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.
Originally published 12-16-2015, updated 4-25-2019.
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 store in America. So, when that’s what you’ve got, here’s what you can do!
6 Ways to Upgrade Instant Ramen
1. Use Your Own Broth
Ditch the salty packet of MSG 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
Adding fresh aromatics to your broth really gives 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
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
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.
5. Add a Protein
My favorite protein to add to my ramen is an egg because it’s just so easy and I always have them. 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
Time to go wild! Top off your ramen with lots of fun goodies to give your bowl flavor, color, and texture. Here are some fun ideas: sriracha, kimchi, sesame seeds, crumbled bacon, nori (dried seaweed), fresh herbs (cilantro, Thai basil, chives), a drizzle of toasted sesame oil, crushed chiles, furikake, or a wedge of lime.
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.
My Favorite Quick Fix Upgrade Combo
The bowl shown in the photos in this post is sort of the ultimate version of how to upgrade instant ramen, but on a regular run-of-the-mill day I kind of go half way between plain and the ultimate version. Here is how I usually upgrade my instant ramen:
Upgraded Instant Ramen
- 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
- 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.
And then depending on whatever else I have in my kitchen, I might add some other fun stuff in, like in the photos. :)
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!