Japanese Instant Ramen Hacks: The Best Recipes (2023 updated)

Japanese Instant Ramen Hacks: The Best Recipes (2023 updated)

Years of practice and research have led some to pursue a PhD in instant ramen. Others, like me, preferred the lazy way of trial and error. There is an infinite amount of instant noodle variations out there, and an equal amount of ways to prepare them. Sure, you could just follow the “boil water, wait for 3 minutes, add seasoning, stir, and eat” instructions. But what if I tell you there is are cool hacks to upgrade your cup of noodles?

You can significantly improve your instant noodles in three ways: by toughening the noodle texture, adding more flavor to the broth, completing your meal with a topping!

In this article, I will guide you through all your options and a few hacks for a much better instant ramen experience, that will make even the cheapest noodles from the shelf taste like a proper meal.


The Noodles


Japanese Instant noodles

Source: Freepik


Most Japanese instant noodles are ramen type noodles. This means: they are wheat flour noodles that have been prepared with kansui, and are yellow-colored with a curly shape. You may also find flat versions, and on some occasions buckwheat noodles for instant soba.

Here’s the main issue when cooking instant noodles. They get soggy, mushy, and not pleasant to chew on. You’d like them to be more “al dente”, on the tougher side with a full texture and satisfying eating experience.

The reason your noodles get soggy is that the cooking instructions on the label are often inappropriate. Companies will indicate a specific time, usually between 3 and 5 minutes, that you are supposed to let the noodles cook in the boiling water.

This time is too long. Why? Because even after 3 minutes, or even 5 minutes, the water is still steaming hot, and you can’t eat right away. The result? You wait an extra 3 to 5 minutes, and blow on your noodles in an attempt to cool them down. But by the time you get to eat your meal, they are mushy. It’s too late.

The fix? Actually, there is more than one solution to this. I’ll give you three:

  • Cook the noodles in a separate pot of boiling water, take them out as soon as they are ready, strain the water into a bowl, and then add them to the bowl with the water after a minute, with seasoning, and enjoy.
  • Cook the noodles in the cup as instructed, but take off about 2 minutes of cooking time from the given instructions.
  • For the more creative among you: cook the noodles, and immediately after the indicated time, pull them out, and fan or blow dry them for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. This will stop the cooking process and toughen the texture. It also makes the whole preparation process more like an experiment and fun to do!

Pro-tip: Break up some of the dried noodles, and put aside. Wait for it...


The Broth


Japanese Instant Noodles

Source: Freepik


Every pack comes with a set seasoning. You could just open each sachet, pour the content into your steaming water, stir, and eat. But what you should do is think about it for a second. Pause, and think about how you want your ramen to taste.

Do you want some cheap spices to give your dish an artificial flavor? I don’t think so. So, unless you’re eating some premium instant ramen, or have some special branded noodles with a famously unique taste, ditch the seasonings.

“But, I don’t know what to prepare the noodles with!”, you may ask. Do not worry, here are some things you can give a try.

Replace the regular broth with some nice chicken or vegetable stock. Alternatively, you can even try to add your ramen to an original soup dish, and level up the whole meal to never achieve heights! You can also add a little butter and milk after draining the water from your noodles: that’s how you make your instant ramen creamy.

With a regular broth, you’ll want to give your meal some nice punch. You know, something to remember, that “wow effect”. How about some sriracha sauce or red pepper flakes for some spiciness? For the more adventurous, go all in and try Tabasco! If you have a milder palette and want to stick to the classic, a little sesame oil and a sprinkled of seeds will do the trick!

Be creative, the options are endless.

Pro-tip: Try the noodles without the broth, and mix them to a fresh salad after cooking and cooling down!


The Toppings


Japanese Instant Noodles

Source: Freepik


Except for a couple of dried vegetables, and maybe, if you’re lucky, a small piece of meat that may or may not double in size when in contact with the hot water, instant noodles don’t come with much.

What do we expect, though, the name says it all. But that’s not what we actually want, do we? If I told you that you could make a real ramen dish out of a cheap pack of noodles, would you believe me? You should.

Think about your own toppings before cooking the noodles. Here are a few easy things you can do to improve your ramen:

  • Use breakfast leftovers like scrambled eggs or ham and add them to your noodles to empty your fridge
  • Add a hard-boiled egg and a slice of pork for a more complete meal
  • Sprinkle fresh herbs, add some wakame  and a soft-boiled egg for a more Japanese flair

Now, you’re halfway through your preparation process, and suddenly you don’t feel it anymore. “Meh, what am I doing. I didn’t want a bowl of ramen in the first place.” It happens. No big deal. Here’s the save: after cooking, strain the water, and throw the noodles in your fry pan, add a dash of oil, soy sauce, mirin and together with some cabbage and carrots, you’ll have a lovely stir-fry.

Pro-tip: Remember the small amount of dried noodles you put aside at the beginning of your preparation? Now, the time has come. Sprinkle the slightly crushed ramen on top of your finished dish, and add some crunch to the meal!


Need more?


Japanese Instant noodles

Source: Freepik


Here's a list of commonly used toppings for ramen or instant ramen alike:

  • Char Shu (チャーシュー, 焼豚 as chāshū)
  • Menma (メンマ, 麺麻)
  • Naruto (ナルト, fish cakes)
  • Negi (ねぎ, onions)
  • Boiled Eggs
  • Moyashi (もやし, bean sprouts)
  • Corn
  • Butter
  • Nori (のり, seaweed)
  • Wakame (わかめ, more seaweed)
  • Beni shōga (紅生姜, pickled ginger)
  • Kikurage (キクラゲ, wood ear mushrooms)
  • Oils

If you need more details, checkout our ultimate ramen guide here!

Now, you’re ready. You’ve got all the knowledge you need. You have the ingredients in hand. The tools, too, for those of you willing to give the blow-dryer a try. Now, close this page, turn your attention to the task at hand, and I’ll leave it up to you. Come back and thank me later.

Should you ever run out of your ramen supply, do not panic. I’ve got your back. Checkout our online store at zenpop.jp. Every month, we curate and select some of the best instant noodles from Japan and deliver them straight to your doorstep. 

If everything I wrote above seems too bothersome to you, we are the solution. ZenPop only curates the best of the best Japan has to offer, and you’re guaranteed to not be disappointed. You’ll be able to enjoy everything straight out of the cup!

ZenPop Ramen Pack