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Imagine craving Korean food in the middle of the night. While you can’t quickly whip up classic Korean foods like bibimbap, bulgogi, or kimchi jjigae, there’s one thing you can easily make: Korean ramen.
If you think, well, that’s not really Korean cuisine, let the stats speak for themselves. At 80-90 servings per person per year, South Korea is home to the biggest instant noodle lovers in the world. It even beat Japan where instant noodles were invented!
What makes Korean instant noodles so loved by Koreans and non-Koreans alike? What are the best Korean ramen brands? What’s the best way to make ramen and where can you buy these tasty noods?
This article will answer these questions and more so keep on reading.
A brief history of Korean ramen
Most of us associate the word ramen with Japan. And rightly so, as this noodle soup is one of the representative foods of Japan, even though it traces its roots to China.
To trace the origin of Korean ramen, or ramyeon, we need to go back to the history of instant ramen in Japan. Post-war Japan saw new consumption patterns partly due to the emergence of television and partly because there was still a food shortage. As a response, in 1958, Nissin founder Momofuku Ando invented the first instant noodles, Nissin’s Chikin Ramen.
Ando’s invention was a hit in Asia. In 1971, he went on to invent the Cup Noodles, which helped spark the popularity of instant noodles around the world.
One of the countries that caught on fast with the craze was Japan’s neighbor, Korea. In 1963, Jung Yun Jeon, founder of the Samyang Food Company, introduced Samyang Ramyeon with the help of Japan’s technology.
The first ramyeon was sold for about 10 won (about 1 penny) to help combat poverty and food shortage in Korea. Over the years, ramyeon evolved as an important part of Korean food culture. Thanks to K-pop and K-dramas, this packet of savory instant noodles has become a global sensation.
What is Korean ramen and what makes it different?
First things first: what is ramyeon anyway? Is it different from ramen?
Yes and no. Ramyeon (or ramyun) is the Korean word for instant noodles, or Korean ramen as non-Koreans usually say. In Korea, the Japanese noodles that are sold in Japanese restaurants are also called ramen. And ramen can be fresh or instant. But ramyeon is always instant.
Ramyeon is cheap, very easy to find, filling, easy to prepare, and delicious. Granted, it’s not healthy but no one can deny that the noodles in (typically) spicy broth hits all the right spots. And some make it a liiiitle bit healthier by customizing – adding vegetables, seafood, and other ingredients to the soup.
In addition, unlike instant noodles from Japan or other countries, Korean ramen is often spicy as it uses red pepper as the base. But not always! As you’ll soon find out, there are plenty of other varieties of Korean ramen. So, let’s dive right in!
Best Korean instant noodles
There are many Korean instant ramen varieties but, in this article, we’ll be listing down 23 from four different Korean instant noodle makers: Samyang, Nongshim, Ottogi, and Paldo.
First on the list is the OG, Samyang Ramyeon, Korea’s first instant ramyeon.
When it was first released in 1963, it had chicken broth. Now, it features a slightly spicy beef soup base that goes well with the thick, chewy noodles. The pack includes dried bits of carrots, red pepper, spring onion, and more.
For those who can’t tolerate the heat, Samyang Ramyeon is a great choice because it’s only mildly spicy and easier to eat compared to other Korean ramen noodles.
Quick Korean lesson: bul (불) means ‘fire’ and dak (닭) means ‘chicken’. Bokkeum (볶음) is the Korean term for ‘stir-fried’ and myeon (면) is for ‘noodles’. So buldak bokkeummyeon translates to fire chicken stir-fried noodles.
And if you’re one of those who participated in the Fire Noodle Challenge, you know that these noodles are literally fire.
Samyang’s Buldak ramen is of the fried noodles variety, so it has no broth. The noodles are thick, chewy, and delicious. That is if you can get past the extremely spicy taste. At 4,404 SHU (Scoville Heat Unit), it is one of the spiciest Korean ramen noodles.
It is also one of the most popular noodles in Korea after it became viral on YouTube, thanks to the Korean Englishman channel.
