The best instant ramen noodles recipe for a quick, easy, satisfying meal begins with discarding those tiny packets of seasoning and spice paste and making your own sauce, a popular Southeast Asian dipping sauce. Add crunch from fried shallots or fried garlic and fragrance from fresh herbs and you’ve got seriously delicious instant noodles.
My best instant ramen noodles recipe is so easy to make that it really doesn’t need a recipe. After you make it once you’ll never need to look at it again. It’s also incredibly delicious and like all good instant ramen recipes it’s versatile. If you follow my now-not-so-secret formula to upgrading instant ramen, you’ll always make satisfying instant noodles.
Of course, even the best instant ramen noodles can never be as satisfying as, say, a bowl of Cambodian nom banh chok, freshly made that morning, doused in a herbaceous coconut fish curry broth, sprinkled with edible flowers and foraged leaves. But we don’t always have the time or inclination to head to our favourite street food stall or local eatery, and these days… well, so many of us are staying home or in lockdown.
Instant ramen noodles can satisfy any noodle cravings if you do them right – even if you’re not an instant ramen noodle lover and have always been disappointed after resorting to a late-night meal of packet noodles and wished you’d made nachos or a cheese toastie instead. That’s you? Then you definitely need to try my best instant ramen noodles recipe. I guarantee it will convert you – as will my tried and true formula for making any instant noodles more than merely edible.
My best instant ramen noodles recipe will not be in our epic Cambodian culinary history and cookbook project, despite including the classic Cambodian dipping sauce. Our epic cookbook documents the stories and recipes of Cambodian cooks around Cambodia. If you’re a lover of Cambodian food, indeed any Southeast Asian food – as our book explores the culinary influences that Cambodia had on its neighbours Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, and vice versa – then we’re always looking for patrons and currently fund-raising for final research trips.
You can support our Cambodian culinary research and cookbook – an important, original and first-of-its-kind book in English – on the Patreon platform for as little as US$2 or US$5 or US$10 a month, or whatever you can afford. You can also make a one-off donation. If you can’t, we understand, but please spread the word and please take time to browse our recipes, especially our Cambodian recipes.
Best Instant Ramen Noodles Recipe and the Secret Formula to Jazzing Up Instant Noodles
If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a mad noodle lover. Pre-pandemic, I’d long dreamt of writing a noodle cookbook covering the history of noodles – after we finished our Cambodian cookbook, of course. Eating our way around the world tucking into bowl after bowl of handmade noodles, learning how to make noodles everywhere from Beijing (one day…) to Battambang (done), would be our reward.
I’ve been addicted to noodles my whole life – from mum’s ‘spag bol’ I loved as a little kid to Terence’s repertoire of Asian noodle dishes I’ve enjoyed during our 37 years together, from the stock of cup of noodles my parents kept in the pantry for post-school winter snacks if I got hungry before they got home from work to the instant ramen noodles I’ve long stashed away for when we’ve been too busy or too tired to cook.
During our university years in Sydney when I would hurry down to UTS after work, Terence and I would often meet in Chinatown for quick bowls of curry laksa before class. If I was running late for uni, then on the break I would hurry down to the cafeteria to buy a container of takeaway noodles in a curry sauce to quickly scoff down.
At home, instant ramen noodles sustained me during long nights studying for exams and essay writing, when I was staying at home sick with whatever bug was going around work when I was more inclined to reach for the instant noodles than Campbells soup, and when I travelled through Latin America for a year of in-country research for my Master’s degree I carried a couple of packets of instant ramen for emergencies.
My best instant ramen noodles recipe therefore came about after decades of recipe-testing, experimentation and research into what made the perfect instant ramen noodles recipe… no, it didn’t! It was purely by accident after years of adding those awful little packets of seasoning, spice paste and sauces to my instant noodles and always regretting that I had.
