Instant Happiness

By Brandon Telle

August 15, 2013 4 min read

We've all been there. Money is tight for one reason or another, and when you head down the soup aisle at the grocery, the 65-cent Top Ramen packages scream your name. "You can eat three meals for less than $2 a day," they shout. And let's face it; they have a point.

Instant ramen noodles (commonly referred to by brand names, such as Top Ramen and Maruchan) have been a staple of many a college student's diet since they were first introduced to the United States in the early 1970s. Their low price point and relative ease of preparation make them perfect for both a shopper on a budget and a busy student with little time for proper nutrition.

Although the ramen noodles themselves are originally a Chinese creation, Japanese culture truly embraced the dish in the 1900s. The instant ramen noodles we know and love today have their roots in the Japanese variety of this recipe.

Unfortunately, as anyone who has eaten a primarily ramen-based diet can tell you, instant ramen hardly compares to the traditional Japanese versions of the same name. Most regions of Japan have a signature ramen style, although all share the basic concept of a soup with toppings laid on top. Toppings can include meats, such as pork and fish, and vegetables, such as green onions and dried seaweed. The noodles make a great base on which to create many different flavor combinations.

Here are some tips to add flair to your store-bought instant noodles:

--Add seasoning to give your ramen an extra kick. Traditional options include miso paste, curry powder and fish sauce. I am a fan of adding Sriracha chili sauce to my ramen to give it a bit of heat.

--Add vegetables to ramen to add flavor and texture. Traditional options include green onions, bean sprouts and corn. Nontraditional options such as broccoli, sugar snap peas and carrots are great, as well. Pretty much any vegetable can be added to ramen, so using the things you have on hand can help keep the overall cost of your meal low.

--Add meat to give your ramen meal some much-needed protein. Beef and chicken make fantastic additions. They add real flavors to the meal that the seasoning package can only hope to mimic. Similar to vegetables, almost any meat can be added to ramen to give it a quick oomph. Using leftovers from the night before saves money and ensures that meat doesn't go to waste.

A quick Google search for "ramen recipes" returns dozens of creative, interesting and sometimes bizarre ideas -- everything from ramen-based pad thai to cheesy chili ramen. Below is a recipe for spicy Thai ramen. It is one of my favorite ramen recipes because it fulfills my goals: It is inexpensive and delicious.

Cook a package of instant ramen to completion, including the flavor packet. The flavor you choose is up to you; I use chicken because I usually add chicken to the finished product. Once the ramen is cooked, drain most of the broth. You'll want to leave a little bit of liquid to make mixing in the add-ins easier.

Add 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of Sriracha (or less, if you prefer it milder) and 2 tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter. Mix vigorously, and serve immediately. The peanut flavor is distinctly Thai, and the Sriracha gives it quite a kick. Optional add-ins include sliced green onions, carrots, peas and, of course, grilled chicken.

Despite their reputation as a poor college student's last resort, instant ramen noodles can be turned into a gourmet meal with a few simple, low-cost additions.

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