A slurpable guide to instant noodles

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A slurpable guide to instant noodles

You could do a whole lot of things in three minutes. You can watch a round of professional boxing, smoke a cigarette, or call a friend on a public phone for 100 won. You could also cook a cup of ramyeon (otherwise known as ramen) in three minutes.
According to a recent survey by a ramyeon producer, up to 3.7 billion servings of the noodles were consumed in Korea last year, for total sales of 1.3 trillion won ($1.1 billion). If so, it would mean that if you took all the ramyeon consumed in Korea in one year and strung all the noodles together, that noodle would be as long as Mount Everest is tall.
There are currently over 50 kinds of cup noodles being sold in Korea. The question of consumer choice when it comes to instant noodles can at times be as philosophical as the divide between Plato and Sappho.
The JoongAng Daily, feeling pity on the poor confused ramyeon consumer, has come up with this exhaustive guide to the world of cup noodles ― the religious bread of the modern Korean urbanite.

Tuigim Udong
It has the clean and mild taste of tempura udon (wheat noodles). It comes with thick strings and plentiful chunks of dried vegetables, seaweed flakes and deep-fried seafood coated in flour. It's one of the best-selling brands of cup noodles on the market.

Cost: 850 won (89 cents)
Extra: A good fit with tuna-and-mayonnaise triangle gimbap, available in most convenience stores.
Warning: It’s a bit greasy
Slurp factor: ****(out of five)

Sari Gomtang
Surprisingly, Sari Gomtang actually tastes similar to what it’s imitating: beef tripe soup. The broth is white, too, assuming you dump in the contents of the spice packet. The soup is mild with a strong, refreshing pepper aftertaste.

Cost: 800 won
Extra: Good for those who are fed up with the ubiquitous Sin Ramyeon.
Warning: This is significantly most tasty if you toss in some kimchi.
Slurp factor: ***1/2

Sin Ramyeon
This is the infamous “Sin Ramyeon” (not actually so sinful), the best-selling brand of ramyeon in Korea and a top export. What more needs to be said? In its prepackaged “cup” form, however, it’s a little too salty if you pour in the only the suggested amount of water.

Cost: 850 won
Extra: It's the national noodle.
Warning: It’s extra spicy
Slurp factor: ***

Gasseuo Udong
This is as luxururious as cup noodles get. Gatsuo Udong, a hit item by CJ Foods, has perhaps the closest taste to real udon, both in the quality of the broth and texture of the noodles. It comes with a separate packet of Katsubushi, fish flakes with diced green onions.

Cost: 2,200 won
Extra: To get the best flavor, you simply have to use a microwave.
Warning: At this cost, just buy real udong.
Slurp factor: ****

Spaghetti Ramyeon
This deserves praise just for its inspired packaging: a picture of cheap meatball spaghetti under an Italian flag. Yet the taste is hard to differentiate from Ramyeon Bbokggi, another product by Ottugi, except that it comes with a packet of ketchup rather than chili paste.

Cost: 800 won
Extra: A modest appetizer for cheap wine.
Warning: Beware of the dried corn.
Slurp factor: **1/2

It's got a broth of seafood base with dried shrimp extract. It's a bit spicy with a strong fishy taste, a classic choice of gamers at PC rooms. According to a recent survey by the Web site “DC Inside,” Saeutang was the most popular brand of cup noodles.

Cost: 850 won
Extra: Sells everywhere.
Warning: The fishy aftertaste could be a bit overwhelming for cup noodle first-timers.
Slurp factor: **1/2

Kimchi Sabalmyeon
Kimchi Sabalmyeon imitates the taste of kimchi stew. It's got flakes of fried kimchi and green onions with moderately spicy broth. The noodles are thin but chewy. Most Koreans would dump steamed rice into the soup after finishing the noodles, assuming they have the rice handy.

Cost: 650 won
Extra: Perfect for hangovers.
Warning: Steam some rice first.
Slurp factor: ****

This is a welcome newcomer to the world of instant noodles. The broth has a clean anchovy taste; the noodles are made from soft rice. The item is currently on test sale in wholesale markets.

Cost: 600 won
Extra: MSG free
Warning: It might not make it to convenience stores.
Slurp factor: ****1/2

Chicken Kalguksu
This is basically fettuccini poured onto bad dried chicken stock. The price is outrageous for something that doesn’t taste at all like chicken.

Cost: 3,000 won
Extra: Use the broth given as a canned stock. Then add an extra dose of other sauces.
Warning: Why not use real chicken meat?
Slurp factor: *1/2

Ramyeon Bokgi
If you’ve been yearning for a quick way to cook up spicy saucy noodles, here it is. Disappointingly, it’s sweeter than it is spicy. But it tastes surprisingly good, and might even compare favorably with the spicy noodles added to rice cakes sold in tents across Korea.

