When I was 14 years old, I bought my first pack of cigarettes.
Boy, did I feel like someone, trembling before the cigarette machine, trying to decide which pack would deliver that golden deliciousness I had seen in so many Bruce Willis movies. In the end, I chose a packet of Craven A’s because they were the first button to the left. The manager was just around the corner, and I had to plug in 16 quarters before he threw my ass back onto the street. Do you know what I learned? Craven A’s are disgusting.
It’s a lot like that when a non-Korean chooses ramyeon. You stand before a colorful rack of product, one that’s kind of illicit because according to 90 percent of Koreans, you’re not supposed to enjoy spicy noodles.
Ramyeon is also addictive, and there’s a solid chance that if you eat it for the rest of your life, it will kill you.
I’ve since quit smoking, but ramyeon and I have remained friends. Previously, I stuck to one brand; but then I was fired from my job at the end of February, which meant no more lunches out but plenty of time to skim the ramyeon racks at the corner store under my apartment.
I tried them all and this comprehensive review is the result. Note that opinions are subjective, prices are not the same everywhere, and that if you don’t like salt, you don’t like ramyeon.
These are your basic ramyeons, usually the popular ones that come with a simple bag of dehydrated vegetables, a powdered soup mix, and a hockey puck of dried noodles.
Shin Ramyeon. 3.5/5 stars. KRW 750.
Shin is South Korea’s most popular ramyeon, the ramyeon by which all other ramyeon are judged. Hot but not explosively so, and salty, with noodles that are just a bit rubbery when cooked properly. Shin is a delicious bowl of red powdered goodness from Nong-shim and deserves its leading status.
Noguri (Eolkeunhan). 4/5. KRW 850
Another delightful offering from Nong-shim. Very hot and fishy, it aims for that jjambbong flavor without the jjambbong price, with simple packaging and prep.
Samyang Sogogi Myeon. 3/5. KRW 650
This is Korean ramyeon with no frills. One square pack of noodles, one packet of spicy “beef” soup mix. Stir, boil, and eat. It’s spicy, tasty, squishy, and for that price, well worth it.
Jin Ramen (Hot). 3.5/5. KRW 700
Ottogi’s Jin Ramen Hot is a simple but delicious ramyeon, very spicy, and a bit oilier than the others.
Jin Ramen (Mild). 2.5/5. KRW 700
The mild version of Ottogi’s Jin is a good, cheap and greasy choice for those who don’t like spicy food. Lacking the heat, though, it’s basically just a fix for salt junkies.
Masitneun (Delicious) Ramyeon. 3.5/5. KRW 850
I was curious about this one from Samyang, especially given that the front package depicts oodles of vegetables: carrots, broccoli, peppers, and a dozen others. They do appear in the form of dried flakes, and the sauce is very tangy, making for a delicious ramyeon experience all around.
Anseong Tangmyeon. 3.5/5. KRW 650
An excellent value ramyeon from Nongshim. No frills, with only one powder packet and some dried seaweed, it has a salty, seollong-tang type flavor.
Sometimes, you just want to pamper yourself. These are the ramyeons that you might need to open your wallet for. Especially popular here are the Chinese noodles: jjajang, or black bean noodles; and jjambbong, spicy seafood noodles. Both are ideally experienced at an actual Chinese-Korean restaurant, but not everyone is so flush for cash.
Shin Ramyen Black. 4.5/5. KRW 1,500
Detractors have accused Nong-shim of defrauding consumers with this twice-the-price deluxe version of their signature ramyeon. Defraud, de-schmaud – Shin Black is the bomb! Same noodles, but with little pieces of beef to go with the dehydrated vegetables, and a seollongtang powder that makes the broth thick with sodium-rich goodness! Pony up, cheap-o, it’s worth the extra 750 won.
Paldo Jjajangmyeon. 3/5. KRW 1,500
A solid player in the world of instant jjajangmyeon. Boil the noodles up with the pea and cabbage soup mix, strain it, and squeeze on the creamy black jjajang sauce. I like my jjajang a little spicier, so a bit of hot sauce on top does the trick.
Jjawang. 3.5/5. KRW 1,500
A step up from the Paldo jjajang, with thicker noodles. Jjawang includes a powdered jjajang sauce and small packet of oil, which you mix together with the peas and meat slivers, and three tablespoons of water to create a sticky and scrumptious mess in a bowl.
Jin Jjambbong Ramen. 4/5. KRW 1,600
A fine jjambbong. It’s made in three stages: first, season the water with the dehydrated vegetables and seafood, then add the noodles with the jjambbong paste. Finally, when it’s cooked, add the red pepper oil. The result is a tangy, spicy, seafood-y delight.
Mat (Delicious) Jjambbong. 3.5/5. KRW 1,500
More jjambbong! A delightful offering from Nongshim, the aptly titled delicious jjambbong has thick chewy noodles, flavorful broth with little chunks of squid, and quite a kick, provided by both the hot pepper oil and the soup mix.
Bul (Fire) Jjambbong. 5/5. KRW 1,500
DAMN! That’s a great jjambbong you’ve got there, Paldo! This here might be the King of Instant Jjambbongs – fishy, meaty, spicy, salty, tangy, with little bits of chewy meat and fish, and a soup sauce that dances on your tongue! Worth every won you pay, this is the jjambbong to rule all jjambbongs.
The Weird (plus more jjambbong!)
Sometimes these companies get creative with their ramyeons, adding odd ingredients or trying overseas flavors. I’ve also thrown all the jjambbongs in here that were 1000 won or less.
Samyang Nagasaki Jjambbong. 3/5. KRW 950
Nagasaki Jjambbong is different from your average Korean/Chinese jjambbong in that it doesn’t blow your head off with capsaicin. It more than makes up for it, though, in salt. A thick, tasty, cream-colored broth and a soup mix that really clings to the noodles makes this a nice, mild alternative.
Samyang Nagasaki Hong Jjambbong. 3.5/5. KRW 950
Holy mother of Christ that’s hot! Not much of that jjambbongy fishy flavor, but a whole lot of red pepper, courtesy of the little packet of hot pepper oil they include.
Samyang Gan Jjambbong (bokkeum). 3.5/5. KRW 900
A bokkeum (fried) jjambbong, which means you drain the water before you apply the sauce. A fiery, squid-tinged version, this is a great and reasonably priced choice for those who would prefer more jjambbong flavor, without the soup.
Nongshin Ojingo (squid) Jjambbong. 4.5/5. KRW 900
Another fabulous jjambbong! Full of squidy deliciousness, this oily, spicy delight has lots of seaweed and little bits of chewy squid in the dehydrated vegetables. It’s spicy as all Hell and is one of the best value ramyeons out there.
Chamggye (Sesame) Ramen. 3.5/5. KRW 1,000
Oddugi’s Chamggye ramyeon is a tasty bit of difference. Instead of dried flakes, it comes with a square of egg, which dissolves with the sesame powder to form a thicker, mealier broth. The hot pepper oil gives it a kick. Worth a try.
Buldalk Bokkeum Myeon (Fried fire chicken noodles). 4/5. KRW 950
Let’s get the first two obvious points out of the way: there is no chicken in Samyang’s fire chicken noodles, but there is plenty o’ fire. The sesame seeds add a nice dash of texture and flavor, but it is the chicken-y hot sauce that dominates here. Do yourself a favor and do not spoon up the dregs when you’re done.
Gamja (potato) Myeon. 3/5. KRW 1,000
Apparently, potato ramyeon tastes like regular ramyeon, though the texture is a bit squishier, and not what I would expect potato ramyeon to taste like. The broth has a chicken-ish flavor, though I’m fairly sure there are no chickens involved in the making of this weirdness from Nong Shim.
And sometimes, the tasters fail. Though they are not for me, you might enjoy them. After all, someone was buying Craven A’s in 1990.
Noguri (Soonhan). 2/5. KRW 850
Lame. Just a bowl full of salt and seaweed. I thought it would be similar to the Noguri Wolkenham but without the heat, but it’s had nearly all the flavor taken out completely. Not Nong-shim’s finest hour.
Jin Jjajang Ramen. 2.5/5. KRW 1,500
Probably the least delicious of all your jjajang ramyeon options, Jin’s jjajang has some nice, thick noodles and the sauce is good enough, but it doesn’t quite reach the levels of tastiness the others do. If it were as cheap as Jin’s other choices, that would be different, but it isn’t.
Jjapagetti Hot. 2.5/5. KRW 1,050
Nongshim’s jjapagetti is a pretty second rate jjajangmyeon, suitable only if there’s nothing else available, or you want to save that extra 200 to 500 won. It’s spicy, but the hot pepper oil also leaves a bitter residue on the tongue, and the whole thing tastes particularly artificial, even for instant noodles.
Friendly Ramyeon. 2/5. KRW 750
Friendly or not, this offer from Samyang is the Polish food of ramyeon. Boring, not very tasty, allegedly spicy but not really. No thanks.
Paldo Bibimmyeon. 2/5. KRW 850
If you want proper bibimmyeon, go to a restaurant. Paldo’s starchy, sticky mess of thin noodles and gochujang is no substitute. Would it have killed them to put a couple vegetables in there?