I Tried 17 Different Korean Instant Noodles — These Are the Ones That Have a Permanent Spot in My Pantry

updated Jun 12, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Credit: Photo: Andrew Bui | Food Stylist: Tyna Hoang | Prop Stylist: Casha Doemland

As an unofficial Korean ramyun instant noodle expert, I’ve slurped countless amounts of noodles. My mom confirmed I was slurping noodles as a baby, and she was slightly concerned about my love for noodles at such a young age. Fast forward to now, I always have at least 10 varieties of instant noodles filling rows of my bookshelves.

There are three major components that make up an instant noodle package: dried, most-likely-fried noodles, broth seasonings or sauce packets, and dried flakes. Each element gives the instant ramyun unique characteristics. Is the noodle circular or rectangular? Is the seasoning powder-based or sauce-based? What types of dried vegetables do I see? I geek out on these details whenever I try something new.

The combination of savory broth (or sauce), chewy noodles, and a variety of flavorful toppings make this beloved staple a fantastic meal that satisfies all of my taste buds. But with so many creative options hitting shelves each year, choosing where to start can be confusing and overwhelming. On behalf of all the noodle lovers out there, I set out to test over a dozen different raymuns. Here’s what I discovered.

How I Tested the Instant Ramyuns

I carefully selected 17 different noodles that I noticed at most H-Mart stores and Asian markets. When it comes to instant ramyun, there are mainly two big categories: brothy ones and non-brothy ones. But Korean ramyun offers way too many varieties just to shrink them into two big umbrellas. (Within the umbrella category of brothy ones, some are extremely spicy and others are mild with no hint of spice.) So I grouped them into different subcategories to cover as many different kinds as possible. Think of these categories as guides, not rigid rules. 

Even though I’m a big fan of zhuzhing up my instant ramyun with other proteins and vegetables, for the sake of testing I didn’t add any additional ingredients. I followed the instructions exactly, paying attention to the amount of water. (Some ramyun noodles require more water than others, and not measuring correctly changes the flavors dramatically!) 

I also know that making multiple packages of noodles at once might result in different flavors than making one singular package; so to keep things consistent, I tasted a single package across each option. After a day of boiling and tasting, I found the ones that deserve a permanent spot in my pantry.

Credit: James Park

Best Overall: Nongshim Shin Noodle Soup

Since hitting the Korean market in 1986, Shin ramyun has been one of the most popular ramyun in and out of Korea. One of many reasons this iconic ramyun has remained at the top of the chart is the distinct spicy flavors in the broth. 

Drawing inspiration from many spicy soups in Korean cuisine, Shin Ramyun has created a perfect formula for broth that balances the deep, flavorful, and mouthwatering peppery taste. The ruby-red seasoning powder contains flavoring agents like onion, kelp, and mushroom extracts and transforms water into a deep-red broth instantly. The smell of strong spicy peppers and onions hits your nose within seconds. The noodles are bouncy, and the dried flakes resemble dehydrated scallions and carrots. 

Compared to other brands, it had the most ideal flavor balance that hit all the notes of spice and umami. I might be slightly biased (I have so many nostalgic memories with this brand), but it represents what a standard Korean ramyun should taste like more than anything else I tried. Even though there are other versions of Shin Ramyun, like Shin Ramyun Black and Shin Ramyun Non-Frying Noodles, which I enjoy, I see myself always coming back to the original. 

Pro tip: Don’t throw away any broth after you devour the noodles. It goes perfectly with slightly cold rice, which absorbs all the flavors when added to the broth. I like to leave a little bit of noodles in the broth too, so I can enjoy noodles and rice in one perfect bite.

Buy: Nongshim Shin Noodle Soup, $12.99 for 10 packages at Weee! (originally $14.99)

Credit: James Park

Best for Seafood-Lovers: Ottogi Jin Jjambbong Spicy Seafood Noodle

Ottogi has a whole lineup of Jin Ramyun, including the original Jin Ramyun, which is considered one of the most affordable instant noodles in Korea. But Jin Jjambbong, inspired by a popular Korean-Chinese dish called jjamppong, delivers spicy, savory, seafood-forward flavors like no other. It’s on the pricey side, compared to other Jin Ramyun, but its components and flavors make the extra cost worth it. 

Compared to other types of noodles, these are flatter rather than circular, but still wavy, mimicking the look of hand-pulled noodles used for jjamppong. Dried vegetable flakes are more abundant than other brands, with sizable chunks of dried seafood, like squid. The biggest difference, though, is the seasoning packets. 

The seasoning is liquid, not powder, which dissolves in water quickly, and it even comes with a small package of chili oil, which you add toward the end, emphasizing the fiery taste that resembles being cooked in the hot wok. The broth tastes like rich seafood stock, mixed with savory chicken broth. It’s not super spicy, but there’s enough spice that allows you to taste different layers of vegetables and a variety of seafood that makes up the seasonings.

The final result tastes more like a dish you would expect from Korean-Chinese restaurants than an instant noodle package. To amp up the seafood flavors even more, I recommend adding a handful of frozen seafood mix.  

Buy: Ottogi Jin Jjambbong Spicy Seafood Noodle, $7.49 for 4 packages at Weee!

Credit: James Park

Best for Extreme Heat Enthusiasts: Ottogi Yeul Super Spicy Ramen

If the big red peppers on the packaging don’t warn you how spicy this is, let me: This is truly one of the spiciest Korean noodles I’ve ever had. The dangerous smell of spicy seasoning powder will hit your nose immediately (be careful, you’ll probably cough!). It has a more red pepper flakes-forward taste than Shin Ramyun, and when you take a sip of the broth, it might even hurt your stomach a little bit (based on my personal experience). 

