There are lots of things about being a young adult that are unfortunately unavoidably cliché, unless you’re truly fortunate enough to have parents bankrolling you into adulthood. You’re probably going to have a terrible job making terrible money, and probably a whole bunch of jobs like that until you get to a good one. You’re going to, for approximately five to seven years upon first living on your own, have exclusively mismatched dishware and silverware, probably collected from old roommates or the thrift store. You will likely spend some period of time sleeping on just a mattress on the floor, because you will face the difficult decision of spending more money on a not-shitty mattress, or less money on a mattress and more on a bedframe, and the quality of the mattress will win out.
You’ll also eat like crap, most likely. We’re doing our best to help you not do that 100 percent of the time, but also, that’s kind of part of the rite of passage. You’re young! You can do 10 shots of tequila on a Saturday, and still make it to brunch on Sunday morning with your parents by 11 AM! You have the metabolism of a superhuman! Enjoy this fleeting moment of invincibility while it lasts, and lean into the cliché. And by that we mean, eat as much goddamn instant ramen as you want. But make it good, you know? If you’re going to subsist on packets of dehydrated noodles and powdered, salty seasoning, we’ve got some suggestions for how to get a lot more out of the experience by putting in just a liiiiittle more effort.
Sticking as close to the vague guidelines of non-instant ramen as possible, we obviously suggest slicing up a soft-boiled egg for a little extra protein.
2. Greens—Bok Choy, Spinach, Chard
Again, keeping with the as-close-to-real-ramen theme as possible, bok choy or Chinese spinach is a no-brainer sort of addition to the instant stuff. No additional cooking or sautéing necessary, either—just add fresh leaves to the hot broth right before eating so they’re wilted but not disintegrated.
3. Other Veggies—Zucchini, Carrots, Cabbage, Scallions, Peas, Bean Sprouts
Adding a mélange of veggies is an option for both if you’re keeping closer to the package instructions and eating your ramen like a soup or if you’re throwing out the broth packet altogether and opting to stir-fry the noodles. If you want to stay real convenience-minded but still get some extra nutrient value, keep a bag of frozen mixed veggies, like a carrots/peas/zucchini blend—in your fridge and dump them right into the hot broth to thaw. (This might cool your soup down a bit, so re-nuke in the microwave as needed.)
Use seaweed to either infuse your broth with a little more umami, or keep it dry and crumble it up for a little bit of crunch on top.
5. Hot Sauce/Chili Paste
Take a page out of the phở playbook, and go in on some sriracha for an extra kick, or try a dollop or two of gochujang. Really whatever hot sauce tickles your fancy will do, although we’d steer clear of something that has a high sodium content (like Frank’s Red Hot), since your broth flavor packet will already have plenty of that for you.
6. Things to Sprinkle On Top—Togarashi, Furikake, Sesame Seeds
Depending on the flavor profile you’re going for, spice blends like togarashi or furikake will go well with just about any other add-ins you choose. If opting for the pepper-and-citrus heavy togarashi, you might not need extra hot sauce, but you could amp up the citrus notes with an extra squeeze of lime. If you’re going with furikake—which is an excellent choice of an umami bomb composed of seaweed, bonito flakes, and sesame seeds—any number of veggie additions would taste great. Or, keep it simple and just go for some toasted sesame seeds for a little nuttiness.
7. Pork Belly, Lap Cheong (Spicy Chinese Sausage), Hotdogs, Spam
There’s a true range of options for adding meats to your ramen at home, and it all depends on how much time you want to dedicate to doctoring up your noodles and how much money you want to spend in the process.
8. Rotisserie Chicken
Or you could cook some boneless, skinless chicken breasts on your own, but using a store-bought rotisserie chicken makes it that much easier. (Plus, then you have the dark meat parts left over for another day.) If you’re feeling adventurous, try doing this with phở, too.
9. Miso Paste or Soy Sauce
Much like doctoring up jarred tomato sauce with a bit of tomato paste, doctoring up the “broth” made from those little seasoning packets in instant ramen can be as easy as adding in a dollop of concentrated flavor that’s already in there, either from a bit of miso paste or a few splashes of soy sauce.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re adding lots of savory things like hot sauce or salty cured meats to your already extremely salty ramen, you’re going to want to cut through some of that sodium haze with something bright like a squeeze of lime juice or a splash of black vinegar.