A serious culinary deep dive for those who need their instant ramen to taste like Japanese instant ramen.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the humble Nissin Cup Noodle, a common sight in any supermarket or convenience store both within Japan’s borders and outside of them. Fittingly, over 50 billion of these portable noodle meals have been sold worldwide! And so today we choose to celebrate Nissin Cup Noodle‘s global outreach by reviewing their international versions.

Our Japanese-language reporter Ikuna Kamezawa is currently residing in Spain, making her the perfect candidate to sample the European editions of our favorite cupped carbohydrate.

In Japan, Cup Noodle is known to use “mystery meat”—a blend of pork and vegetables that forms into dense, toothsome little cubes. Ikuna was surprised by how boldly each of these Cup Noodles proclaimed that they had…well, actual meat inside of them! And one of them even used duck meat. Intriguing.

First, we’ll preface this with something fairly obvious: these European Cup Noodles actually don’t taste very similar to the Cup Noodle products you can purchase in Japan. In fact, buying an imported Japanese Cup Noodle comes at a premium—they cost around 4.58 euros (US$5.35) while a locally produced one is 1.1 euros (US$1.29).

So with that in mind, let’s get tasting. First on the docket for Ikuna was this meaty marvel: the 5 Spices Beef Aromatic Spicy Soup.

“Maybe it’ll taste like the beef-bone ramen we have in Japan?” Ikuna wondered. She popped open the container and peered inside. Ah, plenty of stock, minced beef, scallions, green onions, and paprika.

▼ Some seriously beefy instant noodles.

She prepared her noodles with some hot water and got ready to chow down.

▼ And to her surprise…

▼ It tasted…kinda weird!

It was honestly hard for her to find the words to describe this flavor. The beef mixed in was tough and chewy, so it did feel meaty…in a sense. Meanwhile, despite the brown color of the broth, the taste was reminiscent of Japan’s Seafood Cup Noodle. The different flavors coalesced into something that felt similar to Chinese Sichuan dandan noodles.

On top of this, it was mildly spicy and had a strong aroma of animal flesh, so altogether Ikuna was left rather unimpressed.

Final score: 3/10.

Introducing our next challenger, the Tasty Chicken Asian Style Soup!

▼ After being shocked by the strange beef flavor, Ikuna opted for the safe-seeming chicken version.

Chicken meat does pop up in Japanese Cup Noodles, most notably in their Chili Tomato flavor. Ikuna observed that this container boasted that it was “Asian Style”, but as we all know, that can mean anything in the West.

▼ Here are the contents before adding hot water…

▼ And here they are afterward.

This one tasted not only of chicken, but of tomatoes, and shiitake mushrooms, and pepper, and ginger… The flavors were harmonious and delicious. Did it remind Ikuna more of Vietnamese pho or Taiwanese-style porridge? One thing was for sure: it was very, very tasty and Ikuna couldn’t get enough of it.

Final score: 8/10.

On to the third challenger: Roasted Duck Sweet Onion Soup.

Ikuna couldn’t help but feel some trepidation about this one. Can you blame her? This was the notoriously gamey duck meat. In instant noodles.

▼ Clearly, there were some spices meant to balance the flavor, but still…

▼ Quack, quack.

Turns out…it tasted very much like duck meat. While Ikuna was a bit alarmed by how much it tasted like duck, she would definitely recommend it to those of you who are desperate to try duck meat in a Cup Noodle. Because it really, really tastes like duck. It’s unavoidably duck-flavored. This is one ducktacular instant noodle product.

Final score: 1/10.

Hoping for a less unique flavor with her next attempt, Ikuna turned to the Spiced Curry Japanese Curry Soup version.

This had to be the safest bet out of all six cups. Ikuna was especially comforted by how it announced that it was Japanese curry flavor, specifically.

▼ The spicy-looking yellow powder certainly looked promising.

She prepared her cup and took a big mouthful, pleading that it would wash away the persistent duckish flavor lingering on her tongue.

Great news, everyone!

It tasted great!

Though it did taste a little distinct from Japanese curry-flavored Cup Noodle products. Those have more of a brown curry flavor, while this variety was more yellow. It had a thick, mellow flavor that evoked curry powder and wheat flour rather than a typical curry rice dish. It also held a hint of consomme flavor in its broth, and most importantly… It completely blasted away the remnants of duck ramen in Ikuna’s mouth.

Final score: 9/10.

As she approached the end of the gauntlet, Ikuna set her sights on the Soy Sauce Shrimps Peppery Shoyu Soup version.

What an interesting sight. Shrimps are common enough to see in instant noodles of course, but they usually play a supporting role—they’re used in the original Cup Noodle flavor, after all. Could they handle the spotlight of being the main ingredient?

▼ Wait, shouldn’t there be more shrimp in here?!

Ikuna ate up greedily and determined that this one is definitely the closest to an original, classic Cup Noodle in flavor. This would be a great option for any person yearning for Japanese Cup Noodle. As for Ikuna…she was a little disappointed. She wanted the shrimps to steal the show, and they ended as a sideline supporter once again. Sigh.

▼ Maybe next time, little shrimps.

Final score: 6/10.

Time for our final contender! Ikuna stared it down in all its sizzling glory: the Hot Chili Spicy Roasted Sesame Soup flavor.

In Ikuna’s experience, it’s actually pretty tough to find places in Spain that satisfy her desire for spicy food. Even trying Korean and Indian restaurants in Spain left her yearning for something with some real heat. Oh well. She would still face this so-called spicy noodle cup with the respect it deserved.

▼ It looks pretty spicy…

Oho! After taking a bite, Ikuna was pleasantly surprised. These spicy roasted sesame noodles had a kick to them!

The chili peppers provided some pleasant heat, and the tomatoes in turn were delightfully sour. It still wasn’t quite spicy enough for Ikuna’s standards, but it was spicy, and she was very pleased with the high-quality sesame seeds sprinkled throughout. She decided it was a solid choice that tasted close enough to Japan’s Chili Tomato Cup Noodle, a variety she’d been missing since arriving in Spain a few weeks ago.

Final score: 6/10.

So what did we learn? Well, if you’re hankering for a Cup Noodle that’s at least similar to the ones sold in Japan you had best buy a chicken or curry flavor, whereas if you want to get adventurous then you should definitely try the duck. Despite Ikuna’s own hesitation around it, she thinks you should seek out special flavors that you can only get in that country and do your best to enjoy them!

Meanwhile, if you’re in Japan, you definitely owe it to yourself to try out the combination versions of the classic Cup Noodle flavors. What are you afraid of? Falling in love?

Images © SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]