Instant noodles come in many different packages: pillow packs (like Nissin Top Ramen), cups (like Maruchan Instant Lunch) and bowls (like Nongshim Bowl Noodle). How do they differ? The cups and bowls use a method known as steeping; rather than cooking stovetop in boiling water, water is brought to a boil and then added to the container. Noodle bowls can deliver a lot of character and travel easily for a quick work lunch. They're truly effortless, if not literally 'instant'—even the blocks of noodles found in cups and bowls are designed to allow the water to touch all surfaces, hydrating without any stirring required.
Earlier in the year, I shared my top ten list of pillow pack instant ramen. Now for the other side of the coin; after sampling over 1,100 instant noodle varities over the years, I've narrowed down my top ten instant noodle bowls of 2013. Check 'em out below!
#10 JFC Japanese Style Noodle Soup Curry Flavour (South Korea)
Fresh udon noodles and a curry sauce that's thick and luxuriant. If you're in need of a curry fix, look no further! Every time I see it on a store shelf, I get this kind of warm, fuzzy feeling.
#9 Ottogi Spaghetti Ramen (South Korea)
A fun bowl filled with thick South Korean ramyun noodles, a sweet powder, and a sweet-and-slightly-spicy spaghetti sauce. A nice twist on a classic.
#8 Little Cook Spicy Beef Flavor (Thailand)
This one features firm noodles, a spicy broth with beef and curry notes and fake meat that's surprisingly good. The myriad different components collide in an irresistible way.
#7 Nongshim Chapagetti Roasted Chajang Noodle (United States)
Although Nongshim originated in South Korea, they've since moved their base of operation to Southern California. Chajang is a traditional Chinese black bean sauce that's wonderful with noodles; this particular variety is the first I've ever actually seen in a bowl. What's more, it's easy to make and has an excellent, hearty flavor to compliment the great noodles.
#6 Paldo Kokomen Spicy Chicken Flavor King Cup (South Korea)
Kokomen is a South Korean ramyun with a light or white broth. It's got a chicken and jalapeno kind of flavor that's really quite excellent. The translation from pack to bowl is exemplary, losing none of the quality.
#5 Little Cook Mushroom Vegetarian Premium Noodle (Thailand)
A combination of high-quality noodles and nice broth is one thing, but these guys also include a pouch packed with really nice vegetables, for a more gourmet feel. I've never been a big fan of mushrooms, but I have to admit that these are really quite good.
#4 Yamamoto Ponpoko Tempura Udon Fried Noodles Bowl (Japan)
Thick, slightly chewy noodles and a broth with bold soy flavor. Tempura adds a satisfying crunch. Check out the original review to see why this one's got a great name.
#3 Maruchan Midori No Tanuki Instant Soba Bowl (Japan)
The only one from last year's list to remain. Although it slipped out of first place, this is a seriously excellent bowl of noodles. The buckwheat noodles have a delicate crumble and the broth is nice and rich. The disk of tempura is a real treat.
#2 FoodMon DJ-DOC Instant Ramen Rice Toppokki (South Korea)
Topokki are like really thick, chewy short noodles. They're usually served with a spicy red sauce; here they join instant noodles along with the spicy sauce to make a succulent kind of South Korean lasagna-esque feast.
#1 Nissin Raoh Rich Soy Sauce Flavor (Japan)
All I can say is that this stuff is epic. The noodles are extremely good and of very high quality. The broth is as rich as the name purports, as well. What's more, it comes with a slice of roast pork which hydrates nicely, with impressive texture and flavor. This is where it's at!
For more info about these and the over 1,000 different other varieties, check out The Ramen Rater.