Shin Ramyun or Marmite? Which do you prefer for breakfast? I was back in England over the summer holiday visiting my family. Over the years we’ve got a lot more adventurous with cooking. In the 70s and 80s we stuck to Scandinavian and British food. But these days the cupboards are filled with an assortment of ingredients from all over the world. And when I’m home we often make a Korean meal for dinner. But whilst exotic or spicy food is perfectly acceptable for dinner, BREAKFAST in our house HAS NOT CHANGED over the years.
And I don’t think it ever will. There are some things in life that are so taken for granted, so obvious and natural, that we don’t even think about them. And when I was growing up the idea that cereal, toast with marmalade or Marmite, and bacon and eggs (on special occasions) were the only foods that any sane person should be eating for breakfast were, in my mind, FACTS. You can’t beat a thin (and I mean thin) layer of Marmite spread over a warm, buttery slice of toast.
But something must have changed. Because these days I sometimes wake up yearning for a bigger kick start to the day. I want something spicy. I want a packet of… yes, this is true… Shin Ramyun. 😮
So here’s the scene: it’s just a typical morning in Blighty where the members of the household are hunting and gathering in the kitchen. A dressing-gowned sleepy face with morning hair is milling around the toaster. The fridge is being ransacked for butter and milk and perhaps some Jarlsberg cheese. Jars of jams and marmalade are strewn across the counter top. An almost empty bowl of cereal and milk sits patiently waiting for someone to help it into the dishwasher. A pot of tea chillaxes under a well worn caddie. (If Mum has guests staying, we may have a Norwegian style sit-down Smorgasbord breakfast – with breads, toast and various toppings of scrambled egg, pates, jams, marmalades, pickled herring – all laid out on the table with a choice of beverages: tea, coffee, and orange juice. But in general with a family of night owls and morning birds, breakfast is usually just every man, woman and child for themselves.) None of these sights raise an eyebrow. They are what we call ‘normal’. A boiling pan of noodles in bright red chilli soup at 8 am is not. And the salty spicy noodle soup drowns the mild aroma of toasting bread.
For me the change in my attitude to breakfast began when I went to Thailand to work 20 years ago and realised it was socially acceptable (and more appetising than something bread based or soggy with milk) to eat green curry and rice for breakfast. Then living in Japan I got to grips with the notion that slimy fermented natto was an appropriate breakfast dish. And now in Korea, breakfast can mean a feast of spiciness in the form of rice with kimchi or dwenjang chige. Spicy soup is – to me – very addictive. And I can eat it anytime. (Just the thought of chillies is making my mouth water right now!)
OK, So I know spicy instant noodles are probably not the healthiest breakfast option. But in my defence I do poach an egg in with the noodles – (eggs are ‘breakfasty’, aren’t they?) and throw in a few slices of mushroom too for a bit of nutrition.
And as I’m eating my noodles at the table getting funny looks from other members of the family, I start thinking about all the quirky unwritten rules I used to believe were true about breakfast. Let’s start with the rules about what kind of potatoes are acceptable. You would never see a jacket potato or roaster on a breakfast plate. That would be weird. Mashed potato is only acceptable if it’s been shaped into a fritter and fried. Deep fried chips are inappropriate, but slices (not wedges) of potatoes shallow fried are right for a full English. And shredded potato fried into hash browns are popular – even encouraged. Eggs for some reason are acceptable in any form – fried, scrambled, poached, soft boiled, omeletted. On the other hand, rice, pasta, and noodles although fine, (even ordinary) for lunch or dinner, won’t be found on the breakfast table (in our house anyway). Ever. Even vegetables get discriminated against – tomatoes, mushrooms, and beans (as long as they are baked and come in a tin with tomato sauce) get a yes. Asparagus and pumpkin on the other hand get a thumbs down. I’ve seen courgettes but never an aubergine. Anything involving chillies is a no no. Why is this?
My local Lotte Supermarket instant noodle aisle
POPULAR IN KOREA
In Seoul I probably eat some kind of instant noodle about once a week. And I’m not alone. 라면 can be spelt ramyeon, ramen, or ramyun in English. But whatever the spelling, these instant noodles are unbelievably popular here. In Korean dramas only the poor eat ramyeon. And the best way to eat it is straight out of the saucepan with the lid used as the plate. (I thought this was just in dramas, until I saw ramen eaten this way – IN MY HOUSE BY MR. KIM!) But in real life, everyone in Korea seems to eat ramyun! I have yet to meet anyone here who says they don’t eat ramyun. Even the most undomesticated, traditional CEO who never sets foot in the kitchen can at least make himself a bowl of ramyun – if his wife is out and the housekeeper has gone home.
Samyang was the first company to make ramen starting in 1963. But now Nongshim’s Shin Ramyun is the most popular in Korea. ( I confess to being set in my ways and so I usually go for Shin Ramyun or Shin Ramyun Black) and according to Nongshim’s website Koreans consume about 80 bags of Shin ramyun a year which is one bag every five days. And that’s before we even start looking at all the other kinds of instant noodle available. No wonder more instant noodles are eaten in Korean per capita than anywhere else in the world.
There are internet forums and groups in Korea which share their love of ramyun. Some people travel around the country searching for the best ramyeon restaurants and others share their own ramyun recipes. One tip I was given was to put a tad of milk in the ramyun when you make it so that it’s not so salty.
Nongshim make 4 types of ramen: 신 라면 shin ramyun and shin black, 안성탕면 ansong tang myeon. 야채 라면 yachae ramyun (vegetable).
Apart from ramyun (which strictly speaking is an instant noodle in a beef broth) there’s 우동 udong, (thicker noodles in a non spicy broth); 짬뽕 jam pong (Chinese style spicy noodle soup); 짜장면 jajang myeon (noodles with a non spicy black bean sauce with vegetables); 짜파게티 jjapaghetti, (a cross between jajang and spaghetti – thicker noodles with a black bean sauce not soup); 라볶이 rappoki (a cross between ramen and toppoki – ramen with a toppoki sauce); 비빔면 bibim myeon (cold spicy noodles with sauce not soup); 불닭볶음면 buldak bokum myeon (spicy chicken flavour noodles with sauce not soup); jap chae 잡채 (sweet potato noodles) 냉면 naeng myeon (cold noodles in cold vinegar soup – tastes better than it sounds 😉 오뚜기 Ottogi do a curry ramen. Samyang makes four kinds of ramyun including 김치라면 kimchi ramen – number 1 kimchi flavour noodle in the world (according to their website) Here’s a selection of instant noodles by Paldo (below) which include a cheese ramyun and Green Tea Chlorella noodle soup, seafood, and chicken flavours:
And ramyeon is one of the foods that Koreans always take with them when they go on holiday. Along with kimchi, obviously. (British people smuggle baked beans and chocolate in their cases when they go away on holiday.) This summer I didn’t bring ramyun in our suitcases because I know you can buy Shin Ramyun in the Asian supermarket near us in Liverpool. And my suitcase was already full of soju, seaweed, and other goodies.
the ramyun in my cupboard at the moment!
So to answer my own question, is it OK to eat ramyun for breakfast? I think it’s no different to eating it for breakfast than for any other time. Although I wouldn’t eat it every day! I’ve read about Korean businessmen who live off instant ramyun when they go overseas, eating noodles three times a day. Now that’s going too far and I don’t encourage that. And whilst I still enjoy Marmite on toast for breakfast I can certainly understand the occasional craving for Korean instant noodles in a tasty spicy soup! What do you think?
For more info on ramen’s varieties and flavours go to theramenrater.com