nong shim shin ramyun: the shins and flaming lips
Take a walk through the Namdaemun market district in Seoul and you’ll notice, amid all the imitation Burberry and Polo, stalls selling nothing but chili, whole peppers hanging from shanties like red plantains and enormous mounds of the powdered stuff like sand dunes on a seashore. This is Korea, and the essence of cooking is savory and red and brimming with enough heat to light up an unintiated stomach for days, interpret that how you will.
Perhaps it’s fitting then that Korean ramen, ramyun, as it is called, is dominated by exactly one flavor - red - and if you’ve ever had kimchi, you’ve surely tasted it - that sour, mildly pickled funk, the burn of crushed chili clawing its way into your palate, driving you into a mild sweat. Ramyun noodles are both instant and shop-sold; both are typicallly pre-fried and cut slightly thicker than their Japanese counterparts and are often called as u-dong, a linguistic cousin to udon.
As Hyundai is to Honda, Nong Shim is to Nissin, the king of the Hangul hill when it comes to instant noodles. An offspring of the Lotte conglomerate, the food manufacturer (they make chips and other assorted dried snacks as well) is so dominant that I cannot even think of competing brands by name without doing research, although there are a few.
Nong Shim’s Shin Ramyun then, is the flagship product of the whole enterprise, the national instant noodle if ever there were such a thing. Walk those same streets of Seoul late at night and you’ll find drunken salarymen eagerly slurping down the stuff at park benches and food stalls, accompanied by paper bowls filled with black mussels (the national beer snack) and green vials of Jinro Soju in hand. I don’t know what they’ll be feeling when they wake up in the morning, but I will definitely testify that a bowl of big red goes down fantastic after a hard night at the norebang. Lusciously curled, fried noodles with remarkable firmness, token tidbits of green onion, carrot, and mushroom, and that chili powder to set your stomach alight. If you have the means and the resources, throw in a raw egg and poach it directly under the stream from the hot water dispenser. I’ll never buy a Hyundai, but Shin Ramyun is easily my bread and butter when there’s neither time nor inclination for the fancier, fattier stuff. Plus it’s super cheap. Dae han min kuk!