Everyone loves ramen, right? I sure do. I never even tried ramen noodles until I moved away to go to college, and then they were de rigeur dorm food — bricks of fried noodles that came with seasoning packets (mostly salt and MSG) that you could turn into soup with just a pot of water boiled on an illegal hot plate. Best of all, when we were poor all the time, you could get six or seven packages of this instant ramen in a multitude of flavors for a buck. I quickly learned I liked my ramen best after draining the water and mixing the seasoning directly into the noodles themselves, like eating very salty flavored pasta. When my old band spent our freshman year Spring Break touring Florida for a week, we brought bread, peanut butter, and bricks of instant ramen, which we ate uncooked, just crunching away at them in random parking lots. All of this was extremely unhealthy, but ramen helped get me through three degrees, especially when paired with proteins like canned tuna or sardines, or sometimes chicken or sausage if I was feeling flush.
I wouldn’t discovery the glory and grandeur of “real,” authentic Japanese ramen until my 30s, when I was a little shocked over spending $10 or more for a bowl of the good stuff. But it was so good, and I wondered where this real ramen had been all my life. I tried a few and quickly realized tonkotsu ramen was my favorite, a creamy pork bone broth served with a slice of fatty roast chashu pork. So delicious, and streets ahead of the cheap stuff that sustained me for so long. I’ve had particularly lovely tonkotsu ramen at Ramen Takagi, Susuru, and Domu here in Orlando, and those are links to my reviews. The tonkotsu at Ramen Takagi even made my Top Ten Tastes of 2020 in Orlando Weekly!
But sometimes you just want to make ramen at home for a nostalgic night in. Orlando is blessed with a huge number of Asian markets, some of which are as huge as any Publix supermarket, and all of which feature a selection of ramen and other noodles that put Publix to shame. And they aren’t all the fried dry bricks either — many brands offer fresh and frozen noodles that can be cooked just as easily, except the texture, taste, and quality are so much better. Well, constant readers, I might have discovered the best store-bought ramen of all, so I had to share in another Grocery Grails feature.
The brand is Sun Noodle. Based in Hawaii and founded by Hidehito Uki in 1981, Sun Noodle furnishes many of the best ramen restaurants in the U.S. with its fresh, springy noodles. Seriously, if you don’t believe me, check out these features on Eater and Serious Eats and in Honolulu Magazine. In recent years, Sun Noodle started producing ramen kits for home cooks to make fast, easy, restaurant-quality ramen with their fresh noodles and rich, flavorful concentrated soup bases that are a great leap forward from the salty powder packets we all know.
I recently found all three Sun Noodle ramen kits at Enson Market, formerly known as 1st Oriental Market, at 5132 West Colonial Drive in the Pine Hills neighborhood west of downtown Orlando, full of Asian restaurants, markets, and other businesses. I found all three varieties in the cooler and bought them all: tonkotsu, shoyu, and miso ramen kits. Each one comes with two servings. Keep in mind these are perishable, so eat them or stick them in the freezer so they don’t go bad, which would be a damn shame.
Of course I had to start with the tonkotsu, my favorite:
The back of each package includes cooking directions, nutrition information, and ingredients. Note that this tonkotsu soup base contains pork extract, lard, and chicken powder, so it is definitely not for vegetarians!
Each package includes two separate portions, with individually wrapped noodles and soup base packets. The concentrated tonkotsu base was a thick, sticky paste the color of butterscotch pudding. Let me save you the trouble — don’t bother tasting it. You probably won’t like it, at least not until you mix it with hot water and stir well to create the creamy tonkotsu broth you were hoping for.
Here is my tonkotsu ramen, which I served with some corn and a piece of Filipino pork adobo, the only pork I had on hand. It was great! Definitely not as good as Ramen Takagi and the other aforementioned restaurants, because they make their broth from scratch and include house-made chashu pork and other fine ingredients. Cobbled together from a ramen kit, a can of corn, and a hunk of leftover pork that wasn’t even from a Japanese recipe, it was still some damn fine ramen, and far better than any instant ramen I’ve tried before. The rich, creamy broth was better than I could have imagined, made with that paste instead of a powdered seasoning blend.
A week or so passed, and I decided to bust out the shoyu ramen, which is soy sauce-flavored.
Nutrition info and ingredients. This one includes dried sardine extract powder, so vegetarians, stay away.
How everything looks before cooking. Note the shoyu ramen noodles are more of a rich golden color than the paler noodles that came in the tonkotsu kit above.
And here’s the prepared soup, with more corn and some crunchy fried onions. They’re not just for Thanksgiving green bean casserole anymore! I think I liked these noodles better, but I definitely prefer the rich, porky flavor of the tonkotsu broth to the almost overwhelming saltiness of the shoyu broth. And yet, it was still better than any instant ramen I’ve ever tried.
Most recently, I made the miso ramen, which is soybean paste-flavored. Now, I’ve had miso soup at Japanese restaurants before, but only when it came with something else I ordered. I must admit I never get too excited about it, because it never tastes like much to me. I’ve never really sought out tofu or other soy-based meat substitutes, and it certainly never occurred to me to order miso ramen at any restaurants when tonkotsu was an option. But I tried it for you, constant readers, for the sake of SCIENCE and JOURNALISM! I may never be the kind of “influencer” food blogger that gets invited to free meals and fancy events, but I will definitely keeping reporting on the best local restaurants and the most interesting groceries you can find at local markets.
Anyway, here are the nutrition info and ingredients for the miso ramen. Yes, it is vegetarian-friendly!
The fresh noodles and soup base packet. This one was also a thick paste that I poured the hot water from the noodles into and stirred.
And here is my miso ramen, with (surprise!) more corn, more crunchy fried onions that didn’t stay crunchy for long. I decorated this bowl with black sesame seeds, and that cherry on top is actually a bulb of black garlic, with a very complex and surprisingly sweet flavor, and a chewy consistency like gummy candy.
Interestingly, this was the most complex flavor of all. Having never tried miso ramen before, I can barely even describe it, but there was a lot going on — all of it good.
I strongly recommend these to anyone curious, and I would definitely buy them again to keep in the freezer for when I crave ramen. This happens a lot, by the way. I’m sure there are other great ramen brands to make at home, but Sun Noodle is kind of a big deal. I was thrilled to discover these existed, and then to find them locally. Have you tried these? Is there another variety of ramen you recommend, either a brand, a flavor, or both? Your friendly neighborhood Sabsoscrivner is always on the lookout for gustatory glory with Grocery Grails.