Would you drink Cup Noodle-flavored sodas? Collage: VICE / Images: Hanako Montgomery
A faint aroma of soy sauce that fills your nostrils. A salty finish from the chicken broth. A peppery tingle that lingers in your mouth. Such are the gustatory delights of eating a styrofoam cup of noodles from the world’s most iconic instant ramen maker, Nissin. Once a revered dish by Tokyo’s young people in the ’70s, the noodles quickly became a worldwide staple of late night snacks and broke college life. Since Cup Noodle’s creation, 50 billion of the products have reportedly been sold worldwide.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of humanity’s symbolic acceptance of eating re-hydrated ramen for the sake of instant noodle pleasure, Nissin launched four Cup Noodle-flavored sodas. Naturally, questions abound. Does it taste like carbonated shrimp broth? Can curry taste sweet like cola? Or, more simply, why? I decided to take a sip.
Regular Cup Noodle
Upon receiving the sodas I ordered, I decided to give the regular Cup Noodle flavor a go first, to acquaint my senses with what a carbonated Cup Noodle drink should taste like. As a soda non-enthusiast, I thought it best to ease into my journey rather than jump headlong into boundary-defying beverages. Also, the back of the soda said it was a ginger ale-based drink, which reassured me slightly. As soon as I unscrewed the top, I was greeted by a strong whiff of Cup Noodle’s signature scent: the sodium-rich, oily chicken broth that buoys the spongy ramen. Rather impressed by their ability to pack such a strong aroma into a single tin can, I proceeded with my first mouthful of soda. More ginger ale than expected, I actually enjoyed this drink. The smell of cup noodles was stronger than its taste, and the beverage left only a hint of the salty broth. Maybe because it wasn’t such a big departure from tastes I’m familiar with, I would actually drink this again, and will wait for this drink to fill Japan’s vending machines.
Again, the smell of this soda was wildly and worryingly powerful. Lifting the cap, I was immediately propelled into an aromatic whirlwind of seafood cracker and cream—not cream soda, just heavy cream. A red flag? Most definitely. When the soda traveled down my esophagus, it was a deceivingly kind, innocent taste. But once my taste buds soaked up the drink, my face instinctively broke into a grimace. It tastes like a watery version of a slightly expired clam chowder, nothing at all like a cream soda with “hints” of seafood, as the package advertised. Cream soda tends to be quite sweet but that was starkly missing, and was instead replaced with the taste of a smelly ocean. I’d personally like to ask the individual who made this drink whether they even dared taste it.
This cola-based curry drink was far tastier than I expected, a welcomed palate cleanser from the previous (abhorrent) seafood soda. Like the original Cup Noodle flavor, the curry soda tasted more like a cola drink than a curry dish. The spicy earthiness characteristic of Japanese curry was largely absent and only briefly appeared at the end of each mouthful. But the drink was also distinctly not a cola—you can tell it was fused with something, though it’s not quite clear with what, unless you smell the drink while gulping.
I would buy this drink again, perhaps to accompany a particularly spicy curry. It would be a nice refreshment to cool the heat of some dishes.
Chili Tomato Noodle
Unlike the other sodas, the tomato flavor was not accompanied by a strong smell. In terms of taste, it was only a slight improvement from the seafood soda. It echoed a classic marinara sauce, but diluted with one too many shakes of black pepper. None of the sweetness the drink purported it would have was there, and I was instead faced with a much spicier soda than expected. In an attempt to improve the lower-scoring sodas, I decided to mix them with alcohol. Nissin itself released a few cocktail recipes that could be made with the drinks, but lacking the whisky and gin they called for, I instead went for a sangria-esque bevvy and shōchū (a Japanese distilled beverage) combo.
Definitely an improvement. The wine lessened the spicy aftertaste of the tomato soda, and introduced some of the sweetness the drink was missing. It tasted vaguely like a Bloody Mary, harking on the cocktail’s tangy and pleasantly savory features. I could drink this at a bar.
Tomato With Red Wine
To sum up this creation in one word: No. Though I thought it would be difficult to make the seafood soda taste worse, the shōchū somehow did just that. In all fairness, my shōchū is cheap and therefore vaguely tastes like hand sanitizer, so it became one of the dominant flavors in my concoction. It only added to the jarring contrast between the alleged creaminess and the actual wateriness of the soda. The seafood aftertaste remained, leaving with it a mouthful of bitter disappointment. Though by far not the most satisfactory line of drinks to have ever graced my lips, the entire experience was a pleasant jolt for my unsophisticated palate. I won’t be reaching for the drinks on late night snacking trips, but cheers to wacky carbonated versions of food we love to thrill amateur food critics like myself. Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.