Instant noodles are steeped in more than just hot water and seasoning. They’re also steeped in historical and cultural significance. Momofuku Ando created instant noodles in 1958 as a postwar invention to help curb world hunger, and since then, they’ve bloomed into a huge industry, inspiring museums, poems, and prison bartering systems. They’re simultaneously embraced as cheap sustenance, proffered as a way to help future food shortages, and used as a backdrop for culinary experimentation—all of which makes them perfect for our current moment. That, plus the simple fact that a great bowl of instant noodles is comforting and delightful to slurp: warm, carby, salty, and delicious.
It would be impossible to agree on the best instant noodles. There are thousands of varieties, and the World Instant Noodles Association counted 106.4 billion servings eaten worldwide in 2019. We couldn’t pick just one noodle. So we decided to round up some favorites from discerning experts, for when you want a fast, affordable, tasty meal that you can whip up from your pantry by just adding water.
Since the Wirecutter kitchen team couldn’t gather for an in-person tasting, I asked seven chefs, authors, bloggers, ramen reviewers, and noodle makers to share their favorites with me. I then taste-tested the noodles (11 in all) to see how they compared. All were available for online order or delivery when we tested, but stock has been fluctuating. If you can’t find them online, check specialty retailers or local stores and see whether they offer curbside pickup or delivery. If our picks aren’t available, we hope you can use our research to stock up on whatever noodles you can find or will enjoy. And if you want to share your own favorites, please tell us in the comments section below.
1. NongShim Shin Black Noodle Soup ($55 for 18 packages, about $3 per package, at the time of publication)
Like most noodle producers, best-selling Korean brand NongShim makes many varieties. But of the few I tried, the Spicy Pot-au-feu Flavor was the best. It has a winning combination of a complex, spicy broth, substantial dehydrated vegetables, and toothsome noodles. I couldn’t stop eating these.
The Shin Black noodles are a premium version of NongShim’s popular Shin Ramyun noodles (which food blogger and cookbook author Maangchi recommended), and they contain an additional “sul-long-tang” (ox bone) seasoning packet. The milky bone broth facsimile makes Shin Black’s soup creamier and less spicy than the original Shin Ramyun. Several Wirecutter staffers love the original, while others swear by the Black noodles. And people debate in Amazon reviews and Reddit threads about whether the Black noodles warrant the price increase (at the time of publication, Shin Black runs about $3 per package, while Shin Ramyun costs about $1).
The ingredients list on the Shin Black package includes beef extract and fat, and the broth does taste meaty. It was one of the only ones where other flavors, like garlic and mushroom, shone through the salt. The chili in the soup base, which is hot but not overpowering, turns the noodles a vibrant red. Discernible slices of garlic, large pieces of mushrooms, and green onions rehydrate well, actually taste good, and provide a nice textural contrast to the chewy noodles. I received these as a happy accident—they were likely a replacement for an out-of-stock selection—and decided to taste them anyway to see how they compared to the original. They’re ranked third in the Los Angeles Times’s roundup, so I’m not alone in thinking that these noodles are great.
Compared with the NongShim Shin Bowl Noodle Soup, the Shin Black soup has a more savory broth and thicker, creamier noodles. Serious Eats surmised that the noodles from the packet and bowl options are different because of their respective cooking methods: The packet noodles may be thicker because they can withstand longer cook times in boiling water, whereas the bowl noodles may be thinner since they are heated faster in a microwave. At around $3 a package, the Shin Black noodles aren’t cheap, but they’re more satisfying, flavorful, and fun to eat than your basic ramen.
2. Prima Taste Singapore Laksa La Mian ($22 for six packages, about $3.50 per package, at the time of publication)
The Ramen Rater recommended these noodles, which have taken first place on his yearly lists of the best instant ramen for the past four years. He said of the Laksa La Mian that the “broth is just a show stopper with a very flavorful paste and a large sachet of coconut milk powder. Luxuriant to the end.” I agree. The dehydrated coconut milk has a perfect balance of salt and sweetness, and it mixes into a rich, smooth soup. The burnt-orange, chunky laksa paste tastes like galangal and dried shrimp, and it is mildly spicy. When you stir the two together, bright red flecks float to the surface and bring to mind Jupiter’s swirled surface. These noodles are longer, thicker, and straighter than others, and they are air-dried instead of fried. They have a neutral flavor, which complements the pungent broth.
