Taste Test: Shin Ramyun Instant Noodles

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

As a kid, my sisters and I would spend our Saturdays expanding our minds, honing our hand eye coordination, and discovering the meanings of discipline, hard work, and lost childhood through the Tiger Mom-approved double-header of Japanese school and music school. It was a grueling eight hour schedule that left me with about an hours’ worth of free time in the middle of the day, during which I’d catch up on cartoons or football with my dad while making myself lunch. Sometimes this meant frozen chicken pot pies or pastrami sandwiches from the deli down the street. More often than not, this meant instant ramen.

I wasn’t a ramen prescriptivist, but my selection usually landed upon either Myojo Chukazanmai, a premium Japanese brand, or on Shin Ramyun, the Korean brand of instant noodles flavored with beef and chili. Its fierce heat and intense saltiness has earned it some rabid followers—it was the number one response when I asked people to name their favorite ramen brand over Twitter, and it’s one of the best selling non-Japanese brands around, available in over 80 countries.

For two and a half decades since its introduction in 1986, Shin Ramyun was available in only two forms: in a packet, and in a cook-in-the-container styrofoam cup. In 2011, they introduced Shin Black, the premium version of their traditional ramen.

We tasted all four options to see how they stacked up.

BLACK VS. STANDARD

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Straight out of the package, there’s a pretty clear difference between the Shin Black and the standard cup: the Black version contains one extra seasoning packet. Rather than the straight-up mix of beef extract, chili, and vegetables that you get in the standard, the Black comes with one packet of chili mix, and another which has a beef and anchovy soup base.

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The dehydrated vegetable packet in the Black is also larger and contains bigger chunks of mushrooms, scallions, and peppers. With the packet version of Black, the vegetable mix also includes slices of dehydrated beef. More on that in a moment.

OVERALL WINNERS: EITHER RAMYUN FROM A PACKET

While tasters were divided on how the broth and noodles in the standard Shin Ramyun compared to the premium Black version, there was one clear consensus: the ramyun that comes out of packets and gets cooked in a pot is superior to the cup-style. It makes perfect sense. With the former, you’re cooking the noodles at a fast boil; with the latter, you’re steeping them like tea.

The ingredient labels on the packets reflect a difference in formulation for the noodles as well, perhaps in order to compensate for this difference in cooking method.

Overall, tasters found the packet noodles to be bouncier and more like real noodles, though Max was the lone exception in enjoying the thinner, softer noodles in the standard Shin Cup (“If you’re not going to get great noodles anyway, you might as well get ones that are better at absorbing sauce,” was his reasoning).

The soup bases for the packet-based soups were also superior. It’s tough to decipher from the ingredients lists what made them better, but they were richer, fuller, and slightly more “natural” tasting. Soups from the cups were labeled as “harsh,” “aggressive,” and “artificial.” Not so bad that we wouldn’t eat them, mind you, but enough that taking the time to make the packet-based version is a no-brainer.

Interestingly, cost had virtually nothing to do with our preferences. When you buy the make-in-the-cup style ramyun, you pay double the cost for the convenience of not having to use a regular pot. Similarly, the Black versions of both the cup and packet soups cost twice as much as the standard. All told, people were pretty evenly split on naming the $.24/ounce standard Shin Ramyun Noodle Soup packets and the $.47/ounce Shin Ramyun Black Premium Noodle Soup packets as the winners.

Here are some more tasting details.

SHIN RAMYUN NOODLE SOUP PACKET ($.24/OUNCE)

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This is the classic flavor of my youth. Salty and spicy with a mild ocean aroma and bits of rehydrated shiitake mushroom and scallion floating in a thin but flavorful broth. The noodles are better than your average packet of ramen (I’d put them on par with our top-rated Sapporo Ichiban), but by no means mind-blowing. As Jamie put it, this is something “I’d want when I was sick.”

Max, on the other hand, says that he’d “like to dip [his] dosas in it.” I’m not quite sure what that means and I’m a little scared to find out.

