6 Ways to Upgrade Instant Ramen

by Beth - Budget Bytes
4.69 from 32 votes
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Confession time: sometimes I actually like instant ramen. You know, those cheap little packets of salty noodles that only cost 30¢? I don’t eat them often, maybe once per year, but when I get the craving I’m totally not above grabbing a packet of instant noodles and going to town. Over the years I’ve found 6 easy ways to upgrade instant ramen, like to the point where it might actually qualify as a legit meal, AND use up the leftovers in my kitchen at the same time. So I’m going to share them with you today because it’s a total win-win.

A big bowl of ramen with a soft boiled egg, tofu cubes, spinach, bell pepper, and sliced green onion on the side.

Yeah, that’s instant ramen in that bowl in the photo above. And those upgrades were pretty inexpensive.

Now it’s obvious that the best way to upgrade instant ramen is to just get real ramen (from a restaurant or good quality noodles from an Asian grocery store), but that’s not what we’re talking about today.

We’re talking about when your only option, or your preferred option, is the inexpensive little ramen packets that you can find in just about any grocery or convenience storea. So, when that’s what you’ve got, here’s how you can spice up your bowl and turn it into fancy ramen!

What to Add to Ramen

Instant ramen is a blank slate for all sorts of flavors and ingredients, so you can really have fun when customizing your bowl! Here is a summary of some of the things that I like to add to a bowl of instant ramen to take it up a level:

  • Broth: experiment with using your own broth and different flavors of broth (vegetable, coconut, curry, shrimp base, etc.)
  • Aromatics: Adding a few fresh aromatics, like garlic, ginger, or scallions, can really add a lot of depth to the flavor of your broth.
  • Sauces: scour your fridge for sauces that you can stir into the bowl, like sriracha, chili crisp, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, fish sauce, or even peanut butter.
  • Vegetables: Instant ramen is a great way to use up leftover vegetables in your fridge. They add color, flavor, and texture to every bite!
  • Protein: Make your bowl a little heartier by adding in some rotisserie chicken, cooked shrimp, a soft-boiled egg, or some tofu.
  • Toppers: I like to add a little flair at the end, whether it be something for texture like sesame seeds or furikake, or something fresh like cilantro. It’s just another layer of delicious that takes the ramen over the top!

how to Make Instant Ramen Better – Step by Step

A clump of noodles being lifted out of the bowl of upgraded ramen with chopsticks.

1. Use Your Own Broth

A jar of vegetable flavored Better Than Bouillon

Skip the flavoring packet and use your own broth, whatever kind you prefer. I like to use either vegetable or chicken flavored Better Than Bouillon (I do half broth, half water to keep the salt down), but you could also use a homemade bone broth, dashi, or even just some miso mixed with water. Not only does this give you more control over the salt and other ingredients, but it offers you a lot of flavor options!

2. Add Aromatics

Garlic, sliced green onion, and ginger on a cutting board.

Upgrading instant ramen is all about the add ins, and that begins with adding fresh aromatics to your broth to really give the flavor some oomph. I like to add fresh garlic, ginger, and green onion. I usually have all three of these on hand (I keep my ginger in the freezer), so it’s a no-brainer. Plus, fresh ginger gives the soup a pleasant medicinal quality that is great when you’re under the weather.

TIP: Mince the garlic and grate the ginger. Sauté both in a little oil for a minute or so before adding your broth to the pot. The green onion can either be sprinkled over top at the end, sautéed with the ginger and garlic, or both!

3. Sauce it Up

Add Sambal to Garlic and Ginger in the sauce pot

If you’re like me, you have no less than 20 half-used bottles of sauces in your fridge. Well, Instant ramen is a great way to use up some of those sauces. You can stir sambal, chili garlic sauce, sriracha, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, fish sauce, gochujang, soy suace, or any number of other sauces into your broth for more flavor. Or add them to the finished bowl as a sort of table seasoning.

TIP: Adding sauces usually comes with added salt, so keep this in mind when choosing your broth. That is one reason I like to do half broth and half water—it gives me more wiggle room to add sauces later.

4. Add Vegetables

Salad Bar Vegetables in a take-out container with tofu.

I looooove my bowl of ramen packed full of vegetables. This is where it gets really fun and useful. Browse your fridge for any vegetable that might need to be used up, like carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, cabbage, and more. You can also toss in frozen vegetables, like broccoli florets, peas, or corn.

TIP: If you don’t have any vegetables in your fridge, stop by the salad bar at your local grocery and grab a small handful or two of your favorite vegetables. That way you don’t have to buy a whole package of each one. You can also score protiens like tofu (see photo above) or rotisserie chicken to toss in there.

Spinach being added to cooked ramen in the sauce pot.

5. Add a Protein

Close up of Chopsticks lifting noodles out of an upgraded bowl of instant ramen, with a soft boiled egg.

My favorite protein to add to my ramen is an egg because it’s just so easy and I always have them (soft boiled egg or hard boiled egg). But there are so many more options! Tofu cubes, sliced tempeh, rotisserie chicken, ground pork (browned), shelled edamame, pulled pork, shrimp, you name it!

TIP: You can crack a raw egg straight into your simmering broth and let it cook for about 6 minutes. Make sure the broth is not vigorously boiling or the egg will break apart into a million pieces and just make the broth cloudy. For the egg in the photo above, I cooked it separately, using my easy 6-minute Soft Boiled Egg method, and then added it to the finished bowl.

