To Hans Lienesch, instant ramen is like Lay’s potato chips – he can’t eat just one.
In fact, he’s tried over 1,100 kinds of instant ramen from all over the world, reported the Huffington Post.
Lienesch is the creator of The Ramen Rater blog, no doubt bookmarked by college students everywhere. His dedication to sampling ramen has earned him the title of “God of Ramen” from a Korean newspaper and “ramen rock star” status among noodle fans, manufacturers and retailers.
But even in the instant noodle world, with fame comes controversy.
Lienesch felt the ire of Taiwanese noodle fans after ramen brands from Taiwan didn’t make his Top 10 lists for bowls, cups and packets for 2013.
As Lienesch explains:
They were floored they weren’t included, but of the 70 varieties I’d sampled, none were worthy. I wrote a special ‘Statement To The People Of Taiwan’ post that told them that if they were so upset, the only antidote was for me to try more varieties – maybe there was one they have that I haven’t tried I might like.
Three companies contacted me, and their varieties were really interesting; nothing I’d ever seen before. There were 5 star reviews in there, and they seemed happy about that until the bottom ten list came out.
Comments of angry Taiwanese flooded in with such memorable statements as ‘you shouldn’t judge our culture’ and ‘you don’t know anything about noodles.
The Ramen Rater’s Bottom 10 Noodles of All Time list included two Taiwanese brands, Wei-Lih and Nan-Hsing, and several varieties of Baijia brand noodles from China.
“This has been a really interesting experience in finding such fierce loyalty to one’s national products would bring so many to my website,” Lienesch said.
“The Taiwanese have done this as have the South Koreans as well as Indonesians. It’s really something to behold, especially when attached to a subject such as this convenience food so easily written off by Americans.”
Lienesch has run The Ramen Rater since 2002, but his love for ramen started even earlier, according to The Ramen Rater’s About Me page.
Since I was a small child, I have enjoyed instant noodles. I started out with what every other kid in the USA has – Top Ramen.
Lienesch’s mother would prepare Nissin Roasted Ramen with fried eggs and without the broth as a breakfast scramble dish. After Roasted Ramen was discontinued, Lienesch and his parents visited Seattle’s International District to find a replacement.
While there, Lienesch was drawn in by the vast selection of ramen in colorful packaging and foreign writing. After sampling all the noodles he could get his hands on after that fateful visit, Lienesch burned out on instant ramen, but gradually picked it back up again starting in 1998.
He created The Ramen Rater as a lark in 2002, getting serious with it in 2010 after moving with his wife to a neighborhood within walking distance of two large Asian grocery stores, which supply him with plenty of review material.
Unlike the teenager who eats nothing but ramen, Lienesch steps away from the bowl and enjoys other foods, telling Quartz:
I eat pretty mellow stuff for dinner – we have just a salad, baked chicken and brown rice. I don’t just eat instant noodles. I take fish oil, and fiber and a multivitamin with extra potassium because it counteracts the sodium.
When asked if he’ll ever get tired of reviewing ramen, Lienesch says no.
The only times I don’t do reviews are when we go on vacation—and usually when we go and do something it’s noodle related.
Recently, Lienesch took the time to answer a few questions for ventwing.com about reviewing ramen, his favorite way to prepare it, some recommendations and the future of the Ramen Rater blog.
What qualities do you look for when reviewing ramen?
It’s easier to think of things for me this way: every instant noodle starts at being five stars, then deductions are made. Noodles that aren’t really remarkable or are sub-par with a spongy or extra crumbly lackluster character get a deduction. Broth that is way too salty or too bland gets the deduction as well. Vegetable bits that aren’t very good lose too.
Also, if it says chicken flavor and tastes nothing like chicken, that’s a deduction as well. The five star is full of great flavor, excellent noodles and something I would recommend to everyone I know.
What’s the most unusual flavor you’ve come across? Most far-flung place of origin?
One I think of is a cup of noodles from Japan called Nissin Cup Noodles Red Shock. Has a bright red label and the broth was this ultra fluorescent red color. It was pretty good, too. The one that first comes to mind however is one from Pakistan – Knorr Pizza Instant Noodles. The flavor of the broth was as if you boiled a cheap frozen pizza for an hour and then removed the pizza; a lot of frozen bell pepper flavor.
