The hot lunch offerings at my junior high were extremely limited. Aside from a short-lived flirtation with vending machines in seventh grade—they were deemed a fire hazard and had to be removed—and the monthly pizza day, all we had was an urn of hot water. Therefore, if we wanted to feel cool (or maybe warm inside), we would eat instant ramen. That was my introduction to the glories of Maruchan Instant Lunch and Nissin Cup Noodles. I didn’t really love either of them—I was particularly grossed out by the dehydrated egg yolks floating around in the Maruchan—and abandoned them without regret when I got to high school. In the ensuing years, I finally tasted non-instant ramen and was so impressed (particularly by tonkotsu broth, which tastes like how a warm hug feels, except from the inside out) that I felt no need to go back to the instant.
Until now. Nissin has developed two new flavors of Instant Noodle Stir Fry to coincide with the 50th birthday of Cup Noodles. The marketing people sent them over to me, along with the old flavors, some nice chopsticks, and a handful of fortune cookies, and a note about how they were anxious to hear what I thought. It was also a snowy day and my colleague Lillian Stone had just told me about a nice, hot bowl of ramen she’d recently ordered for dinner. Plus, I had spent several days leafing through a Lonely Planet guidebook to Japan in a desperate attempt to pretend I was somewhere else. It contained lots of descriptions of delicious ramen (as well as tempura, sushi, curry, kaiseki, tea, etc., etc.), and it made me very hungry.
I don’t think anyone at Nissin has any illusions that Cup Noodles bears any resemblance to actual ramen or stir fry—at least I hope not. It is its own thing altogether, a mass of kinky noodles in a watery broth seasoned with a mysterious array of spices and decorated with floating things that are meant to represent vegetables. It’s the sort of serviceable meal that you can stash in a locker or desk drawer and never have to think about until the day you realize you need it.
And so approached in that spirit, both the Teriyaki Beef flavor and the new Hot Garlic Chicken variety made for a satisfying lunch on a cold winter day. Unlike the Cup Noodles of yore, you don’t need hot water: instead you fill the cup with tap water and zap the whole thing in the microwave. Again, I must stress that these are not actual flavors, more like inspirations. The noodles in Teriyaki Beef float in a broth that tastes slightly beefy but mostly salty, like a beef bouillon cube, and has a hint of sweetness, like actual teriyaki. Hot Garlic Chicken tastes vaguely garlicky and vaguely chickeny, but mostly like hot spices. It was so peppery, it made my nose run, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; sometimes your sinuses need a good clearing out. The noodles, the centerpiece of the whole thing, actually have a bit of bite to them and don’t fall apart when you try to pick them up with chopsticks. I was pleasantly surprised by this; the noodles I remember were essentially mush in string form.
Someday, I shall return to office life, and I will remember to keep some Cup Noodles in my snack drawer. And as long as I remember that they are neither ramen nor stir fry, I will be quite satisfied.
Nissin Cup Noodles Stir Fry Teriyaki Beef Flavor
Total Fat: 13 g
Sodium: 1190 mg
Total Carbohydrate: 56 g
Protein: 9 g
Nissin Cup Noodles Stir Fry Hot Garlic Chicken Flavor
Total Fat: 13 g
Sodium: 950 mg
Total Carbohydrate: 54 g
Protein: 9 g