Though many of us think of packaged instant noodles as a staple of the postsecondary student diet, global consumption has reached an all-time high in recent years, with more than 100 billion servings consumed annually.
Rising food prices likely have something to do with the increasing popularity of instant noodles. Cooking at home more than ever during the pandemic had many of us getting tired of it and seeking out quick, cheap, easy and adaptable ways to feed ourselves.
The first packages of instant ramen were introduced under the brand name Chikin Ramen in 1958 – about 1,400 years after the birth of noodles in China – by Momofuku Ando of Nissin Foods in Japan. The bouncy, stretchy alkaline noodles are not only fast to cook and affordable, their waviness adds both form and function: they’re easier to manoeuvre with chopsticks, and sauces and other additions cling to them.
In a world of recipes scaled to feed four to six people, there is huge appeal in warm, nourishing meals that come with just the right time commitment when cooking for one, particularly those well-suited to eating at your desk or curled up on the couch. Instant noodles are hitting all the right notes at a time when our appetites are often triggered by the food content doled out on our social-media feeds, platforms perfectly suited to 20-second videos of deliciously doctored noodles tossed with barely measured ingredients that are slurped up, often by university-aged content creators. (Not to mention chili crisp, the current “it condiment.”)
There are more ways to dress up a package of instant ramen than it’s possible to count. Do a Google search for TikTok ramen and you’ll get a stir-fried version with garlic, butter, soy sauce, brown sugar and an egg. There’s Korean budae jjigae (army base stew), made with processed meat, kimchi, gochujang and sliced American cheese that melts appealingly into the hot broth. There are versions made saucy instead of brothy with mayo, peanut butter or cheese, almost always with green onion and eggs, which are either stirred in over low heat to make a silky sauce, scrambled, poached in the broth, hard- or soft-boiled or fried to add on top. One of my favourite things to do with a package of Maggi 2 Minute Masala Noodles is make chaat – a snacky mix of flavours and textures perfectly suited to a package of instant noodles and a packet of spices.
Recipe: Maggi Masala Noodle Chaat
India is fourth worldwide in instant-noodle consumption; masala and chicken tikka flavours are popular, and with a large population of vegetarians and vegans, varieties with vegetable-based seasoning packets are the biggest sellers. A package of Maggi 2 Minute Masala Noodles makes an amazing base for chaat: cook some potatoes (or streamline the process with a chopped leftover cooked potato or frozen hash browns) before adding the noodles and seasoning mix, let them cook through and add a variety of toppings to taste.
- Canola or other vegetable oil or ghee, for cooking
- 1/2 cup frozen hash browns or cooked potato, or 1 small potato, finely diced or grated
- 1 package Maggi 2 Minute Masala Noodles
- 1/3 cup drained canned chickpeas
- Diced tomato
- Finely diced red onion
- Fresh cilantro
- Plain yogurt
- Tamarind chutney (or any chutney you like)
- Sev (crunchy chickpea-based noodles) or more dry noodles, toasted in a skillet
- A squeeze of lime (optional)
Drizzle some oil into a medium skillet or saucepan set over medium-high heat and cook the hash browns or cooked potato to heat through, or, if using raw potato, fry until tender. Add the dry noodles, broken into pieces if you like (the package suggests breaking the noodle cake into four) to the pan with a little more than half the seasoning packet, and about 3/4 cup water (or 1/2-3/4 the quantity of water your packaged noodles call for). Cover and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until the noodles are just tender, adding a splash more water if the pan boils dry but the noodles aren’t yet cooked.
Meanwhile, drain and toss the chickpeas with a bit of the seasoning packet, and, if you like, stir the rest of the seasoning into a couple spoonfuls of plain yogurt. Transfer the noodles and potatoes to a plate and top to taste with the chickpeas, tomato, red onion, cilantro, yogurt and whatever chutneys you like, and sprinkle over some sev or toasted plain, uncooked instant noodles, broken up into bits, for added crunch. Season with lime juice or serve with a wedge of lime. Serves 1.