Cost: 800 won
Extra: Goes well with beer.
Warning: It’s not soup, and it’s not a full meal.
Slurp factor: ***1/2

Samyang Ramyeon
This is worth mentioning at least for its nostalgia value. Samyang Ramyeon is one of the oldest brands of instant noodles in Korea. It has a basic beef broth taste with regular noodles. It's bland, though, so its main selling point is its historical value.

Cost: 800 won
Extra: The packaging is brightly colored.
Warning: Your spice packing might have been around since the Park Chung Hee era.
Slurp factor: **1/2

Keun Sabal Jjajang
This is an instant version of jajangmyeon, a black-bean-sauce noodle. This product’s “one touch recipe” allows consumers to mix and eat right away without having to pour out the water and add the sauce into a slab of noodles.

Cost: 850 won
Extra: The paste includes crushed black sesame seeds.
Warning: Not for those on a low-cal diet; it's got 575 calories. You can’t really taste the sesame seeds.
Slurp factor: ***

Ojingeo Jjambbong
This was introduced after the huge success of Nongshim's packet noodles of the same name. It has an extra-spicy broth with chunks of squid and cabbage that you can actually chew.

Cost: 650 won
Extra: The color of a deep red broth bathed in wild chili oil has an artistic palette.
Warning: Definitely not for sensitive stomachs.
Slurp factor: ****

120 Cup Noodle
If you've ever tasted “egg soup” in a Chinese restaurant in Korea, you basically know what this brand’s broth tastes like. It's mild and light (only 120 calories) and made from thin glass noodles ― the same kind used to make japchae. The product is obviously intended for guilty dieters.

Cost: 900 won
Extra: It takes only two minutes to cook.
Warning: Why pay 900 won for what’s free with an order of fried rice in a Chinese restaurant?
Slurp factor: ***

Jjajang Beombeok
A miniature version of Keun Sabal Jjajang, “Jjajang beombeock,” as hinted in its name, which means “globs of black bean sauce,” includes a jolt of sauce reminiscent of old-style jajangmyeon. It's half the size of normal cup noodles, which means it might make a cute gift for a colleague on Black Day (one month after Valentine’s), but not for most adult men.

Cost: 600 won
Extra: Ideal for snacks between meals.
Warning: Very starchy
Slurp factor: ***1/2

This is for people who prefer a mild, vegetarian taste over stinging spicy beef. It's got plenty of radish flakes (“Mupama” is an acronym for the first syllables of the Korean words for radish, green onion and garlic) with soft noodles.

Cost: 1,100 won
Extra: For an authentic taste, add an extra dose of radish, green onions and garlic.
Warning: Radishes, green onions and garlic are pretty pungent .
Slurp factor: ***

This is probably one of the most common brands of cup noodles in Korea, and is a favorite of campers. It's a cheap and well-known spicy soup with flakes of imitation fish paste.

Cost: 650 won
Extra: This is what classic ramyeon noodles taste like.
Warning: This is not at all what yukgaejang tastes like.
Slurp factor: ****

Mushroom Haejang Tangmyeon
This has a clean, organic taste. The noodles, which are similar to glass noodles, are sublime. The problem is the broth, which has a strong anchovy base and the aftertaste of an onion skin. While it is great for hangovers, most soju drinkers I know say they prefer a bowl of Sabalmyeon at half the price.

Cost: 1,500 won
Extra: Add no more than two-thirds of the suggested amount of water.
Warning: No mushrooms?
Slurp factor: ***

Saeng Saeng Udong
This is one of the first brands of instant cup udong to use fresh wet noodles instead of deep-fried slabs. The noodles have more flour than CJ's Gasseo’s. The broth, though, is definitely better suited for Koreans. It comes with a separate packet of strong spices for a clean soy sauce taste.

Cost: 1,500 won
Extra: Add an egg.
Warning: Rinse the noodles in hot water before you add the spice packet.
Slurp factor: ***1/2

Wang Dduggeong
If you crave MSG-saturated broth, this might be what you’re looking for. It's got jumbles of tongue-stinging spices that leave your mouth numb. The thing about Yakult’s noodles is that they all taste the same, whether it's Dosilacmen or King Dduggeong.

Cost: 850 won
Extra: It's big, and it’s got a lid for the bowl.
Warning: Yakult’s specialty is yogurt drinks.
Slurp factor: **1/2

This at least has sentimental value, with the image of a motherly lady on the lid. It tastes similar to Nongshim’s Yugaejang ― both are based on a strong beef broth. The Dosilakmen package, however, declares in bold letters that its noodles are made with flour from the United States and Australia.

Cost: 650 won
Extra: It’s the first Korean cup noodle to come in a rectangular container.
Warning: That shape makes it tricky to drink the broth.
Slurp factor: ***

by Park Soo-mee
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