SHIN RAMYUN BLACK PREMIUM NOODLE SOUP PACKET ($.47/OUNCE)

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The first thing you’ll notice when comparing the Black version to the standard is the larger chunks of vegetables. Real-sized slices of shiitake mushroom and slivers of hot chili peppers float around the opaque, mildly creamy broth. The front of the package shows thick slices of real beef. What we get instead are these little nubbins:

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Sort of like the bits you find at the bottom of a bag of beef jerky that you resort to eating when you’re at mile 169 of a road trip and the real food ran out a few miles past the last rest stop. We could’ve just as soon done without them.

The broth for the Black contains dehydrated beef stock and anchovies in addition to the “beef extract” and “beef fat” that flavors the standard version, creating a more subtle, balanced broth. It’s heartier, but also milder. If you’re looking for more of a salt and spice punch, the standard packet is the way to go.

SHIN CUP NOODLE SOUP ($.47/OUNCE)

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The overall loser, the Shin Cup had both the thinnest, harshest broth, as well as super-thin, soggy noodles that are very similar in texture to those you’d find in other cup brands like Nissin’s Cup Noodles. The dehydrated vegetables were also the smallest—little bits of scallion, hot pepper, and shiitake mushroom add a bit of interest, but not much. As far as instant soups go, we wouldn’t kick this one out of bed, but we wouldn’t feel the need to put on a new shirt before meeting it at a bar either. Even if we’d spilled some ramen on the old one.

SHIN CUP BLACK PREMIUM NOODLE SOUP ($.89/OUNCE)

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A big step up in noodle and broth quality from its less premium cousin. The label on the top of the box claims that the Shin Black Cup is “Spicy Pot-Au-Feu Flavor,” though an examination of the ingredients doesn’t reveal anything special as far as unique flavorings go. Like the Black packet version, the Black Cup has a creamier, milder broth with a more “real” flavor, though this guy doesn’t have the dehydrated beef chips you’ll find in the packet version. No big loss.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at@thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

Shin Ramyun Noodle is available to purchase at SFMart.com

This article is originally posted on Serious Eats

NYC Guide to Koreatown’s Best Food

Korean BBQ, soon tofu, hot stone bowls, and ho-dduk…it’s hard to pick just one favorite when talking about Korean cuisine. Fortunately, New York City’s Koreatown has them all for you, and then some! Rounded up below are our top five picks for dining in NYC’s Koreatown, so if you find yourself in the neighborhood, be sure to bring an appetite.

Best of NYC Koreatown: BCD Tofu House

BCD Tofu House

While BCD Tofu House has a decently sized Korean menu, it’s the soon tofu that you come here to order. BCD offers ten unique soon tofu dishes that include traditional Korean options such as kimchi, dumpling, and soybean paste and more diverse seafood options with shrimp, clam, and oyster. The restaurant is also loved for their soon tofu combo deals that include your choice of spicy pork, spicy BBQ chicken, spicy raw crab, Atka mackerel, and other entrees accompanied by the Assorted Soon Tofu (beef, shrimp, clam). 5W 32nd St., 212-967-1900, bcdtofu.com

Best of NYC Koreatown: Woorijip Authentic Korean Food

Woorijip

Open until two and three in the morning, Monday through Saturday, Woorijip Authentic Korean Food will not let you down if you’re looking for some late-night grub. You’ll find just about every traditional Korean dish here, from kimchi fried rice and abalone porridge to fried flat fish and rolled egg pancakes. It’s hard to beat the prices here, and the self-service atmosphere makes for a quick grab and go experience that is perfect for when you’re on the move. 12 W. 32nd St., 212-244-1115, woorijipny.com

Best of NYC Koreatown: miss KOREA BBQ

Miss Korea BBQ

All of the dishes at miss KOREA BBQ have been delicately crafted by renowned Korean food consultant Chef Sun Kyu Lee, and you can taste it in everything from the signature clay pot galbi’s flavor (marinated for over 48 hours) to the black pork belly entrée and organic tofu soup starter. Of course, you can’t come here and not order Korean Barbecue, which you cook to your own liking at your own table. Meat combos can be ordered so that you can enjoy beef short rib, spicy pork belly, chicken, and the like all in one go. 10 W. 32nd St., 212-736-3232, misskoreabbq.com 

