Cup Noodle ups the price and luxury of four of its most popular flavors for the Tokujo line.

Cup Noodle owes its title as Japan’ most popular brand of instant ramen to three things: it’s convenient, it’s tasty, and it’s cheap. But what if you tweaked the balance between those three desirable qualities, and created a new kind of Cup Noodle that’s a little more expensive in an attempt to make it even more delicious?

That’s what Cup Noodle maker Nissin has set out to do with its new line of Tokujo Cup Noodle, tokujo meaning “high-grade” or “special.” While the price for standard Cup Noodle varieties is 236 yen (US$1.60), Tokujo Cup Noodle is 259 yen, roughly 10 percent more. And no, unlike the Cup Noodle Big series, Cup Noodle Tokujo isn’t any larger than regular Cup Noodle. Instead, you get some premium ingredients added to make upscale versions of four established, and beloved, Cup Noodle flavors: original Cup Noodle, Curry, Seafood, and Chili Tomato.

▼ Aside from the kanji characters for Tokujo (特上), the Tokujo Cup Noodle versions can be identified by their shiny gold packaging.

So what makes each one special? The Tokujo original flavor boasts the inclusion of truffle oil and the largest pieces of “mystery meat” that Nissin says it’s ever put in a cup of instant ramen. Tokujo Curry Cup Noodle gets an extra dash of spices that the regular Curry Cup Noodle doesn’t, plus pieces of potato with the skin still on. Tokujo Seafood differentiates itself from the normal Seafood by having a richer broth and shrimp. Finally, Tokujo Chili Tomato has an extra hot chili oil that’s not in the regular Chili Tomato, and also mixes chili powder into its pieces of mystery meat.

Our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun (pictured above), took on the solemn task of tasting all of the Tokujo Cup Noodles back to back with their normal versions in order to see how they compare.

▼ Tokujo Cup Noodle on the left, regular Cup Noodle on the right

Starting with the original-flavor Cup Noodle, P.K. immediately noticed a huge difference. The fancy aroma of the truffle oil was noticeable right away, and its effect on the flavor of the broth gave this a gourmet feeling, with the extra-large pieces of meat also imparting a decadent quality (truffle oil, by the way, is a key ingredient in the broth at the world’s first Michelin-starred ramen restaurant and its new ramen-flavored potato chips).

The difference wasn’t quite so pronounced with the Tokujo Cup Noodle Curry, though. P.K. couldn’t really sense the presence of the extra spices, but he did notice that the Tokujo Curry’s broth is especially thick, and overall, this did still feel more flavorful than the normal Cup Noodle Curry.

For the Tokujo Seafood, though, P.K. couldn’t find that much to set it apart. Yes, the Tokujo Seafood’s broth does have a richer flavor, but he figures you could probably get the same result by just using a little less water when cooking a cup of regular Cup Noodle Seafood.

And last, we come to the Tokujo Chili Tomato. Chili Tomato is actually P.K.’s favorite Cup Noodle flavor, but he’s always felt it isn’t all that spicy. The Tokujo kicks the heat up a few notches, though, with the chili oil making it taste like it’s had Tabasco sauce poured into it, but not so much as to overload your taste buds, leaving the, with enough capacity to enjoy the tart tomato notes in the broth.

So that’s a big thumbs-up from P.K. for the Tokujo original-flavor Cup Noodle, a moderately sized one for the Tokujo Chili Tomato, and a small one for the Tokujo Curry. In the case of the Tokujo Seafood, he thinks he’d be OK saving the extra 23 cents by just buying the regular Cup Noodle Seafood, but that’s more because the regular one tastest just as good to him, not because the Tokuo Seafood tastes bad.

The Tokujo Cup Noodle line goes on September 11.

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