These are the most expensive noodles I tried. They also tasted the most like a dish you would order in a restaurant. With the hearty, shrimp-based broth, this meal is more filling than basic chicken ramen, too, with more than double the amount of protein per serving. Adding lime and some fresh herbs to these for a hit of brightness would take them to the next level.
3. NongShim Chapagetti & Neoguri ($24 for eight packages—four per flavor, about $3 per package, at the time of publication)
Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar-winning movie Parasite made this combo ramen dish, nicknamed jjapaguri, chapaguri, or ram-don, even more popular (video) than it already was in Korea. It’s a combination of two different types of noodles: one pack of Chapagetti, a version of the black bean sauce noodle dish jajangmyeon, and one pack of Neoguri, a spicy seafood stew flavor. NongShim sells a combo pack of these flavors, but you can also buy them individually, often for less. Maangchi re-created this popular combination with a side of butter-cooked ribeye steak to fancify it as they do in the movie(video). It’s delicious, especially with the added meat.
Cooked according to Maangchi’s method, the bouncy noodles are evenly coated with a smooth, viscous, earthy sauce. The sweetness from the black bean paste (chunjang) in the Chapagetti sauce balances with the funky seafood-flavored Neoguri broth. I didn’t care for the brown, spongy dehydrated bits in the Chapagetti mix (presumably “meat flakes”) or the carrots, which tasted jarringly overcooked and bitter. The large flakes of kombu (kelp) in the Neoguri noodles, however, added another layer of brininess and a little texture. Compared with other noodles, both of these were thicker and resembled udon, but were chewier. I added some steak to the dish after sampling the noodles on their own, and the fatty meat paired well with the jjapaguri. Maangchi’s preparation method was the most complicated I tried (it involves putting some broth aside and adding noodles back to the pot after draining), but it still took under 10 minutes to prepare the dish.
Better than average
4. Oh! Ricey Instant Rice Noodles Pho Bo (Beef Flavor) ($38 for 24 packages, about $1.60 per package, at the time of publication)
Cookbook author Andrea Nguyen enjoys these instant pho noodles when she doesn’t have time to simmer a broth for hours. She says, “It’s got so much MSG, but in about 5 minutes, you’ve got a bowl of pho to slurp up.” I was charmed by the presentation of these noodles, which include thin slivers of “beef” made from wheat protein and many dried scallions. This bowl of soup was satisfying to eat, and it is a pretty close approximation of pho—it felt like a more complete dish than other basic noodles.
Sticking my face into the steaming, aromatic broth, I inhaled the scent of anise and other warming spices. And though that experience was invigorating, the Oh! Ricey noodles smelled better than they tasted. The soup was salty, and the light broth didn’t have much depth, but a sachet of oil added some welcome fat. The rice noodles were thin and, once cooked, didn’t hold up as well as thicker ramen noodles. When you chew a big mouthful, they seem spongy. You can just add boiling water instead of cooking in a pot or in the microwave, which makes these even easier to prepare. With lime, beef, sprouts, and herbs, you could easily round out this dish.
5. Nissin Raoh Ramen Noodle Soup (Umami Tonkotsu Flavor) (about $2 for one package at the time of publication)
In a pinch, Simply Ramen author Amy Kimoto-Kahn whips up this flavor of the Nissin Raoh noodles, which are relatively easy to find online or in stores. She said: “These come with a separate packet of oil and seasoning so it makes the broth seem a bit more rich. I prefer the tonkotsu—it is well flavored, not overly salty, and even looks like a homemade tonkotsu with its creamy white color; it just lacks the density. The noodles have good elasticity.”