Unlike most ramyeons that have a powder soup packet, the Buldak series (yes, there are many) contains a sauce bag and a packet of dried laver and sesame seeds. The spicy sauce became so popular that Samyang even sold it separately.
If you enjoy this one and feel like you can take more spice, you can try the 2X Spicy (Haek Buldak Bokkeummyeon) variant. Just prepare a gallon of milk and some tissue.
Other varieties include:
- Buldak Bokkeum-tangmyeon – stew/soup version that is slightly spicier than the original
- Jjajjang Buldak Bokkeummyeon – jjajang (black bean sauce) flavored noodles
- Keori Buldak Bokkeummyeon – curry-flavored
- Chijeu Buldak Bokkeummyeon – contains cheese powder
- Mara Buldak Bokkeummyeon – has mala powder from Sichuan, China
- Carbo Buldak Bokkeummyeon – with carbonara-flavored sauce
3. Shin Ramyun
Samyang Ramyeon may be the original but Shin Ramyun is arguably the most popular Korean ramen not just in Korea but also overseas.
A cult fave, Shin Ramyun has been around since October 1986. It features a spicy and deep beef broth. The noodles are soft and chewy. Combined with freeze-dried vegetables and small meat pieces, this packet of spicy Korean ramen is the perfect comfort meal.
At 2,700 Scovilles, Shin Ramyun isn’t the spiciest Korean ramen (Haek Buldak Bokkeummyeon has that title). I find its spice level to be just enough that it doesn’t overpower the beef flavor but some people do find this unbearable.
Shin Ramyun Black is the same chewy noodles with spicy broth, except this one’s more delectable and premium. That’s thanks to the additional seolleongtang (beef bone soup) flavoring that gives it a thicker, beefier broth.
Shin Ramyun Black also includes double the flakes. Red pepper and green onion are also added to give a spicy kick. If you find the original Shin Ramyun a bit underwhelming, you’ll like this upgrade. But be warned, it’s also significantly more expensive.
True to its seafood flavor, its garnishing includes not only the requisite dried veggies but also small pieces of squid, a large piece of kelp (that’s not found in the U.S. version), and bits of fishcake. Not only do these flakes add taste and texture to the ramyeon but also add nutrients.
As for the spice level, this has a kick to it but is definitely tolerable for most people. It also comes in a stir-fry variant.
If you’re a fan of jjajangmyeon (noodles in black bean sauce), you’ve probably tried Nongshim’s Chapagetti. Traditional jjajangmyeon is delicious but not easy to cook, so Chapagetti is a convenient way to enjoy this noodle dish.
Chapagetti has soft, chewy noodles. The brown-black sauce is salty and savory while its onion flavor adds sweetness to it, making it more balanced. If you’re averse to spicy food, you’ll be glad to know that this one has no hints of pepper at all.
Thanks to the Oscar-winning movie Parasite, these Korean instant noodles became even more popular when the movie introduced Jjapaguri or Chapaguri – a dish made by combining Chapagetti and Neoguri. The dish in the movie also had beef as a topping.
This popularity prompted Nongshim to release a singular Chapaguri instant noodle, which combines Chapagetti and Neoguri so that you don’t have to buy a packet of each noodle.
Jjamppong is a noodle soup with spicy seafood-based broth. It traditionally includes lots of vegetables, squid, mussels, and sometimes, pork.
Nongshim’s Jjamppong does remind you of seafood stew and it’s recommended to add actual seafood in the soup if you have it at home (or wherever you’re having it). The noodles are chewy and the broth is spicy but not overwhelmingly so.
8. Budae Jjigae
Budae jjigae literally translates to ‘army base stew’ in Korean. This spicy stew was created from rations from U.S. military bases in Korea.
Ham, sausage, spam, and baked beans were combined with Korean staples kimchi, gochujang (red pepper paste), and instant noodles, topped with cheese. Just typing this is making me salivate because it’s sooo good.
Nongshim’s version of this famous stew is an affordable quick fix that comes with springy and chewy noodles. As for garnishing, it has small pieces of luncheon meat, fishcake, beans, and dried vegetables. The soup is rich and tangy, with a generous dose of kimchi taste.
Definitely one of the best Korean noodles if you’re looking for that spicy-sour kick.