Best of NYC Koreatown: Hangawi

Hangawi

Hangawi describes itself as “a vegetarian shrine in another place and time”, and with its traditional shoes-off, floor-seating setup, you can bet that it’s just that. Don’t let the vegetarian menu scare you off if you’re a meat-lover, because you’ll be missing out if you do. The rice and vermicelli noodle stone bowls are filled with the likes of spicy kimchi, avocado, gingko nuts, and ginger, providing you with all the flavor you could ever ask for. The Mushroom Sizzler in a Hot Pot and Spicy Rice Cakes are also local favorites. 12 E. 32nd St., 212-213-0077, hangawirestaurant.com

Best of NYC Koreatown: Grace Street

Grace Street

If you’re grabbing dinner in Koreatown, always leave some room for Grace Street. This Korean coffee and bakeshop is always bustling, and there are a few things on the menu that are must-tries. The Ho-Dduk is one of them, a Korean donut that is made from soft, pillow-like dough filled with melted brown sugar, chopped walnuts, and cinnamon. Grace Street is also well known for their Shave Snow, which comes in Green Tea, Toasted Black Sesame, and other rotating flavors. 17 W. 32nd St.

This article is originally posted on NYC’s Original City Guide

Bulgogi (Korean Grilled Beef)

Bulgogi, a Korean classic of marinated grilled beef, is easy to make and fun to eat; it’s no wonder it is one of the country’s most successful culinary exports. As with most Korean barbecue, the meat is seasoned with sesame and scallion, and has ripe pears in the marinade to tenderize the meat and add a characteristic sweetness. Round, pale yellow Asian pears are traditional, but Bosc pears are just fine.

The meat is only half the recipe: Just as important are the crunchy vegetables, pungent herbs and savory sauces that all get wrapped together into delicious mouthfuls. Perilla is a common Korean herb in the mint family, but if you cannot find it, you can try other herbs like shiso or cilantro. Make sure to wrap your bundle tightly: According to Korean tradition, you must finish it in a single bite!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound well-marbled, boneless sirloin, tenderloin or skirt steak
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 1 cup peeled, chopped ripe Asian or Bosc pear
  • ¾ cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar or honey
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted

PREPARATION

  1. Wrap beef in plastic wrap or butcher paper and place in freezer for 1 to 2 hours to firm up.
  2. Cut beef across the grain into thin slices. If cooking in a skillet, slices should be less than 1/8 inch thick; do not worry if they are a bit ragged. If cooking on the grill, uniform slices, 1/8-inch thick, are best.
  3. In a food processor, combine garlic, pear, onion and ginger and process until very smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
  4. In a bowl or sealable plastic bag, combine steak, marinade, scallion, soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar and pepper and mix well. Cover or seal, then refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight.
  5. When ready to cook and serve, prepare garnishes. Lettuce leaves should be mounded in a large basket or platter; small dishes can hold remaining garnishes. Keep vegetables cold.
  6. If using a cast-iron grill pan or large skillet, heat over high heat. Add all the meat and its juices to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until most (but not all) of the liquid has evaporated and the meat begins to brown around the edges. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve immediately, directly from the skillet (this will keep the meat hot). If using a charcoal or gas grill, heat to high. Working in batches if necessary, place the sliced meat on the grill and cook, turning often, just until cooked through and browned, about 2 minutes. If desired, heat an empty cast-iron skillet and use as a serving dish; this will keep the meat hot. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

TO SERVE:

  1. To eat, lay a lettuce leaf open on your palm. Add a perilla leaf (if using), a small lump of rice, 1 or 2 pieces of meat and any other garnishes on top, then dab with sauce. Wrap by lifting up the edges of the lettuce leaf, then twisting them together to make a tight bundle. Eat each bundle in one bite, according to Korean tradition.

 

Most of ingredents can be purchased at SFMart.com

This article is originally posted on New York Times