(Slightly) Healthier Instant Noodles (SHIN!)

Instant Noodles are bad for you.

Not really news. But a Harvard study had to confirm it. It was probably an easy A.

BUT… hundreds of thousands if not millions of poor students depend on it! Not to mention the millions of Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, and Japanese (poor or not).

According to the World Instant Noodles Association (WINA), 52 countries consumed 97.7 billion servings last year alone. Among its highest consumers are China and Hong Kong, which together consumed 40.43 billion servings, followed by Indonesia, with 13.20 billion servings consumed. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. is not too far behind with 4 billion instant noodles consumed in 2015.

And of course the 6 non-health conscious Singaporeans (Fact Check: False!).

How much instant noodles do we eat? (From a ST report, 2014).

In its report about the noodle industry in Singapore released in February, market research firm Euromonitor International said that around 10,710 tonnes of instant noodles were sold here last year, up from 10,208 tonnes in 2012. By 2018, this is expected to grow by 23 per cent to 13,174.9 tonnes.

I guess 13,000 tonnes is less horrifying that 13,000,000 kg!

And since one serving is usually about 80 gm, there are 12.5 servings in 1 kg, so that converts to about 165 million servings. Or about once a week (given our population). Or about 48 servings a year, per person.

The thing is, eating anything excessively is not going to be healthy for anyone. Same for instant noodles, or hamburgers, or hotdogs. Or even carrots.

And if you are poor student, hard-pressed for cash and time, instant noodles might well be a time-saver, and a necessity of sorts.

What is your position on Instant Noodles?

(A) It’s quick and convenient. Just not very balanced. I want some ways to add some veggies and some protein.

(B) The noodles are fine. I just don’t like the seasoning packet. It’s all just MSG and artificial flavours. How can I make my noodles taste great without using the MSG packet?

(C) The noodles are coated with wax and other preservatives! It’s poison!  I love the seasoning and flavours though.

(D) It’s all bad! As bad or worse than smoking. I won’t eat it if I were stuck on a deserted island with nothing to eat. Or if I crashed into a mountain with my football team and most of them were dead, and there is nothing to eat except instant noodles or my dead team-mates… I’ll rather eat my dead team mates.

Well, if you answer (D), the rest of this blogpiece is not for you. And I’m not flying in a plane with you.

If you answered (C), you are really, REALLY weird. But you know what to do. Buy instant noodles, use the flavour packet for your pasta/spaghetti. Throw the noodles away.

If you answered (B) or (A), though, here are some suggestions.

For those who don’t want to use the flavour packet (B):

Alternative soup/broth

Well, canned soup – whichever is your favourite.

Or any commercially available or prepared soup.

Either mass-market, like Campbell’s or “artisanal” like from “Soup Spoon”.

Or soup cubes (e.g. Knorr’s) or instant soup mix.

Soup stock or broth, or concentrated soup stock (Maggi’s ikan bilis). (May not be much better than soup cubes).

Yeah, you may believe that all these as just as bad, just as poor in nutrition. If you have the cash, you could go for organic soup stock. But this is for students on a budget (strapped for cash and time).

You can also make Miso soup easily (usually involves dissolving a thick paste in hot or boiling water. Don’t like Miso (like me)? Use bonito flakes (fish flakes), add to hot/boiling water. Give the bonito flakes time to flavour the soup (say about 3 minutes), and you’re good.

Or if you are a fan of Bovril, Marmite, Vegemite, or some regional variations of the yeast extract, those could work too, either as a broth (add hot water to a spoonful of Marmite or your favourite yeast extract), or as a seasoning (stir in half a spoonful – or to taste – into the drained but still hot noodles).

Want something healthy and have a bit of cash? Brand’s Essence of Chicken for your soup base. Dilute to desired concentration. Salt and pepper to taste. It’s Essence of Chicken (there are other brands). It’ll even help you through the exam period.

Sauces

If you are into dry noodles (no soup or broth), then some sauces you might try are ABC Kicap Manis (Sweet Black Sauce/Caramel sauce), Tonkatsu sauce, Bulldog (brand) semi-sweet vegetable sauce (and other Bulldog brand sauces), Goma (Japanese Sesame sauce). Also ketchup, chilli sauce, soya sauce, sesame oil and even BBQ sauce can all be viable. I don’t like McD’s dipping sauce for their nuggets, but some people like it, so go with that if you like the sauce.

Or just butter and garlic (garlic salt, garlic seasoning/powder).

