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How to Make Instant Noodles Taste Like a Feast

Chile Powder

First, a quick reminder of what we’re up to here. We want tasty noodles, and we want them quick; we don’t want to make a lot of mess; we don’t want to break the bank. “Taste like a feast” is relative too. You can always splurge, but what if you’re on a tight budget? Like a grad student (or any college student, for that matter), or you’re off work and don’t have spare cash lying around? These ideas are quick, cheap and oh-so-tasty…

In fact, most of the ideas here can be purchased for the loose change you’ll find under your Aunt Matilda’s sofa cushions. Any add-in items or sides we’ll talk about can be prepared during the time it takes to heat the water and steep the noodles, so you don’t have to spend more time than necessary to get things going. You may even find you can use up leftovers as well, stretching the ol’ food budget even further!

BasilThere are at least three main classes of items you can use as instant noodle enhancers: Seasonings, sauces and fresh items. The seasonings category is one of the simplest. Besides the mundane salt and pepper, you can simply stock a jar or three of bouillon: chicken, spicy tomato, whatever you like. Dried herbs work too, and there are many to choose from, like parsley and basil. I make sure to keep three or four varieties of “curry powder” available as well. A little shake and voila! You’ve got a completely different flavor. And don’t forget chile powders of all kinds, from cayenne to chipotle to guajillo. Powdered ginger, ground star anise, cinnamon, cardamom and ground garlic all punch up the flavor of ordinary noodles; you can’t go wrong with garlic in any case!

I made up a small shaker of seasonings I keep on my spice shelf. Using chicken bouillon powder as a base, I added some cayenne, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and garlic powder. I ground the cinnamon, cloves and cardamom in my trusty coffee grinder from bulk spices, so I didn’t spend a lot making this “noodle rub.” A hint for getting your grinder clean, either to use for spices or put it back into service for coffee: Grind a small scoop of rice! Do this 2-4 times and you’ll be ready to change the grinder over to different service. Just don’t leave spice residue in your active coffee grinder or you’ll get funny flavored java. (Take it from a pro, you don’t want to go there.)

For sauces, I like several, from very mild to extra-zesty. Soy sauce comes immediately to mind; I use that one in place of salt, actually. Other bottled products are found on my Asian condiments shelf in my fridge: Sriracha, garlic chili sauce, sambal oelek, sweet chilli sauce, hoisin; the list goes on. I’ve also use Bufalo Salsa Picante, even Tabasco, when I was on the road. Fish sauce and fish oil are good, light flavorants as well. Whatever you like, use it! None of these are expensive, at least the brands I enjoy.

Fresh items include herbs, like Thai basil, parsley or cilantro. You can also add ginger bits; I especially like the pink pickled ginger often used in Japanese Bento. (I know, “pickled” isn’t “fresh.” However, it’s not a dry powder either!) Top with slices of hard-boiled egg and you’ll see a dramatic difference in appearance and flavor. Bean sprouts, slivered green onion and chile pepper slices are always good items to toss in on top of the steeping noodles. Squeeze a slice of lime across the top and the flavor will simply burst in your mouth, and one small lime is good for several bowls!

Noodles with Egg

Maybe you don’t like instant noodles because there’s no real meat in them. Well, that’s easy to fix! Cooked chicken, leftover or from a can, does wonders for these dishes. Roast beef, sliced very thin or shredded, can also make a bowl of “just noodles” into a regular nosh-up. Leftover shrimp, or a few frozen ones nuked until hot, are a great topping for seafood noodles.

These meats can also be served on the side. Include some sliced egg, fresh sprouts, green onion slices, whatever looks “Asian” to you, and you’ve done the trick. See how easy it is to eat like an Emperor? (Or Empress, if you don’t want to go through that operation.) So get out there and try some instant noodles! Your bank account will love you for it…

Enjoy the (Punched-up Flavorful Noodle) Heat!

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