Speaking of kimchi, if you prefer kimchi-flavored Korean ramen noodles, Nongshim’s classic kimchi ramyeon is for you.
Unlike most ramyeons that feature chicken, meat, or seafood-based broth, Kimchi Ramyeon is seasoned with real fried kimchi for that authentic Korean flavor. The pack includes thin noodles, dried vegetables like kimchi flakes, bok choy, carrots, and green onion.
Since this is kimchi-flavored, you can expect a little heat to it and some sourness. But nothing too spicy.
Can you have ramyeon that’s healthy? Thanks to Nongshim’s Soon Veggie Noodle Soup, you can.
Soon is made with 100% vegan ingredients. The vegetable broth is savory and mildly spicy. It’s surprisingly flavorful and not bland, considering that it doesn’t contain MSG.
The noodles are also springy and chewy, perfectly complemented by the dehydrated choy sum and carrot bits. And oh, it has no trans fat, too!
Although not as popular overseas, Ansungtamyun is one of the top Korean instant noodles, judging by its sales. It’s consistently among the highest-selling Korean ramen brands domestically.
What makes it different from other ramyeon varieties is its miso flavor that blends well with the beef stock from cows in the city of Ansung. It contains beef bone extract, beef extract, and beef fat, giving it a delightfully meaty flavor.
Mushroom lovers will love the dehydrated shiitake mushroom that this package comes with. It also has dried carrot bits and seaweed. Overall, it has just the right amount of spice and miso flavor.
12. Jin Ramen
Ottogi Jin Ramen is another popular Korean ramen both in and outside Korea. I personally think this is one of the best Korean instant noodles because of its balanced flavor.
Like Shin Ramyun, Jin has a beef-based broth but milder. Instead, it has a stronger kimchi taste. The onions, garlic, mushroom extracts, and pepper add to the savory flavor. The noodles are also firm and smooth and don’t become mushy quickly.
Jin Ramen comes in two varieties – mild and spicy. Both still carry spice but don’t compromise the savory beef flavor. Those who enjoy more lasting heat can go for the spicy variant but Jin is still less spicy compared to other ramyeons like Shin and another Ottogi product, Yeul Ramen.
13. Jin Jjambbong
If you prefer the taste of seafood over beef, Jin Jjambbong is one of the best Korean instant ramen noodles to try.
Containing a sauce packet, a spicy oil packet, and dried pieces of veggies and seafood, Jin Jjambbong does well in encapsulating the traditional seafood jjambbong taste. To differentiate it from other spicy Korean ramen noodles, it has flat and thick noodles.
Like Jin Ramyun, Jin Jjambong scores just right on the spiciness level. It’s spicy with a lingering heat but it’s not overpowering. Perfect on cold, rainy afternoons!
14. Yeul Ramen
This one’s my favorite among all the Korean instant noodles I’ve had and it’s such a shame that it’s not as famous as Shin, Buldak Bokkeummyeon, or Jin Ramyun. It’s also not as easy to find as these three, at least where I’m from.
I love Yeul Ramen (and folks on Amazon agree that it’s great) but I have to say that it takes a while for me to finish a bowl because it’s really spicy. Yeul means ‘heat’ in Korean and at 5,013 Scovilles, this name is accurate. It doesn’t burn my mouth as Buldak Bokkeummyeon does, but it does leave a lasting heat.
This pack of ramen includes bouncy, soft, and thick round noodles, dried green onions, carrots, cabbage, and shiitake mushrooms. The soup base packs a punchy beefy flavor. It’s savory and the richness of the broth isn’t drowned in the spiciness.
15. Chamggae Ramen
If you’re like me and you love sesame oil, this one’s for you. Chamggae translates to ‘sesame’ in Korean and Ottogi’s Chamggae Ramen doesn’t fall short on its sesame flavor.
A pack includes the noodle block, a packet of intense sesame flavoring, bits of dried vegetables, pepper oil, and a generously sized egg block. The egg is a wonderful and innovative touch, adding more variety to the ramyeon.
