Whether you're a penny-pinching college student or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of eating cheap, a good bowl of ramen can be a godsend of a meal — even if it can be a bit messy to eat. The pack of dehydrated noodles may seem bewildering to the ramen novice, but the eat never disappoints. It's hard to resist a warm bowl of noodles that cooks in mere minutes — but also, let's be honest, simply adding hot water to your noodles and spice packet just doesn't do them any justice.
Ramen is a traditionally Japanese dish consisting of wheat noodles, broth, and a number of different additives, from pork to seaweed to green onions. The possibilities are endless. Your 25-cent grocery store ramen provides you with the basics — noodles and broth — but thinking creatively will help you transform your bowl into something even more delicious.
Thankfully, even someone lacking most culinary skills can amp up their ramen game without breaking the bank. Adding some basics to your pantry and freezer will make you equipped to turn any bowl of noodles into a gourmet meal without the gourmet price. So test out these hacks yourself — I guarantee you'll never look at those dehydrated noodles the same way again.
1. Switch Out the Broth For Miso
Take a break from the flavor packet for a different, more wholesome taste. Mix in a spoonful of miso paste with your water and your bowl o' noodles will become tastier and healthier — not to mention more authentic.
You can typically find miso paste in major grocery stores; it has a savory, "umami" taste, which is one of the five basic tastes (including salty, sweet, sour, and bitter) that is often found in broths and cooked meats. "Umami" is somewhat hard to describe, but once you are familiar enough with "umami" tastes, you come to recognize and appreciate it: it involves taste receptors in the tongue that respond to glutamates, and can be translated from Japanese into English as "pleasant savory taste." Beyond miso, you can find it in certain cheeses, meats, and fish — all of which may be worth looking into for elevating your ramen, considering the flavor profiles will mesh well.
If you're struggling to find miso paste in the grocery store, or just want a more convenient way to get your hands on it, you have plenty of options for buying it online too — Amazon has a $9 version you can get sent to you via Amazon Prime, no muss, no fuss.
2. Crack An Egg In It
Honest question: Is there anything an egg doesn't improve? The possibilities for adding some yolk-y goodness to your noodles are great: Toss in a hardboiled egg, mix in some scrambled eggs, or add a raw egg to the pot and allow it to cook in your broth for a couple minutes.
If you're not used to cooking eggs or incorporating them into your food, there's a super easy way to go about it — Amazon sells egg cookers that will bring most of your egg visions to life. These egg cookers will allow you to cook up to six eggs at a time, depending on the method you're using, and in a variety of different ways. While a lot of ramen dishes typically come with medium-boiled egg halves in the broth, you can choose to have yours medium, hard, or soft-boiled using the egg cooker, or even elect to use it to add a poached egg (something that a lot of egg novices find difficult to do on their own). And an egg cooker may be worth the investment long-term, if you're someone who likes to add them to dishes when you can — heck, maybe this will inspire you to add more eggs to your routine in general.
3. Pour In Frozen Veggies
OK so maybe a bowl of noodles isn't the healthiest meal — but a cup of vegetables can fix that. Not to mention, adding in frozen vegetables is a lot easier and more affordable than you think; whereas fresh vegetables might run you up a tab, frozen ones are generally cheaper since they're coming in bulk, will last longer (for all your future ramen endeavors), and are actually ideal for cooking with dishes like ramen, since they'll thaw in the heating process.
Next time you decide to fix yourself up some ramen for a cozy night in, throw in some frozen peas, carrots, and broccoli two to three minutes before your ramen is done cooking for some extra nutrients, flavor, and texture. You can start with just one variety of veggie, or throw in the whole lot — the beauty of ramen hacks is figuring out which version you like best, and the more vegetables you try in it, the closer you'll get to making yourself the ultimate bowl.
Plus, having frozen veggies on hand is never a bad idea, in case you want to incorporate them in other dishes too — once you get good at experimenting with ramen, you might get a little bolder trying out new things with other meals in your usual rotation.
4. Sprinkle In Soy Sauce
If you like things on the salty side, then soy sauce, or shoyu, is for you. For anyone who is looking for something to jazz their ramen up, but isn't particularly confident about their skills in the kitchen, this is the ideal hack for you just because of the sheer simplicity of it: to start, try adding just a teaspoon to your ramen, which should add the perfect amount of salty flavor to a bowl of noodles without overpowering it. You may decide ultimately that you want a little more or a little less, depending on your "salt tooth," but this is a good place to start.
This is also a decent "hack" just because it pairs so well with all the other ones — if you like your broth a little saltier, it will only serve to enhance the other hacks that you might want to try, soy sauce is so versatile in flavor. If you really want to jazz it up, you can look into different flavored soy sauces, which should be available online or in the specialty aisles of select grocery stores — in the meantime, though, you can't go wrong with traditional soy sauce, which ought to do the trick.
