped stitching my name onto all my clothes, but I’ve kept up with my Mi Goreng habit. These fried noodles are a sweet-salty, umami-packed treat thanks to not one but five ramen flavor packets: seasoning powder, seasoning oil, sweet soy sauce, chili sauce, and fried shallots. Know that this is not a brothy situation. After cooking, you drain the noodles and toss them in the various sauces and powders. Slurp those slick boys right up or ply them with extra toppings, like herbs, tofu, boiled eggs, sliced radishes, or a handful of roasted and salted peanuts. —Ali Francis, staff writer
Samyang ramen has been a staple in my pantry ever since I was a freshman in college. The buldak, or “hot chicken,” flavor packs a satisfying heat with or without broth, but if you crave even more heat, their 2x Spicy Hot Chicken ramen is double the fun. Don’t be fooled by the comical chicken mascot on the packaging. Eat the entire pack and your adrenaline will start pumping and sweat will start beading at your forehead. With some greens like bok choy or spinach and a soft boiled egg added in, it’s a quick wake-me-up dinner if I’m staying up late. —Julia Duarte, art assistant
There are few things more satisfying than a bowl of the Smoked Pork Ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar on a bone-chilling winter night. But if you can’t bring yourself to leave home, there’s always their packaged ramen. Momofuku’s take feels inherently upscale—the noodles, a collaboration with the popular Taiwanese brand A-Sha, are air-dried instead of fried, and they use ingredients like Sichuan peppercorns for ramen that is loaded with flavor. My preferred variety is the Tingly Chili Wavy Noodles, which has just enough chili paste to make you sweat. If you’re not into spice, the Soy & Scallion has a sweet-leaning blend of soy and sesame oil. —Kate Kassin, editorial operations associate
If you’ve ever slurped down a bowl at the Japanese tonkotsu ramen chain Ichiran, then you know their wildly flavorful pork bone broth is rich and multidimensional. After testing out the brand’s ramen kit, I am happy to report that—while not identical to the restaurant—the broth stands above any other instant noodles I’ve tried. Included in the kit alongside their signature tonkotsu broth packet are firm noodles and their original spicy seasoning. I like to add a few pieces of nori, green onions, a soft boiled egg, pieces of pork, and mushroom. I can almost imagine I’m sitting inside one of the single Ichiran stalls, blissfully savoring every spoonful. At about $10 per serving, this Japanese ramen is no late night budget dinner, but for me it’s a worthwhile indulgence. —J.D.
When asked about my college sweetheart, I tell people about my ultimate crush—Shin Ramyun. We met late one night in the dorms when my roommate slid me a bowl. I wolfed it down, and my forehead shone with each warming spoonful. The nasal-clearing, peppery broth paired with springy toothsome noodles? I was in deep. I still am. They’re fast and filling on the many days when I can barely bring myself to cook anything at all. They require nothing but hot water, but I’ll often toss in any vegetables I have lingering in my fridge. —Jesse Sparks, contributor
Chapagetti (or, alternately, Jjapaghetti) is an instant noodle version of jajangmyeon, otherwise known as black bean noodles—a popular staple in Korean cuisine. Bouncy noodles are coated in a thick, umami sauce that easily clings to each noodle. Though Chapaghetti and jajangmyeon have the same flavor profile, I’d put them in different food categories, both equally delicious and nostalgic. Chapaghetti is lighter, with a thinner noodle akin to those you’d find in ramen, and a thinner sauce that’s got a nice balance of sweet and savory. It’s a perfect snack but can be rounded out for a more filling meal by making it ram-don style (as seen in the Oscar-winning Korean film Parasite), cooked up with cubes of steak. I even like to fry up a sunnyside-up egg to serve on top for a satisfying meal made in less than 10 minutes. —June Kim, Head of Video
Making tonkotsu broth from scratch is time consuming. If you’re not up for 12 hours of (rewarding) work, I have impressed many guests over the years with Sapporo Ichiban’s ever-reliable tonkotsu flavor. This instant ramen from Japan has a much thicker and creamier broth than most others on the market, and its salty pork flavor mimics cooking down fatty marrow bones for hours. It’s the next best thing to homemade. I keep several packages in the pantry to eat on their own when I’m in a pinch, or I’ll make it fancier for company with a handful of greens and shiitake mushrooms. —Gigi Wong, senior analyst
I went through a phase in middle school where I made ramen almost every day after school—specifically Nissin Demae Ramen with Sesame Oil, which comes in a red package with the iconic little delivery boy hard at work. We always had a cabinet full of instant noodles, and my brother and I would switch off “ramen duty.” Sometimes we’d add spinach, an egg, or mini ground pork meatballs, but it’s also extremely satisfying on its own, from the nuttiness of the sesame oil to the just-right chewiness of the noodles. —K.K.
My first introduction to instant noodles wasn’t Nissin Cup Noodles, Maruchan, or Top Ramen, but Maggi. The brand, now owned by Nestlé, was started by a Swiss entrepreneur, and it was widely popularized in India and Malaysia in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I remember stuffing multi-packs of asam laksa-flavored noodles into our suitcases when coming back to the US from Malaysia because they were hard to find in grocery stores here. Homemade asam laksa is typically made with torch ginger, fish stock, shrimp paste, and lemongrass, and Maggi’s version delivers on the distinct lemony, umami fish notes. Just pour in the seasoning packet and add boiling water for wonderfully sour and spicy plump noodles. Yes, you can find much fancier noodles, but this particular one holds a special nostalgia for me that no other noodle dish can provide. —Urmila Ramakrishnan, associate social media director
The sauce packets that come with Public Goods instant ramen noodles are all nakedly simple. The classic flavor is just soy sauce and sesame oil, the spicy version adds some chili oil for kick, but that’s really about it. These basic flavor combos are objectively delicious (and make for a great snack with some chopped scallion thrown on top), but where Public Goods earns its spot in my pantry is the dried noodles themselves, which are springy, chewy, and perfectly thick. —Alma Avalle, digital operations associate
What else can you do with instant noodles?
Sure, we love all of the noodles listed above prepared according to package directions. But the possibilities don’t end there. There are endless ways to bulk up instant noodles: Forgo the included soup base or sauce packet and make an entirely different breed of noodle soup with miso or kimchi as the flavoring agent instead. Or forget the soup altogether: Once you par-cook the noodles in boiling water for a couple minutes, they can become hearty stir fries when tossed with fragrant alliums, fresh veggies, and a spoonful of chile crisp. Some more ideas? Use them as a canvas for these peanut butter noodles, or give them the carbonara treatment. If you’re in the mood for something crunchy and bright, try crumbling instant ramen noodles into a salad and using the sauce packet as the base for a punchy dressing.