The soup tastes tangy, salty, and a little porky, but I agree with Kimoto-Kahn that it doesn’t have the depth you’d get from cooking a bone broth for hours. The seasoning contains sesame seeds and a separate sesame oil packet. Their nuttiness comes through. But the soup does taste slightly artificial, like it was flavored with liquid smoke. The thick, slippery noodles are about as wide as bucatini, and are chewier than most other noodles I tried (they are also not fried). Dried scallions make the ramen feel more like a complete dish.
6. NongShim Shin Light ($18 for four packages, about $4.50 per package, at the time of publication)
Tomonori Takahashi, founder of Jinya Ramen Bar restaurants, likes that these noodles are air-dried so that they’re slightly healthier than other fried NongShim varieties, and says that they still “retain a nice flavor.” The broth for these noodles was bright and acidic, and it tasted like tomatoes. It was less overpoweringly salty than chicken ramen, but it was the spiciest dish I tried. (My nose was running and my eyes were tearing up after two bites.)
The noodles are fairly springy, thin, and a little chewy, like most of the ramen I sampled. The flavors and mouthfeel of the vegetables in this dish were disappointing, but they look nice. Mushroom slices were meaty but a little tough. Minuscule shavings of carrots and bok choy tasted musty and sapped of flavor, as if they had been cooked to death in a stock, and they’re a poor foil to the punchy broth. Scallions add a hint of freshness.
7. Nissin Top Ramen Noodle Soup Chicken Flavor ($6.50 for five packages, about $1.30 per package, at the time of publication)
Takahashi also recommended these classic noodles, saying, “What more needs to be said? Momofuku Ando brought instant noodles to the masses. Nissin is still a top brand today, and the Cup Noodles brand is very strong in the US and Japan. They have many flavors [of Top Ramen], but the ‘Original’ is iconic.” Andrea Nguyen mentioned these and the Maruchan chicken ramen, too, saying, “These are mainstream supermarket standbys that harken back to my childhood and college years, when there’d be a case around the house and I’d whip up a creative bowl of noodle soup for lunch.”
Out of all the more traditional chicken-flavored ramen noodles, these were the best. The broth is golden, oily, and vegetal-tasting. Flavors are concentrated and evoke a bouillon cube more than a delicate chicken broth. The soup is salty, but less so than others I tried. The noodles seem springier and curlier than ones from Maruchan and are delightful to eat.
8. NongShim Shin Bowl Noodle Soup Gourmet Spicy ($29 for 12 packages, about $2.42 per package, at the time of publication)
Maangchi said of this bowl: “I’m not a big fan of instant ramyeon but in an emergency situation I like Shin Ramyun. It’s the longtime most popular ramyeon among Koreans. The noodles have a chewy texture and the broth is spicy, savory, and satisfying.” The only option to come in its own bowl, these noodles are a breeze to cook in the microwave, without having to dirty a pot and a dish. But again, the noodle texture is very different from other NongShim types I tried. They’re thinner and taste wheatier compared with the other, more elastic ramen noodles. The broth was similar to the one from the NongShim Light variety, but less spicy. Some mushroom flavors come through. There are herb, mushroom, and carrot flakes, but they’re shreds compared with the slices in the Shin Black, and they don’t add any flavor. This noodle had a yeasty aftertaste that I didn’t enjoy. Compared with the other NongShim choices I tried, however, these are the most affordable.
9. Maruchan Ramen Noodle Soup (Creamy Chicken Flavor) (40¢ for one package at the time of publication)
Mike Satinover, known on Reddit as /u/Ramen_Lord and moderator of the subreddit /r/ramen, said he grew up with the Maruchan chicken flavor, and “the creamy one was, like, extra boosted. I don’t actually think this one is objectively good, I just enjoy it for nostalgia from time to time.” The creamy chicken flavor tastes better than the regular chicken flavor by the same brand. The broth seems fatty, but it’s a little thinner than the Nissin tonkotsu broth; oil droplets shimmer invitingly on the surface. The “creaminess” comes from a “powdered cream substitute.” Some green herbs fleck the soup, but they’re purely an aesthetic gesture; they have no taste. These noodles are salty but less so than the regular chicken flavor, and it’s hard to stop eating them. They left me wanting a Coke to go with them.