But more than the egg, the sesame flavor is really what stands out here, so if you’re not into sesame, you can pass up on this. As for the spice level, it is mildly spicy. Overall, this one’s a hearty ramyeon.
Kimchi Ramen is Ottogi’s attempt at marrying kimchi jjigae (stew) and ramen. This results in spicy ramen that’s tangier and not as savory when compared to other Korean spicy ramen noodles.
The noodles in Kimchi Ramen are slightly thicker and chewier than Ottogi Chamggae ramen.
Some versions of this ramen include only the noodle block and one packet of seasoning that already has dried vegetable bits inside. But some variants, like the cup noodle one, pack the vegetables separately.
17. Cheese Ramen
Unlike Samyang Cheese Ramyeon, Ottogi’s version has broth. Cheesy soup? Why not?!
A pack of Ottogi’s Cheese Ramen includes springy, chewy noodles. The soup mix contains no meat and Ottogi claims that this ramyeon is vegetarian-friendly. But it does contain gluten and soy.
The cheese powder mix contains cheese and milk cream powder so you can expect a creamy taste and texture once you mix it in. it also includes tiny bits of dried carrots, cabbage, spinach, and corn.
Cheese Ramen has hints of spice to it, and even people who don’t enjoy spicy foods can handle this. The cheese flavor is also not overwhelming. This is a perfect alternative if you’re not into spicy ramyeon.
18. Cheese Ramyun
Paldo’s Cheese Ramyun is one of the most popular cheese-flavored Korean ramen noodles, perhaps more popular than Ottogi’s.
While Ottogi’s Cheese Ramen is low on the spice level begin with, Paldo’s version is spicier, similar to a mild Jin Ramyeon. But this is offset by the cheese powder, which is also clumpier than Ottogi’s. Don’t worry about clumps in your broth though; it quickly dissolves once you stir it in.
Like other Korean instant noodles, this includes bits of dried vegetables that add flavor and texture. The thick noodles are pretty remarkable, too as it’s made of potato starch. This makes it still chewy but less so when compared to other varieties. The broth is cheesy, creamy, and overall, delicious.
If Rabokki suspiciously sounds like tteokbokki, or stir-fried rice cakes with red, spicy sauce or soy sauce, that’s because it’s one-half of the dish. Rabokki essential combines ramen with tteokbokki.
While traditional rabokki includes both ramen and chewy garae-tteok (rice cakes), the instant ramyeon from Paldo does not. But it does replicate the sweet and spicy thick sauce that tteokbokki is associated with.
The noodles are plump and chewy, making up for the absence of rice cakes but I strongly recommend adding garae-tteok if you have it to give the ramyeon a more authentic Korean feel. The sauce is rich and has more of a sweetness to it than spiciness.
20. Hwa Ramyun
One of the great things about most Paldo ramyeons is the generous amount of seasoning powder and dehydrated vegetables. Such is the case with Hwa Ramyun.
The noodles of Hwa Ramyun are firm, chewy, and silky – perfect for slurping. It lists MSG on its ingredients and that gives it a salty-savory taste.
One of the best Korean spicy noodles in the market, this is reasonably spicy, not scorching. Perfectly enjoyable but may not be easy to find in local stores if you’re not in Korea.
Similar to Nongshim’s Chapagetti, Paldo’s Jjajangmen takes inspiration from the classic Korean dish, jjajangmyeon. Chapagetti tends to be on the saltier side though so if you’re looking for something lighter, try Jjajangmen.
Most of the Korean ramen noodles from Paldo are vegetarian-friendly and this one is, too. The noodles are also noticeably thicker, wider, almost like spaghetti. The vegetables hydrate well and give the ramyeon a nice texture once cooked.
What makes this variety good is the black bean sauce. A pack comes with a generous amount of paste. It’s not super thick and has more of a syrupy consistency that coats the noodles well. it’s not spicy but savory and very satisfying.
Bibim myeon is a type of spicy cold noodles that’s a summer staple in Korea. It’s a cousin of the mul naengmyeon, cold buckwheat noodles that are served with ice or icy cold broth. While this may sound strange to foreigners, cold noodles are huge in Korea.