6. Top it Off

Sriracha being drizzled on a bowl of upgraded Instant Ramen.

Time to go wild! Top off your ramen with lots of fun goodies to give your bowl flavor, color, and texture. Here are some things to add to ramen:

  • Sriracha
  • Kimchi
  • Sesame seeds
  • Crumbled bacon
  • Nori (dried seaweed)
  • Fresh herbs (cilantro, Thai basil, chives)
  • Sesame oil
  • Crushed chiles
  • Furikake
  • Fresh lime
An upgraded bowl of instant ramen, viewed from above, being eaten with chopsticks

And that’s it! That’s all it takes to turn a sad little packet of instant noodles to a truly epic bowl that I’m sure I’d probably pay at least $8 for in a restaurant. 

An opened package of instant ramen with other ingredients around it, including green onions, chile paste, and garlic.
 

My Favorite Instant Ramen Recipe:

The bowl of instant ramen shown in the photos in this the ultimate representation of how to make ramen better, but on a regular run-of-the-mill day, I kind of go halfway between plain and the ultimate version. Here favorite upgraded ramen recipe:

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Upgraded Instant Ramen

4.69 from 32 votes
When all you have (or want) is one of those little cheap packets of noodles, here are 6 easy ways to upgrade instant ramen and make it a legit meal.  
Close up of Chopsticks lifting noodles out of an upgraded bowl of instant ramen, with a soft boiled egg.
Servings 1 to 2
Cook 10 minutes
Total 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 handful sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 package instant ramen (seasoning discarded)
  • 1 handful fresh spinach
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • sriracha to taste

Instructions 

  • Add the oil, garlic, and ginger to a small sauce pot and sauté over medium for about one minute.
  • Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté for about a minute more.
  • Add the broth and water, and bring to a boil.
  • Once boiling, add the uncooked ramen noodles. Boil for about 3 minutes, or just until they are tender. Do not overcook the noodles.
  • Stir in the spinach until wilted. Turn the heat down to low, crack the egg into the broth, and let sit for about six minutes, or until the egg whites are cooked and the yolk is still runny.
  • Transfer the soup to one or two bowls, then top with sriracha and sliced green onion.

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Nutrition

Serving: 1ServingCalories: 547.6kcalCarbohydrates: 60.1gProtein: 17.6gFat: 26.2gSodium: 1238.6mgFiber: 3.1g
Read our full nutrition disclaimer here.
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And then depending on whatever else I have in my kitchen, I might add some other fun stuff in, like in the photos. :) Want to meal prep it? Check out our Meal Prep Noodle Soup Jars!

Try These Other Instant Ramen Flavors:

What About You?

Share your favorite ways to upgrade instant ramen in the comments below! I love reading all the unique and creative combos people come up with for their ramen!

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  1. Lol bags out 30c noodles as once a year thing on a budget food website, meanwhile people like me rely on them to be able to afford to eat. Classy writing.

  2. One interesting thing to do with plain ramen is – after boiling it, dump the water/broth, then fry it in olive oil at medium heat (you need to play with settings on your stove) You come up with a delightful crunchy/crispy snack you can nibble on all night.

  3. This showed up in a perfect time! I just visited my local Asian food store and came home with a 12 pack of ramen noodles – just the woven noodles – no flavor pouches to throw away. This gives me a great head start on taking them from bland to grand!

  4. This is good, but I confess that your Ramen with mixed vegetables, coconut milk, and curry powder remains my all time favorite Ramen recipe. I love that I can use the broth packet that comes with the ramen, and the additions can easily be packed to take to work and cooked in the microwave. Sometimes I go all out and add chicken or tofu as well.

  5. I am always interested in finding new recipes and new ways to cook with simple on hand ingredients. Anything you have throw my way. There are just two of us to feed. Sue

  6. I’ve made this recipe a few times now and really love it! I’d been looking for ways to make instant ramen feel more like a proper meal, and this one is easier for me than a lot of other ones I found (cooking has always been stressful for me). I hadn’t considered hitting up a salad bar to avoid wasting produce and for things I don’t keep on hand!

    I make a soft-boiled egg beforehand and let it chill in the ice bath while I make the ramen. I used 2 cups of water instead of broth, since I didn’t have any, then added some frozen corn and a couple dashes of sesame oil. I toss in about half of the seasoning packet with the noodles, then top with the egg and the recommended toppings. Definitely going to experiment more going forward!

    1. Wow, you did a great job with that, Connor! I was reading your review and it struck me, I’ve had the problem in the past regarding not having broth on hand and having to use water. Water lacks the flavor that broth offers. SO, I want to share with you that I bought veggie cubes at Whole Foods and keep them handy. Just boil some water and drop a block or two in and voila! You ALWAYS have broth on hand!

  7. Now I can’t think of eating my Ramen any other way! It made it and it is SO good!!

  8. I made your Meal Prep Noodle Soup Jars and lands sakes these are so great! I had 2 in one day they are so good. The broth is so delicious and the mushrooms give such great texture. The ramen noodles are great along with the spinach. I used toasted sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds. I am going to try a variation with a wild rice blend to see if they would work for my gluten free sister. As always, your recipes are always great to try as you explain why you use the ingredients and technics that you do! Keep up the great work.