5. Add Some Fresh Greens
Frozen vegetables are an affordable and quick fix for adding in some vitamins and flavor, but consider fresher ones, too. To keep it relatively affordable, try going for vegetables that are currently in season, so you're more likely to get a decent price; whereas fresh green onion and bok choy, which are often found in ramen, can give it a more traditional dose of green, they're certainly not the be-all, end-all of your fresh vegetable options.
The vegetables currently in season will depend not just on the time of year, but where you live — a good resource for checking is the Seasonal Food Guide, which has an online search tool that allows you to refine by the month, your location, or the type of produce that you're interested in. You'll also find that if you stick to more seasonal vegetables, they'll generally taste fresher and more flavorful, which will definitely enhance the ramen experience as well as whatever you do with the vegetables you have left over. Plus, eating seasonally might inspire you to venture out and try veggies you haven't looked into before — just because you didn't grow up eating particular veggies doesn't mean it's too late to incorporate something new.
6. Mix In Some Protein
This may be slightly less of an easy hack to pull off if you're not used to cooking meat, if you're living in a dorm situation, or if you're trying to keep your options cheaper, but adding in a protein like stir-fried tofu, chicken, or beef will not only elevate the flavor of it, but will make a bowl of noodles more substantial to keep you full longer. If you're looking for ways to do it affordably, you can choose a favorite meat or meat-alternative to buy in a larger, cheaper quantity early in the week, cook it yourself, and have it on hand for meal prepping purposes — odds are there are other dishes you'll be making that week where you'll want to incorporate tofu or chicken as well.
If you really want to up your ramen game, you can even try making ramen in a slow cooker — there are a lot of ramen slow cooker recipes that are simple, require relatively few ingredients, and make the process of cooking and prepping protein a lot less intimidating. Otherwise, take this as an opportunity to learn how to cook and prep your favorite proteins — it will come in handy in your life way beyond ramen hacks.
7. Broil It
This one may not have occurred to you, but it makes for a nice crunchy twist on a classic, particularly if you prefer your ramen to be more noodle-based than soup-based. As long as you have an oven with broiling capabilities at the ready, this one is also relatively simple and doesn't require much cooking know-how.
First, simply take the ramen off the stove a few minutes before it's finished cooking. Then carefully drain the broth, and place the noodles on a sheet of sturdy aluminum foil. Put the oven on broil, then stick the aluminum foil and noodles in the oven — while keeping a close eye on them! — for a minute or two. (Seriously, this is not the moment to walk away — broiling means they'll burn pretty fast.) Ideally, you'll be left with a perfectly crunchy top layer with deliciously smooth noodles underneath, which you can then reincorporate into your broth (or just go ahead and sample plain — this is your ramen journey, after all).
This is another one of the hacks that's particularly nice just because of how versatile it is; it doesn't mess with the flavor profile at all, so you can go ahead and incorporate other things you want in the ramen without anything seeming imbalanced.
8. Make Things Spicy
There are several ways you can go about this, depending on your spice of choice, but one thing you probably already have on hand if you're a spice lover is Sriracha. The beloved bottle of hot chili sauce has become such an icon in the U.S. that it even comes in mini bottles that you can hang on your keychain for all Sriracha-related emergencies, and depending on your feelings about spicy food and ramen hacks, this one may very well qualify. Similar to the soy sauce "hack," this is among the simplest things you can do to elevate your ramen — all you have to do is add the amount of Sriracha to your ramen noodles that best fits your spice tolerance, and boom. Spicy ramen.
This is far from the only way you can add some kick to your ramen noodles — you can also try adding cayenne pepper, or go full bold and add something like Carolina reaper hot peppers. Unlike the other hacks, definitely approach this one with some caution if you're not used to spicing your own food — if you overestimate your tolerance for all things spicy, you're going to want a glass of milk to counteract it, and fast.
9. Stir Fry It
If the idea of broiling your ramen excited you, then this next method of cooking ramen will really take your noodles to the next level — as most ramen devotees know, a couple of minutes in some oil does wonders. Once the ramen noodles are cooked, toss your ramen in a wok or lightly oiled pan for a wonderfully carb-filled sauté. You can also take this as an opportunity to add some of your veggies to the stir-fry, to bring out the flavor in them and enhance them with oil.
If you're looking for ideas to jazz things up with your usual ramen fare, hopefully one of these tips and tricks to elevate your ramen resonated with you — but the truth is, ramen is such a versatile dish that there are plenty of other things you can try with it too. In fact, there are entire Reddit threads devoted to ramen, proving this dish is as beloved online as it is in our stomachs. Whatever you decide to do with your ramen, bon appetit!