For many, crisp squares of wavy ramen noodles are a quick, easy, and extremely affordable (read: cheap) answer to the always looming question: What’s for dinner? Making the soup is as simple as bringing a small pot of water to boil (or, in the case of many a college student, just boiling up some water in an electric kettle), adding the block of dehydrated noodles, and sprinkling in the contents of that equally necessary and mysterious “seasoning packet.” But as satisfying as slurping up a hot, brothy noodle soup can be, we can all agree that sometimes that big bowl of instant ramen could use an upgrade—or two, or three.
So whether you want to give that broth a boost or spruce up your soup with a few toppings, here are all the ways to upgrade your instant ramen.
Use Your Own Broth or Liven It Up
Don't get me wrong, I’m a fan of instant ramen in times of both need, and want, however, a little something can go a long way when it comes to giving the broth more depth of flavor. You can ditch the foil-wrapped flavor packet completely and opt to cook and serve your noodles in a rich broth or dashi (homemade, or otherwise), or you can spike the simmering soup with white miso paste instead. Just boil the noodles as usual, lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and use chopsticks to whisk in a tablespoon of miso—adding more miso or water according to your taste.
You can also mince a clove of garlic and slice up a small thumb of ginger and sauté them in the pot with a little oil before adding the water and cooking up the noodles. This won’t replace the flavor of the seasoning packet, but instead, add fresher aromatic notes. Remove the ginger slices before serving.
One of the easiest ways to add more heft, texture, and flavor to instant ramen is to add some fresh (or frozen) vegetables. Things like carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, Napa cabbage, and bok choy are fitting additions, and a sprinkle of frozen peas, corn, or spinach can suit as well. Chop up some broccoli and roast it before adding it to the soup, or stir in a handful of bean sprouts. There are really no limits when it comes to adding vegetables, just be mindful not to overload your bowl—or overcook the veg.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a bowl of non-instant ramen (which I certainly hope you have, whether in Japan or stateside), it probably included at least one protein, whether it was half a jammy egg, a few cylindrical slices of pork chashu, or a tiny mountain of browned ground beef. So take a cue from what you already know and love (or mix it up) and add some protein!
Boiled eggs are great, but you can also add an egg into the hot broth, whisking it up with your chopsticks for a ramen à la egg drop soup. Add some leftover shredded rotisserie chicken or even some pulled beef or pork. Cube up some tofu or tempeh, toss in some shelled edamame or stir-fry a few shrimp before topping up your bowl.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Saucy
It probably goes without saying, but instant ramen is the perfect candidate for a splash of sauce. Be it a sparkling red-hued wave of sriracha, a quick dash of fish sauce and lime juice, or a thick squirt of hoisin, the only thing you should be mindful of when saucing up your soup? The salt. A drizzle of soy sauce or oyster sauce might be just the thing to take your bowl from plain to pretty, but a bit too much might lead to a sad salty overload.
If you add too much sauce, add more hot water, and go light with the seasoning packet next time.
Top It Off
Your bowl is primped and prepped with enriched broth, veggies, proteins, and sauces, but the fun doesn’t stop there. From more traditional garnishes (like a square of nori, fresh herbs like cilantro and scallions, a sprinkle of sesame seeds, furikake, or togarashi, or a drizzle of toasted sesame oil) to bolder, but tasty, toppings (like kimchi, crispy chili oil, crumbled bacon, fried shallots, or a slice of cheddar cheese—yes, cheddar cheese), the possibilities for a finishing touch on your bowl are endless.
Need Some Inspiration? Try These 6 Delicious Recipes
Easy Upgraded Ramen
Cook ramen noodles in chicken or beef stock (homemade or store-bought); stir in grated carrots and shredded cabbage; top up with a jammy, boiled egg and square of nori; drizzle with sriracha and hoisin, and finish up with a dash of furikake.
Cook ramen noodles in chicken stock; top with a slice of cheddar cheese, over-easy fried egg, scallions, crumbled bacon, and sriracha or crispy chili oil.
Vegan Miso Ramen
Cook ramen noodles in boiling water, discarding seasoning packet, and use chopsticks to whisk in miso paste to taste; stir in frozen corn and peas; top up with roasted veggies of your choice, cubes of tofu, and fried shallots; garnish with nori, toasted sesame oil, and sesame seeds.
Faux Shoyu Ramen
Enrich the broth with soy sauce to taste; top up with a boiled egg, pork chashu (or crispy bacon strips), nori, scallions, and togarashi.
Add garlic, ginger, one star anise, and a pinch of ground cinnamon to the broth; top up with bean sprouts, thinly sliced beef, scallions, Thai basil, fish sauce, and lime juice.
Thai-ish Curried Coconut Ramen
Use just half the seasoning packet and spike the soup with coconut milk, a bit of butter, Thai red or green curry paste, and fish sauce to taste; serve with limes, cilantro, chopped peanuts, and shredded chicken or cooked, peeled shrimp.