Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Nong Shim Bowl Noodle Soup: Kimchi Flavor

Hey all,

Since my tastebuds are not quite back to par yet, but I didn't want to leave you guys hanging, Chris decided to take one for the team, and I am handing over the review to him for today.


Aah, ramen! Who doesn't love the convenience, the ultra-cheap price tag, and -- yes, we must admit it -- the almost frighteningly unnatural flavors? Well, here we have yet another offering in that department. This one, however, isn't Japanese. Nong Shim is a South Korea-based company that makes a number of food products, one of which is ramen -- or, as the Koreans call it, "ramyun." Not surprisingly, Nong Shim's products appeal primarily to Korean tastes. And this particular item features that most emblematic Korean flavor of all: kimchi.

Kimchi, if you're not familiar with it, is sometimes described as Korean sauerkraut. That's an oversimplification, really, although both are cabbage-based and both are fermented for a period of time before they're eaten. But beyond that, they're quite different.

In its most common form, kimchi usually contains (along with the chopped cabbage) a generous quantity of hot red pepper, plus things like garlic, daikon or radish, green onions, and there's often shredded ginger. So, in addition to the sour/salty base of pickled cabbage, you get a strong rush of heat and spice as well. Sometimes pulverized shrimp or fish are also added. Or not. Sometimes nothing is added. Sometimes it's not even cabbage based. There are probably as many variants of kimchi as there are people who eat it...and in Korea everybody eats it, pretty much daily. It's a frequent ingredient in soups and stews, and there's also kimchi fried rice. Additionally, kimchi is nearly always offered as a side dish. In fact, Koreans are so wild about kimchi that they've actually built a kimchi museum in Seoul. Clearly, the stuff's got something going for it, even if Westerners often find that it's an acquired taste. (For everything else you might possibly want to know about kimchi, click here).

All right, we know that kimchi is very adaptable. But how well does it adapt itself to a ramen-type instant noodle soup product? Let's find out...

To prepare it, all you do is open the lid halfway, add the contents of the flavor packet, pour in some boiling water, wait for three minutes, then stir and eat. (According to a tiny little graphic on the label, you should not microwave it. And given the foil lining inside the lid, you'd probably get some pretty amazing electrical arcing if you tried. Which might make for a good show, at least. I'll not speculate on the collateral damage. )

I won't bother to describe the noodles, as they're standard issue ramen, and as such are absolutely unremarkable on their own. If you've ever had ramen -- any ramen whatsoever -- then you know exactly what these noodles are like.

The broth, however, was really, really good. It's a cheerful reddish orange color, and -- delicate palates, beware! -- it packs a powerful heat punch from the red pepper. It's also got strong hints of garlic and ginger, along with little bits of carrot and green onion (which re-hydrated very well). You can also taste a dried fish note, similar to that of miso. In fact, that's pretty much what this broth tastes like: miso soup. Imagine miso soup, liberally spiked with hot pepper and spices, and you've nailed it. There's only one flavor missing here -- and the missing flavor, unfortunately, is the kimchi itself. Perhaps kimchi simply doesn't survive such processing? I don't know, but its absence is conspicuous.

So, the bottom line is that if you were hoping for an honest (or even semi-honest) kimchi munchie, this stuff will disappoint you big time. On the other hand, it's seriously tasty nonetheless. I bet it would be fantastic mixed with some actual kimchi from my local Asian market.

All of the above presents me with a rating dilemma. Therefore, I'm going to rate it twice -- a practice which Gigi usually frowns upon, but since I am guesting this review I'm gonna do it anyway, and deal with the ass kicking I'll get later...

Anyway, if rated as an allegedly KIMCHI flavored product, it's an epic fail. From that perspective I can only give it, at best...and I think I'm actually being lenient here...

...but conversely, if you think of it not as kimchi flavored, but as a really spicy miso-like flavor, it's terrific. In fact, it's about the best tasting ramen bowl I've ever had, no matter what the intended flavor. And based purely upon that, it merits:

Sorry if that seems a tad schizophrenic -- but life ain't always as cut and dried as ramen itself is.



Albertson's Supermarket




190 calories per half bowl.


Contains wheat, fish, shellfish, and soybeans. Manufactured in a facility that also processes eggs and milk.



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