Have you found any difference between the various forms of packaging? Does ramen in a cup turn out better than ramen from a packet, for example?
Packets (often referred to as ‘pillow packs’) usually turn out a little better than the cups do. Most cups have very thin noodles, the reason being that since the noodles steep in the cup rather than being boiled, the hot water needs to permeate the noodles in a quick way. Cup versions usually don’t have seasoning packets, but are infused with the seasoning.
What makes an instant noodle ‘instant’ is that you can put the block of noodles in a bowl, add hot water, cover, and end up with done noodles in about 4 minutes. Anything saying it’s ‘instant’ should be able to be prepared this way. Around the world, varieties that must be boiled in a pot are referred to as ‘cooking noodles.’
I saw on the blog that you add all kinds of extras to the ramen you review – veggies, eggs, meat, etc. What’s your favorite way to prepare ramen?
I really like adding an egg. Fried eggs are great in varieties without broth, such as Indonesian mi goreng (fried noodle) varieties. The yolk (if left a little runny) can make the noodles a little heartier. I try to add things that are at least somewhat relevant to where they are primarily produced and consumed.
In South Korea, an egg is often cracked and dropped on top while the noodles (known as ramyun) are cooking. The yolk stays runny and again adds protein and heartiness. Other things like cheese, green onions, kimchi and fish cake round things out nicely.
For those who want to branch out beyond Top Ramen, what brands would you recommend they try?
The first thing I tried that seemed exotic was Indomie Mi Goreng Satay from Indonesia. There’s no broth and with a fried egg, it’s really good. A nice sweet and spicy combo with kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), manis pedas (chili sauce) and cabe (dry chili powder) and three of the five different packets that get stirred in with these.
What’s been your favorite part about reviewing ramen and running the blog?
I really like foreign foods, especially from Asia and through the instant noodle, I’ve been able to try something a little different every day. I try to never have the same kind twice, so I’d say the constant different variety is a high point for me.
I also really love answering comments from fans. A while back, a guy became very vocal on the site and had a lot of great comments. Sadly, it turns out he ended up having Crohn’s disease and can’t enjoy instant noodles anymore. He said that the site made him hope to someday enjoy his old favorites again and that it was a big motivator for him. Thought that was pretty neat.
What’s in the future for the Ramen Rater?
I’ve partnered up with a developer in the past year and he’s made a lot of great changes to the site. Now there’s a list of all the noodles that is called The Big List that can be sorted by different variables. He’s also working on an Android app.
I think right now we’re hoping to pick up a couple of advertisers to help offset the cost of hosting. The site is perfect for noodle companies and grocery stores since people come to find out about instant noodles or where to buy them.
I really hope someday to put out a book and maybe get asked by a South Korean company to do a ramyun commercial – I think that’d be really great.
Anything you’d like to add?
I get a lot of comments from people worried about my health. The instant noodle really gets a lot of bad press. Yes, there’s a good amount of sodium, but taking potassium counteracts that to a degree. Also, the noodles are usually just wheat flour, water and some salt; really nothing that bad. Once extras such as meat and vegetables are added, they can actually become quite the healthy meal. A recent one came out saying ‘instant noodles expand your stomach!’ I would imagine any pasta or rice would do this as well.
People around the world depend on instant noodles, and I try to do my part to stop the perpetuation of health scares about them. If you look at fast food and other convenient items that are consumed and on our TVs every day, the instant noodle starts looking much better insofar as fat, calories and sodium.
Ramen’s history in an instant:
According to the Ramen Rater’s history page, instant ramen got its start in 1958 with the introduction of Nissin Foods’ “Chikin Ramen.” Momofuku Ando, Nissin Foods founder and creator of the instant noodle, developed the product as a way to help feed people after observing post-World War II food shortages in Japan.
In contrast to today, instant ramen was a luxury item then, with a price tag six times higher than the fresh udon noodles found in Japan’s grocery stores.
Japanese food industry skeptics doubted instant ramen would catch on, but they were oh, so wrong. Grocery store shelves were crowded with instant ramen varieties by the end of 1958, and Ando’s company went on to develop vast varieties of instant noodle products.
Today, the instant ramen industry continues to boom, reaching first-ever sales of over 100 billion packets in 2012, according to the World Instant Noodles Association. China and Hong Kong are the world’s top ramen consumers, with Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam and India rounding out the top five and the United States placing sixth.