We happened to have a bowl of classic Cambodian dipping sauce leftover made with teuk trey (fish sauce) on the kitchen counter – the Cambodian teuk trey dipping sauce, which has cousins in Thailand and Vietnam, is made from fish sauce, birds eye chillies, garlic cloves, lime juice, and palm sugar – and I spontaneously threw the whole lot into the instant ramen noodles I’d just dropped into a bowl. It tasted great!
I was very satisfied with just that and I’ve been eating it ever since. However, that day I also spotted a little bit of leftover mince from the pad kra pao Terence had made the night before, popped that in a pan, quickly heated that up, and threw that into the bowl and stirred everything up. It was amazing stuff. I took a photo, Instagrammed it, a friend asked me for the recipe, and so here it is.
Then I started thinking about why that dipping sauce had worked so well on its own in the ramen noodles… essentially, because it’s northern Southeast Asia in a bowl. The cuisines of Cambodia, Thailand and Laos in particular are all about balance – the balance of sweet, sour, spicy, salty, and umami – everything you get in that classic dipping sauce. There’s sweetness from the palm sugar, sourness from the lime juice, spiciness from the chillies, umami and saltiness from the fish sauce.
But in addition to that combination of flavours, what also makes northern Southeast Asian cuisine so wonderful for me are the added textures and aromas that come from crispy and crunchy ingredients, such as crushed peanuts and deep-fried shallots and garlic, and the fragrance of fresh herbs, such as basil, mint and coriander. And that’s the secret formula to upgrading instant ramen, which explains why this is the best instant ramen noodles recipe.
I’m going to tell you more about my now not-so-secret formula for jazzing up your instant ramen noodles in another post and provide more winning combinations of ingredients for instant ramen success.
Tips to Making this Instant Ramen Noodles Recipe
As with anything, even with a dish as simple as the one this instant ramen recipe makes, it’s all about quality and freshness – the juice from fresh limes, garlic cloves not garlic powder, fresh fiery chillies, and great quality fish sauce.
I tend to use local Cambodian fish sauce brands for Cambodian dishes but you’d be hard-pressed to find a Cambodian fish sauce outside Cambodia. A fantastic fish sauce that’s more widely available is the Thai fish sauce brand Megachef, which is one of the most consistent fish sauces around.
Use your favourite instant ramen noodles. I actually think most instant ramen noodle brands are dreadful but I fell in love with MAMA instant noodles, a Thai brand after Thai friends who studied in the USA told me that MAMA noodles sustained them during years of bad college food. After MAMA, I recommend Nongshim Shin Ramyun Noodles. Not for the soup seasoning but the noodles. We’d love to hear from any readers who have favourite instant ramen noodle brands.
Best Instant Ramen Noodles Recipe
- 1 packet instant ramen noodles
- ¼ cup fish sauce
- 3-6 birds eye chillies finely sliced (or to taste)
- 2 garlic cloves finely sliced
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tsp palm sugar or brown/white sugar
- 1 tbsp deep-fried shallots optional
- 1 tbsp deep-fried garlic optional
- 1 tbsp peanuts roasted, peeled, crushed (optional)
- 1 tbsp fresh fragrant herbs such as basil and coriander optional
- 1 tsp spring onions or chives finely sliced (optional)
- 1 tsp chilli flakes optional
- Make the dipping sauce by combining the fish sauce, finely sliced birds eye chillies, finely sliced garlic cloves, lime juice, and palm sugar. Taste and adjust seasoning to your taste so that it’s balanced. Set aside so flavours meld.
- Boil the instant ramen noodles according to the instructions on the packet (but do not use the seasonings, spice paste and sauces that comes with the noodles). Boil until al dente and drain well.
- Combine the noodles and dipping sauce in a big bowl. Don’t add all the dipping sauce at once. Add a little and taste before adding more. Leftovers will keep well in a sealed plastic container in the fridge.
- Add some crunch by sprinkling deep-fried shallots or deep-fried garlic or crushed roasted peanuts on top, add more spice with a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes if you like, and garnish with your favourite fresh fragrant herbs, such as basil or coriander, or sprinkle on some finely sliced spring onions or chives.
Do let us know if you make our best instant ramen noodles recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.