Even though Yeul ramen has had a dedicated fan base for many years, it became even more mainstream recently, thanks to the viral recipe that adds silken tofu. Silken tofu mellows down the spice in the broth, and the pudding-like tofu texture goes really well with the noodles. And, as someone who sweats so much while slurping this noodle, I highly recommend adding silken tofu. It’s a quick way to replicate the flavors of soondubu jjigae, a Korean spicy silken tofu soup.  

Buy: Ottogi Yeul Super Spicy Ramen, $13.63 for 5 packages at Amazon

Credit: James Park

Best Non-Spicy: Paldo Gomtang

Not all Korean instant noodles are spicy, though, and this beefy, rich noodle has been a staple in my collection for many years. Compared to other non-spicy noodles, this tastes the closest to beef bone broth, or seollungtang (Korean ox-bone soup). And the beefy seasoning powder is super versatile, used as a base for other dishes like yukgejang (Korean spicy beef soup) or tteokbokki. 

The noodles are thinner than the other brands I tried, mimicking the textures of somen that’s used in bone broth soup. It’s slightly garlicky, wonderfully rich, and mild yet very flavorful. If you have a few slices of leftover beef, I recommend adding them here to make the noodles extra hearty. 

Buy: Paldo Gomtang, $6.29 for 5 packages at Weee! (originally $6.99)

Credit: Zety Akhzar / Shutterstock

Best Cheesy with a Kick: Samyang Buldak Ramen Carbonara

I can’t even keep up with the wide varieties of Buldak Ramen. There are at least five or six different brands when I walk into my local bodega (!), which is truly impressive. Samyang Buldak ramen is famous for its next-level, mouth-punching spicy sauce. The original and extra-spicy ones damaged my tongue for good (and yes, I still devour them!). If you are looking for something that has that iconic buldak sauce, sans permanent scarring, this carbonara is exceptional. 

Compared to other brands, this one doesn’t come with any dried vegetable flakes. Even the original buldak has a packet with toasted sesame seeds and seaweed, but this particular kind only has noodles, buldak sauce, and cheese powder. The noodles are slightly thicker than other kinds, reminiscent of knife-cut noodles, and they still have those square-ish shapes, not the circular ones. 

The cheesy powder that comes on top of its iconic blood-like liquid seasoning changes the flavors and textures of the spicy noodle. The powder, which has little flakes of dried parsley, adds a creamy coat to the noodles and it tastes as if you’ve just made a cream sauce with milk, Parmesan, and a little bit of cream cheese; it’s slightly sweet and milky. I recommend adding even more cheese, like American or mozzarella (which is my go-to), to this to turn it into the cheesiest noodles you can imagine. Oh, it’s still spicy — not to the way it destroys your tongue, but similar to Sriracha spice, so don’t underestimate the buldak sauce.  

Buy: Samyang Buldak Carbo Hot Chicken Flavor Ramen, $7.99 for 5 packages at Umamicart (originally $8.99)

Credit: James Park

Best Brothless Cold Noodles: Paldo Bibimmen

Inspired by a popular noodle dish Bibim Guksu, this spicy and tangy noodle is a refreshing change in the collection of brothy noodles. The liquid, zingy-and-spicy seasoning coats the noodles effortlessly, as if coating the pasta with tomato sauce. It’s especially ideal for hot summer days when you don’t feel like sweating while slurping spicy, brothy noodles. 

Compared to other cold noodles, it has more zesty flavors than mouth-punching heat. You distinctly taste the acidic zing in the sauce, which makes your mouth water while slurping the noodles. The spice level isn’t so aggressive, but it lingers in your mouth pleasantly.

Great as is, it also pairs well with herbs like perilla leaves or chives. My favorite way to enjoy this noodle is to top it off with oily canned tuna. The residual oil from canned tuna balances well with the punchy, spicy sauce, and it’s an easy, satisfying meal in 10 minutes.  

Buy: Paldo Bibimmen, $6.99 for 5 packages at Weee!

Credit: James Park

Best Black Bean Noodles: Paldo Jjajangmen

One of the most popular subcategories of Korean instant noodles is black bean noodles. And ever since the success of the iconic Korean movie Parasite, many people have become aware of Jjapaghetti, powder-based black bean noodles. Jjapaghetti’s unique formula mimics the savory taste of jjajangmyeon, but it has a less-concentrated, earthy flavor of black bean paste. It’s still packed with umami. If you are looking for a thick jjajang sauce with chunks of vegetables, this instant noodle brand comes closest

It comes with a generous portion of thick jjajang sauce, more than any other jjajang ramen brand. It’s sweet and slightly earthy from black bean paste. Visible chunks of vegetables in the liquid-based sauce make you think you are eating the restaurant-quality jjajangmyeon, not the instant version. 

I would fry pork belly and diced onions to make it taste even closer to jjajangmyeon and amp up the pork fat flavors, often used as a base of building jjajangmyeon sauce. I’m not saying this is better than jjapaghetti; it feels like you are comparing apples and oranges. But if you are in the mood for an extra-saucy, highly slurpable black bean noodle experience instantly, this is the best option. 

Buy: Paldo Jjajangmen, $6.29 for 4 packages at Weee! (originally $7.49)

Did your favorite make the list? Tell us about it in the comments.