Instant ramen, cup-a-noodles or just “a cup noodle”—whatever name it’s given, the simple packet or cup of instant ramen is an absolute staple food for college students and anyone who values cheap, quick-to-prepare and moderately tasty stuff. These are undeniable truths. It is thus quite ironic that ramen in its traditional, non-instant form as found in restaurants can be rather pricey, but being such a robust meal there, it makes sense. A “proper” ramen dish is filling, tasty and nutritionally diverse: not just noodles and broth, but rather topped with meat—pork, steak, chicken, fish, eggs (eggs are a bit like proto-meat)—and loads of vegetables—carrot, mushrooms, peas, bok choy, cabbage, maybe spinach, peppers, chives, onion and green/spring onion, seaweed—and whatever added sauces one might desire. This is why some instant ramen brands include bits of carrot or peas and flecks of herbs, the addition echoing the instant version’s bountiful ancestor.
Incidentally, I believe the perfect balance between these two is the Sapporo Ichiban brand of ramen, which has considerably tasty broths and noodles good enough to make a fine base for adding whatever you can cook and throw in yourself. For the more culinarily minded, one could certainly prepare the whole suite and make what would be, by all appearances, a restaurant-style ramen. Personally, I usually just add a couple bits of proto-meat.
It is no surprise that the new mini-market iteration of Express features a selection of one of the most pervasive instant ramen brands, Top Ramen. On exploring this and the store’s other offerings for the first time, however, I also noticed the cup-style noodles. But they were not the old Cup Noodle or Maruchan brand I know—no, these were fancy, they stood out with a rich blue all over the packaging—unlike the other brands with their whites and yellows on the packaging—and a purple band that declared this product’s name: “VEGAN / MISO RAMEN / NOODLE SOUP” and in tiny text below, “made with organic ramen.” Ramen made of ramen sounds solid enough, but all this extra detail and talk of being vegan and miso and organic seemed far more Trader Joe’s than Cup Noodle, which was seemingly for something with the same cup-based delivery. And then there was the brand label: Right Foods—Dr. McDougall’s, with a picture of someone you’d expect to see playing golf on Long Island. Could this man make me a good ramen, and in dry cup form no less? I had to know—
Then I saw the price and nearly left without a second thought: $4.69—not for a pack, but for one cup. But I did think secondly. What is so special about this ~organic~ ramen? And it was miso; I had never tried an instant miso broth before—could it be good? Against my best judgment, I bought the cup and stowed away with it and my weekly jug of milk. The next night, I thought to try it out for a quick dinner, and after removing the paper cover, I was as astounded as I had been by the price. What I saw was this: the white walls of the inner cup, and, sitting in shadow like a small child lost in a well, a sad little clump of dry noodles and a seasoning packet. The sad ball of noodles, by no exaggeration, does not reach even halfway up the cup, nor does it expand much when cooked. Seriously—go to Express, pick up one of these dang McDougman’s ramen cups, and give it a shake, up and down. You’ll feel how much empty space there is. It’s like if you took a golf ball and sealed it in a Deece cup.
And it’s not even very good—it’s fine, just not great. Putting the miniscule serving size aside, it doesn’t even beat Cup Noodle in quality. The recommended amount of water leaves a nearly flavorless broth, and cutting down on that leaves a weirdly thick broth that almost tastes spoiled (and yes, that means I bought two of these for this review—my wallet sits in a shallow grave). With that recommended amount, though, it does mercifully gain flavor as the cup nears empty. This is the one saving grace, tiny though it may be, as it is quite a pleasant miso at that point. But still, there lingered the ever-bitter taste of that price tag, “4.69” echoing in my head, like the ghost of my wallet coming back to haunt me.
The big deal about organic noodles amounted to nothing, too: undercooked even when adding a minute to the recommended cooking time and requiring a herculean amount of stirring to separate the original clump. The seasoning packet is sizable but disappointing, the only extras being some flecks of herb and a few tiny strips of shy seaweed.
Mr. McDougmay cannot, in fact, make me a good ramen, not even with five dollars of my money for a paltry portion of heavy, dull noodles in sub-par broth. I am still baffled by that portion size—it’s like the manufacturers were swindled by wheat scalpers and have to make up their losses with sheer market image. It’s a baffling product. Bewildering; Befuddling; Bemindconfounding; and, put simply, Bequitearipoff.