Bibim myeon does not need ice or refrigeration though. Like other instant Korean ramen brands, it still needs hot water. After boiling, you wash the noodles in cold water, drain them, then mix them with the sauce. The rinsing is not just a method to make the noodles cold but also a way to make them chewier and not clumpy or mushy.
At 2,769 Scovilles, Paldo’s Bibim-men is one of the spiciest Korean instant noodles. But the spice is tolerable, especially since it’s also deliciously sweet. Paldo added apple concentrate to sweeten the sauce. Definitely an interesting ramyeon and does a great job at replicating the traditional bibim myeon.
Chicken noodle soup, anyone?
Paldo’s Kokomen is probably the closest thing to a chicken noodle soup. The flavoring packet even includes small pieces of shredded chicken, green onion, seaweed, and chili. While Paldo labels this as spicy, it’s on the milder side and isn’t as spicy as other ramyeons on this list.
I’d say this is one of the lightest Korean ramen noodles out there in terms of flavor and body. The broth features a light chicken taste, and while it’s not the clear broth that others claim, it does feel cleaner than most ramyeons.
The noodles are perfectly soft and chewy, too but not mushy.
Frequently asked questions about Korean ramen
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about Korean instant noodles. Might be helpful to know before you go hoarding ramyeon packs.
What is the most popular ramen in Korea?
Most of the Korean instant noodles listed above are popular in and outside Korea. But Shin Ramyun is perhaps the most prominent and most timeless among this list.
Samyang’s Buldak Bokkeummyeon is popular around the world but not everyone can tolerate the spice.
What are the best Korean ramen brands?
Shin Ramyun is popular for a reason. It’s delicious and follows a time-tested ramyeon formula. It’s certainly among the best.
Personally though, I like Ottogi’s Yeul Ramen more. I also enjoy Jin Ramen and Paldo’s Bibim-men. Chapagetti is the most popular among jjajangmyeon-flavored ramyeon but Jjajangmen is a strong competitor.
What are the best Samyang noodles?
This depends on your preference. The original Samyang Ramyeon is tasty but the Samyang Buldak Bokkeummyeon is undoubtedly the most sought-after product from Samyang.
If you can handle the spice, the Fire Noodles is great. If you want something creamier, I recommend the Cheese and Carbonara variants.
Is there vegetarian ramyeon?
Yes! Most of Paldo’s ramyeon offerings are vegetarian-friendly and don’t list meat in their ingredients. But Nongshim’s Soon Veggie Noodle Soup takes it a step further by being vegan-certified.
Is Korean ramen healthy?
No. Even Koreans know that ramyeon isn’t healthy. Instant foods generally contain preservatives to increase shelf life. Most Korean ramen noodles contain high levels of sodium, MSG, high levels of carbohydrates, and not enough nutrients.
But no one can deny how comforting these foods can be, especially after a tiring day. Koreans do try to jazz up their ramyeons and add more nutrition by loading their ramyeon with actual vegetables, eggs, meat, and seafood. And of course, good ol’ kimchi on the side.
Are there Halal-certified Korean ramen noodles?
Yes! Most Samyang noodles are Halal-certified and Shin Ramyun is also Halal.
Are there non-spicy Korean ramen noodles?
Yes. Some Korean ramen noodles like Chapagetti, Chamggae, and Jjajangmen are not spicy. The mild variant of Jin Ramen is also not that spicy. But even if you accidentally buy spicy ramyeon, you can lessen the kick by not using all of the powder or sauce in the packet.
What’s the best way to cook Korean ramen?
There’s no hard and fast rule on cooking Korean ramen. I’ve found that it varies per brand. You can follow the instructions on the package but you can customize your cooking style to your preference, too.
For example, some people like more broth in their ramyeon while some don’t. The amount of water also affects the spiciness as it can dilute the powder or sauce. Another factor is whether you add the seasoning before or after the noodles. Depending on when you put the seasoning, you can make a bolder or lighter broth.
My advice? Experiment. Add fresh ingredients for more depth and flavor. And try it in different ways so you see what works for you.
With this list of some of the best Korean ramen noodles, you know what to look for the next time you visit the supermarket or shop online. Happy shopping and happy slurping!