10 Home Condiments to Level-up Your Instant Noodles
Ramen shops always have a rack full of condiments and seasoning on the table for you to customize your noodles to make them just the way you like. However, most of these condiments are actually things you are likely to have sitting around at home too, which means you too can use them to up your noodles game when you are eating at home. Here are 10 great ideas to make your domestic ramen experiences even better:
A wise person once said, “garlic makes everything in life better”. This definitely applies to the noodles you cook at home too! The minced garlic tubes are great, but I definitely prefer a freshly pressed garlic. The spicy punch is lovely and your noodles instantly have this addictiveness to them that will make you keep adding more garlic. Dried garlic slices/bites are often used in Kumamoto style tonkotsu ramen, and those would be great too in a different way.
Goes great with: all kinds, but especially tonkotsu.
Chili pepper (ichimi, not shichimi)
If you enjoy the flavor of your noodles but just wished that they packed a punch, ichimi is the way to go. This chili pepper sold everywhere in Japan is great because it basically adds a level of hotness to your food without altering its original flavour, and personally, I use it on a daily basis as I sprinkle it over everything I eat, noodles or not.
Goes great with: almost everything edible.
If you want to spicy your noodles up but add even more of a flavour than just ichimi (chilli pepper), toubanjan is the way to go. This Chinese spicy miso paste delivers a more complex hotness to change up the game. Just be careful not to add too much as it would eventually overpower your original flavour.
Goes great with: shoyu, tonkotsu, tantanmen, and dried noodles too.
Vinegar is the best condiment when you want to give the taste a 180º change. While some people add it into the soup and mix it in for a hint of sourness, I prefer putting a few drops into my spoonful of soup each time instead. The strong sourness acts as a temporary palate cleanser so that your tongue forgets the delicious soup for a moment, and you can re-enjoy it again right after. Black vinegar is more mild, but I prefer rice vinegar for its strength.
Goes great with: anything as a palate cleanser.
You may not want to see mayonnaise floating around your bowl of hot soup, but for other noodles, mayonnaise is king. Yakisoba is delicious and all, but the hint of sweetness from mayonnaise will play with your taste-buds more. If you have eaten takoyaki with mayonnaise on top, you understand what I am talking about. In addition to yakisoba, aburasoba and mazesoba (both noodles without soup) go great with this creamy ingredient, so have a bottle ready for soup-less noodles!
Goes great with: dried noodles (yakisoba, aburasoba and mazesoba).
Rayuu (chili oil)
When I say rayuu, I do not refer to the small bottle of chili oil used for gyoza. Instead, invest in a nicer bottle of Chinese chili oil that is not only liquid but also has solid ingredients at the bottom. Ramen shops sometimes charge extra for this, so this investment is definitely worth it for your home.
Goes great with: again, everything.
Yuzu kosho is a Japanese condiment that infuses yuzu peel with salt and chili peppers, and it adds this unique aroma into the noodles that you cannot find anywhere else. While its flavour can be dominating, adding a tiny bit into a light soup will bring you a new world of taste.
Goes great with: shoyu, shio, and chicken soup flavor.
Butter can enrich our lives, as well as our ramen. The way I love to do it is the put a thick slice of butter on the side and watch it slowly melt into the bowl. An extra advantage to this is that the layer of butter actually helps the ramen keep its warmth, which may be part of the reason why this is commonly found in miso ramen.
Goes great with: miso, and possibly shoyu flavor.
What is lovely about tossing some sesame into your noodles is less about the flavor, but the texture that is added into your meal. As you slurp up the noodles, this added bits of chewiness is very much welcomed. You also have the choice between iri goma (whole sesame) and suri goma (grinded sesame) for different textures, and it goes well especially with rich noodles.
Goes great with: tantanmen, tonkotsu, and also dried noodles.
Okay, I admit that this is getting beyond condiment territory, but this is definitely worth it. Adding milk into certain noodles would provide this creaminess with a western twist that may remind you of a stew. There is not a set amount, but I would recommend adding a couple of spoonfuls the first time. You will be surprised by how a little milk makes a big difference. In the future, you might find yourself replacing half the water with milk for certain flavours.
Goes great with: miso, tantanmen (seriously, you will be surprised), seafood flavour cup-noodles. Please let me know if you have made new discoveries.
By the way, you may have noticed that black pepper is not on the list despite being on virtually every ramen shop table. Personally I believe that black pepper takes away flavouring of the soup and is used as a common way to disguise mediocre noodles. That is just my opinion just as how the 10 above are based on my experiences, but I hope you will give them a try!