10. Maruchan Ramen Noodle Soup (Chicken Flavor) ($2.49 for 12 packages, about 21¢ per package, at the time of publication)
Tomonori Takahashi also cited this variety as a classic. “A longstanding brand from Tokyo, they have been a staple since 1953 in Japan,” he said. These noodles are still comforting to eat and will hit the spot when you need a quick meal. But the broth didn’t have as much flavor as the Nissin Chicken Ramen’s, and it tasted like old, dried herbs. It’s also overwhelmingly salty. The noodles were less elastic than the Nissin ones, but they were still pleasantly springy.
11. Nissin Chicken Ramen Noodle ($19 for five packages, about $3.80 per package, at the time of publication)
Mike Satinover also said he liked this original version of Nissin’s chicken ramen with an egg on top. The retro-looking maroon-and-orange packaging looks as cool as Beyoncé’s latest Ivy Park release. But the noodles inside are lackluster—at least compared with all of the other delicious ramens I tried; perhaps they would be improved with the egg. These may have a nostalgia factor for some. But the noodles are soggy, grainy, and taste strongly of wheat. The broth is a watery, murky brown; there’s no glistening oil here.
How we picked and tested
To narrow down which noodles to try out of the many thousands of variations out there, I asked seven experts to tell me their favorites. I spoke to Maangchi, author of Maangchi’s Big Book of Korean Cooking: From Everyday Meals to Celebration Cuisine and the recipe blog Maangchi; Andrea Nguyen, cooking teacher and author of Vietnamese Food Any Day; Hans Lienesch, author of the noodle review blog The Ramen Rater; Tomonori Takahashi, founder and CEO of Jinya Ramen Bar restaurants; Amy Kimoto-Kahn, author of the book Simply Ramen; Kenshiro Uki, president of Sun Noodle North America; and Mike Satinover, known as /u/Ramen_Lord and the moderator of the /r/ramen subreddit.
Once I had collected their recommendations, I taste-tasted the noodles our experts recommended (11 in all) to see how they compared. I grouped the noodles according to flavor profiles and tried them over a few days. Although it’s common to adjust seasoning or water to taste, or to dress up noodles by adding eggs, vegetables, meat, or cheese (a practice that ramen lovers everywhere wholeheartedly recommend), I thought it would confound the testing results. So I prepared all the noodles by following the cooking instructions on each package and ate mine without any extras. (One exception: I did add steak to the jjapaguri, according to Maangchi’s recipe, after first trying the noodles on their own.)
I noted the noodle texture, broth flavor and consistency, and how well add-ins like vegetables or meat rehydrated. In his subjective ramen power-ranking guide for the Los Angeles Times, Lucas Kwan Peterson judged noodles by what he called “truth in advertising,” or whether a dish tasted like the package’s description. I also kept that metric in mind.
And even though this metric would be impossible to measure, I considered the whole experience of eating each noodle: the combination of presentation, aroma, and taste that makes a great dish stand out. All of the noodles I tried were satisfying. But the best ones made me feel like I had done more than just boil water for five minutes—they were a treat.
1. Andrea Nguyen, cooking teacher and author of Vietnamese Food Any Day, email, April 14, 2020
2. Maangchi, author of Maangchi’s Big Book of Korean Cooking: From Everyday Meals to Celebration Cuisine and the recipe blog Maangchi, email, April 14, 2020
3. Hans Lienesch, author of the noodle review blog The Ramen Rater, email, April 20, 2020
4. Tomonori Takahashi, founder and CEO of Jinya Ramen Bar restaurants, email, April 20, 2020
5. Amy Kimoto-Kahn, author of the book Simply Ramen, email, April 14, 2020
6. Mike Satinover (/u/Ramen_Lord), moderator of the /r/ramen subreddit, Reddit message, April 13, 2020
7. Kenshiro Uki, president of Sun Noodle North America, email, April 20, 2020