How to hack the spiciest Korean ramen on the market
For my money, the best instant ramen out there is Shin Ramyun, and I’m of the strong belief there's never not a good reason to make a bowl of the stuff. I keep a stash of two or three Shin Ramyun packets in my pantry at all times, in case of emergency, like when I come home late from work and don't have time to go to the grocery store. When I'm sick with a stuffy nose or a high fever, I eat Shin Ramyun because it clears out my sinuses almost instantly. Even my go-to hangover cure involves lots of water and a bowl of Shin Ramyun, because it's a filling meal that doesn't take much effort, doesn't require me to leave the house or put on pants, and is always going to be delicious.
So what makes Shin Ramyun so special? When most Americans think of instant ramen, they conjure images of Nissin Cup Noodles or the rainbow of Maruchan instant ramen packets, each color representing a different flavor. (Does anyone actually know what Oriental Flavor means, by the way?) But those are Japanese brands, and, in my humble Korean opinion, they're boring. That's because Japanese food doesn't really deal with spice, and so those packets of instant ramen, though ostensibly flavored differently, all kind of hit the same, singular, salty note.
Korean food, on the other hand, is all about that heat, and since Shin Ramyun is Korean ramen, it's spicy. Like, painfully spicy. I'm talking the kind of spice that'll make you sweat and swear, but man, it hurts so good that you can't stop eating it. It's the best-selling ramen brand in South Korea for a reason—and that, to me, is the real indicator of quality, since Korean convenience stores are flooded with dozens of different types of high-quality, spicy instant ramen. (It’s also, according to the Amazon description for 20 bags of Shin Ramyun, which you can purchase for $27.55, "the top-pick from shelf at world class department stores in Bangkok and all Thailand," for what it’s worth.)
The intensity of the soup also means that it won’t be overpowered by any single topping, and the main reason I love Shin Ramyun is that it’s endlessly customizable. Pimp my ramen, if you will. So sure, you could just make a bowl of noodles, seasoning, and freeze-dried vegetables, which include scallions, mushrooms, and what I think are carrots, but Shin Ramyun is so much better when you add toppings.
My favorite addition is also the easiest: an egg, cracked directly into the boiling, red hot broth as you cook it on the stove. By the time you're ready to eat, the yolk should still be soft and creamy, which will offset a lot of the spice and make an otherwise watery broth a little thicker. Once the noodles are soft—but still a little chewy, because the other beauty of Shin Ramyun is that somehow, the noodles never get soggy, no matter how long you accidentally overcook them—and the egg white starts to form, dump the contents of the pot into a large bowl.
You might want to start eating right away, but you're not done quite yet. First of all, that fiery looking broth will physically burn your mouth if you don't let it cool for a couple of minutes. You should instead use this time to prep and add your other toppings, because a bowl of instant ramen isn't complete until you've fully decked it out.
There are plenty of ways this can go, starting with the somewhat healthy route. (It is still instant ramen, with 44 percent of your daily requirement of sodium in a single packet. But we're not here to count calories.) Since there are freeze-dried scallions and mushrooms in the soup, it makes sense to add fresh scallions and mushrooms to the mix. I prefer sliced shiitake mushrooms, but really, any kind of mushroom will do. I also often add thin slices of cucumber to the top of bowl, to offset the heat, but any fresh vegetables will contrast nicely with the otherwise heavily processed noodles and soup. My mom, for instance, has added slices of fresh zucchini and squash, to make the soup feel a little “healthier.”
You could double down on the Korean toppings, and if you're really a glutton for pain, throw in a few slices of kimchi. (I am, and I do.) The spice on the fermented cabbage will melt into the soup, so the cabbage itself will cool your mouth albeit with a little funk. If you've got easy access to a Korean grocery story, consider adding some oi-sobagi, or cucumber kimchi, to your ramen. You'll experience the cooling power of the fresh cucumbers with the heat and funk of the cabbage kimchi in a single bite.
There's also the junk food route. You know those sticks of imitation crab meat that you find inside California rolls? Add a couple of those for a bit of protein (even though imitation crab meat is actually processed fish). If your mom doesn't keep a batch of those in the freezer at all times, like mine does, no worries. Slap on a slice of old-fashioned, equally processed American cheese. The steam from the hot bowl of ramen will melt the cheese, which you can then swirl into the broth and onto the noodles for the closest Korean equivalent to macaroni and cheese. You can also take a couple slices of Spam, fry them up, and plop them on top.
Once you've added all your favorite toppings, you'll be ready to eat the best bowl of instant ramen you've ever tasted. It’ll cure your hangover, clear your sinuses, and keep you comfortably full, morning, noon, night, or late night, until it’s morning all over again.