If Cup Noodles haven’t comprised one layer of your personal food pyramid at some point, well la-tee-da, Queen Of England. For many, they’re synonymous with lean times: college, first job, the months you were scrapping together change out of the couch to grocery shop. Many of us have if not affection, then at least respect for the Styrofoam-packed dollar noodles that got us through those rough patches.
Now, for the first time, Nissin turns its attention to “takeout-style Asian meals” in the form of three new microwavable stir-fry cups: Teriyaki Beef, Korean BBQ, and vegetarian Sweet Chili. All are ready with just a splash of water and four minutes in your microwave; it’s also suggested you let the noodles rest for a moment post-microwave, like a fine sirloin steak. They’re available now at Walmarts nationwide at the same price as other Cup Noodles products and will hit additional retail in December.
To conduct this taste test, I enlisted the help of my friends Lisa and Marcus—I needed to use their microwave. Here’s what we thought of the new Cup Noodles stir-frys.
This one smelled the best as it was nuking, like garlicky sesame noodles you might order from a pan-Asian takeout place. (A word of caution: All three of these will fill your home with a pungent, unplaceably meaty aroma.) Its dominant flavors are sweet sesame and brown sugar, in a way that doesn’t bear much resemblance to actual teriyaki. It’s salty but not very savory, with the most mild flavors of all three varieties. That said, my friend Lisa remarked that it’s the variety she could probably eat the most of, because it’s fairly inoffensive. We all agree it’s the middle-of-the-road flavor of the three.
The Korean BBQ flavor offers, ironically, more beef flavor than the Teriyaki Beef, with crumbled bits of meat that taste like the sausage in Chef Boyardee products. Though the packaging proudly proclaims “No Added MSG”—ugh—that high level of meaty-savory brown-sauceness pervades this whole bowl, in a good way. The longer we let the bowl cool, the stickier the sauce becomes, delivering more flavor per bite. There’s even a pleasant lime tartness to the finish of the sauce. These are the most pleasing noodles of the three, lighting up the lizard part of whatever cortex makes us crave sticky beef noodles when we’re hungover.
The vegetarian option left us longing for the generic beefiness of the other two flavors. Without that, the noodles smell only like hot cardboard, and the whole bowl tastes thin and unremarkable. The noodles are too sweet initially and then unpleasantly citric after that; Lisa says she imagines this is what Buddy The Elf’s syrup-topped spaghetti tasted like. It’s missing the meaty oomph of the other two, and is significantly less satisfying overall.
Bottom line: For roughly a dollar each, and given their shelf stable nature, I’d definitely keep a few of the Cup Noodles Korean BBQ stir-frys on hand for emergency hangover situations. They satisfy the craving for sticky, salty, saucy takeout noodles, but at a much lower price point and without the hurdle of human interaction. As Cup Noodles is to ramen, so too is Cup Noodles to stir-fry. It’s not going to replicate the real deal, but for a dollar, I’m not expecting that.