In the panic-buying spree that happened when the coronavirus alert in Singapore was raised from yellow to orange, shoppers cleaned out stocks of instant and cup noodles in supermarkets.
But in desperate times, is it really feasible to boil pots of water to make bowls of noodles? Are cup noodles more practical, even if they take up more space? And if cup noodles are the way to go, which ones are worth eating?
To find out, we did a taste test of 29 varieties from different brands.
These were chosen from the selection at FairPrice Xtra in Ang Mo Kio Hub.
The 29 cups and bowls included basic flavours such as chicken, and exotic ones like Korean army stew, hot chicken cheese and mala xiang guo. Easy availability was the main consideration and the selection included Singapore, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian and Malaysian brands.
On the judging panel were Sunday Times Senior Food Correspondent Wong Ah Yoke; chef Bjorn Shen of middle-eastern restaurant Artichoke and micro pizza restaurant Small’s, both in Middle Road; and this reporter.
The blind taste test was done at Relish, chef Willin Low’s restaurant at Frasers Tower in Cecil Street.
Sunday Times interns Lim Rei Enn and Gwyneth Low administered the test, randomly assigning numbers to the varieties of noodles. They also cooked them, following instructions on the bowls and cups to the letter. The noodles were then transferred into generic bowls and taken to the judges.
Mr Wong and Shen eat instant noodles, and prefer the ones that come in packets rather than cups or bowls because they often add vegetables and meat to make a complete meal. Shen identified several of the noodles and his guesses proved to be correct when all was revealed at the end of the test.
The judges graded the noodles using three criteria – taste, noodle texture and quality of condiments and sauces, with a maximum of 10 points for each one.
The varieties that promised extreme spiciness delivered, although this was not always a good thing. They prompted prolonged coughing fits among the judges, and the heat also numbed their tastebuds to any nuance the noodles might otherwise have had.
Basic flavours were, on the whole, disappointing. This is because cup noodle technology has advanced so far that chicken seems plain in a market filled with more robust and exciting flavours.
“Why would I want to eat instant noodles from 20 years ago?” asked Mr Wong, after tasting a particularly bland offering.
This is not to say that exotica always made the grade.
Two of the Korean ones promised cheese, but delivered nothing remotely resembling it. In fact, at the end of the test, none of the judges could remember tasting anything dairy in any of the noodles.
This problem plagued several of the varieties in the test: the packaging promised flavours which were not discernible.
A couple were downright nasty.
“I would pay not to eat this,” said Shen of one of the varieties.
Noodle texture was a problem with more than a few varieties. Although they were cooked following the times stated on the packaging, some were mushy on the outside and rock hard at the core. Others had what Shen described as a texture similar to styrofoam.
The best cup and bowl noodles had one thing in common – laser-sharp flavours.
A distinct citrus tang in Mie Sedaap’s cup noodles made the judges sit up and take notice. Myojo’s mala xiang guo earned praised for its authentic Sichuan pepper flavour. Golden Chef, a FairPrice housebrand, produced noodles that had a flavoursome miso soup.
The top cup was from China brand Shizuren. It earned 25 points out of 30.
It was also the most elaborate and pricey one. Each cup costs $3.20 and inside are multiple packets, containing potato starch noodles, seasoning powder, sauce, sheets of dried beancurd, dehydrated bean sprouts and peanuts that stayed crunchy despite sitting in boiling hot water.
Springy noodles, authentic flavours and a myriad textures made it stand out from the rest.
Chef Shen gave it the ultimate accolade.
“Totally worth eating,” he said.
Top 8 instant noodles
In a blind taste test of 29 varieties of cup noodles by Senior Food Correspondent Wong Ah Yoke, chef Bjorn Shen of Artichoke and Small’s, and Food Editor Tan Hsueh Yun, these eight emerged tops: