The Canned Soup Hack For Richer Instant Ramen

Familiar to college students and struggling writers everywhere, instant ramen – labeled as a "superfood" several years ago due to its ability to alleviate hunger among low-wage workers – is a cheap way to fill a stomach when your wallet is running on empty and the cupboards are bare. Originally created as a quick way to satisfy hunger during the economic boom of post-war Japan, instant ramen has become a universal food, available in just about any convenience or grocery store around the world.

Today, instant ramen packages come in all shapes, sizes, and price points. Many international and local manufacturers have adapted the packaged meal to local tastes. Flavors can range from the familiar (beef and chicken) to the unique (curry and cheese). Some are designed to be made as a traditional noodle soup while others are designed to be served dry with a concentrated sauce. Of course, eating the same thing for each lunch can get tiresome. Fortunately, there are a few ways to quickly (and cheaply!) elevate your instant noodles. As you can imagine with food as varied as instant ramen, there is practically no limit in modifying it. For example, the canned soup that is sitting inside your pantry is a great way to take your instant ramen to the next level.

Canned soups to the rescue

One option to jazz up your instant ramen is to add canned soup to the existing flavoring packet. You can do so by using half as much water as the package recommends and substituting the other half of the liquid with a cream-based canned soup, such as cream of mushroom or cream of chicken. Stir until the soup is well-blended before adding the noodles to cook, and what you get is a creamy and flavorful result reminiscent of pasta in cream sauce. For other variations, try using cream of tomato soup with chicken or beef-flavored ramen for a bowl that echos penne a la vodka, or pair cream of shrimp or lobster bisque with shrimp-flavored ramen for a seafood-forward pairing. 

Another option is to substitute the flavor packet with a different type of soup base. That way, you can decide how your noodles taste based on the broth you choose, and the options are endless. For example, you can use canned chicken stock as a soup base, which provides a much better flavor than the regular "chicken" flavor packets that come with the ramen.

You can also try using instant dashi, a powder that you can dissolve in water, for a more traditional Japanese flavor. You can cook the noodles in water before straining them and adding them to a heated broth, or cook the noodles directly in the broth and let the starch of the ramen thicken the soup.

The endless possibilities of toppings

Aside from swapping in a can of soup for extra flavor, another way to enrich your instant ramen is by adding toppings to the finished product, and the possibility is truly endless in that regard — for example, you can top your bowl with scallops, bacon, and eggs for an indulgent treat. From leftovers to fresh vegetables, everything in your fridge and pantry is potentially a tasty addition to your bowl of noodles. Try adding chopped chilis for a spicy kick, or herbs such as cilantro and scallions to add freshness to the dish. The bag of frozen vegetables that has been lingering in the back of your freezer can be added as a healthy inclusion to your ramen, and sliced-up deli ham or leftover meat from last night's dinner can serve as the meaty topping for a more well-rounded meal. Finally, a soft-boiled egg, a traditional accompaniment to authentic Japanese ramen, is a universally adaptable topping for a bowl of instant ramen, no matter what else you add to it. Sometimes, knowing when to use the instant ramen flavor and when to throw them out boils down to what you have in your pantry.