You can also look at your favourite salad dressing (Caesar, Ranch, Vinaigrette, Italian, Japanese) and consider if you want that with your noodles.

Slice raw garlic and leave them to infuse in a bottle of olive oil. (You can also add peppercorns, or chilli to the oil too.) Drizzle the garlic-infused olive oil over your noodles. Top with parmesan cheese, and dried Italian Herbs (Masterfood), for a instant noodle version of aglio olio. Chilli flakes for optional oomph!

For an “oriental” version, stir olive vegetables (you may want to drain the excess oil) into your noodles. Season with garlic, pepper, chilli flakes to taste.

For a simple yet recognisable sauce, mix vinegar Chinese black vinegar, sweet (black) sauce (a.k.a. Kicap Manis), sesame oil, and chilli sauce (chilli garlic sauce). Or ketchup if you don’t want it spicy. This will approximate the “bak chor mee” seasoning/dressing. Without the bak chor (minced pork) of course. But you can add minced pork for that attempt at bak chor mee.

Eggs

Raw egg is somewhere between a sauce, and a topping. You can use the whole egg, and whisk it before adding hot noodles to cook the egg, or you can just use the yolk, whisk that, and add the hot noodles to cook it.

If you are cooking noodles with soup, add the egg into the soup and stir to break the yolk for an “egg-flower” effect. Or don’t  break the yolk and have a poached egg in your noodles.

Alternatively, break the egg into a bowl, add seasoning (pepper, soya sauce, sesame oil), whisk it, and then dip your hot noodles into the egg just before eating. This is Japanese style.

Of course, you could actually fry the egg (omelette or sunnyside up/over easy), but that would be closer to actual cooking. And if you can actually cook, have time to cook, and are inclined to cook, why are are preparing instant noodles, and why are you looking for simple “hacks” here?

Toppings for instant noodles

For those who want to add a little something to make the instant noodles a little more balanced and nutritious, or just have some variations in the taste, here are some suggestions.

Furikake, and Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese chilli powder).

Bonito flakes (the thin shavings of dried fish on okonomiyaki). Here you just top the dry or soup noodles. Slightly different from flavouring the soup as suggested earlier.

Or Nori (seaweed). This counts as a vegetable, right?

Pork, chicken,  or Fish floss. You can get these from Bee Cheng Hiang.

You can also add the above flosses to soup or hot water to make a simple broth (like with the bonito flakes).

Shabu-Shabu pork or beef. You will need very hot/boiling water for this, the meat should not be too cold (not still frozen), it should be sliced very thin (for shabu-shabu) and you should not use too much chilled meat, or the cooking would be compromised. If this is a “cup noodle” preparation, spread out the meat in the bowl (or cup), and make sure your boiling (or very hot) water hits the meat first. Don’t overload with the meat, or the meat may not be sufficiently cooked.

Next, if you actually have some facility to cook (you are familiar with cooking, are not afraid to cook, and have access to real kitchen facilities)

Some Cooking required

Next, if you actually have some facility to cook (you are familiar with cooking, are not afraid to cook, and have access to real kitchen facilities), and you have the time and inclination, here are some simple cooking solutions.

Minced pork/beef/chicken: Boil about half the volume of water as the minced meat you are cooking in a pot or saucepan. Bring heat to low, and add the minced meat and finely chopped onions (as much or as little as you like). Season with pepper and salt to taste (start with a little. You can add more if you need. But you can’t “subtract” the excessive salt or pepper). Stir the minced meat so that it cooks as minced meat and does not clump into large chunks. When meat is not longer pink or raw, you are done. store unused portion in fridge for up to a week. Use whenever you cook your noodles. If the meat is rather lean, you can add some oil. Sesame oil has a nice fragrance, as does butter.

Saute sliced garlic in butter, then add the drained noodles for some aromatic instant noodles. (Warning: Contains butter and garlic. Not for those with allergies to these.)

Luncheon Meat (Spam) and Corned Pork. These go great with instant noodles! Fry to desired doneness.

And there are more things you can try with instant noodles. It’s a simple base to build a simple or complex meal depending on your imagination.

I think at some point I would be teaching Z how to make instant noodles interesting. And I hope what she learns will be useful when she leaves home for studies, or because it is time for her to leave her home. Of course I hope to share all these with her. But life has a way of going off on a tangent and plans don’t always work out.

Or I may die before I have a chance.

This could be her reference.

Maybe. Hopes and plans.

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