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Instant noodles get bold with new, unusual flavors: Snack companies are finding their innovative ramyeon are popular with young eaters

Nov 23,2018
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L: Miyeokguk Ramyeon, above, has been selling like hot cakes in Korea. R: One version of the Samyang’s Spicy Chicken Roasted Noodles features spicy Chinese mala sauce.
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Cup noodles that promote flavors from different regions in Korea
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Some of the most popular ramyeon flavors can be found at convenience stores. At top is a package of Miyeokguk Ramyeon, while the middle is a new instant noodle flavor targeting people looking for cheaper ramyeon options. Ottogi’s Jinjja Jjolmyeon, bottom, is also an option for those looking for something spicy. [SAMYANG, OTTOGI, JOONGANG PHOTO]
When Howard Lee would return to the United States for graduate school after visiting family and friends back home in Korea, he always knew the best treat to bring back as a gift: ramyeon.

Specifically, whatever was the most popular ramyeon variety at the moment. He used to pack up different flavors of ramyeon producer Samyang’s Spicy Chicken Roasted Noodles, including their carbonara, Sichuan-style spicy sauce Mala or jjajangmyeon, Korean-style Chinese black noodles, flavors to cater to all kinds of tastes buds. Everybody wanted to try a taste of Korean ramyeon, which wasn’t widely available right after it was released in Korea, Lee said.

The same goes for Ottogi’s recently released Beef Miyeokguk Ramyeon. Miyeokguk is a soup boiled with meat and seaweed. It has become popular with many celebrities and chefs who post pictures of the noodles on social media. After chef Yim Jung-sik of Michelin-starred restaurant Jungsik in Seoul and New York posted a picture of his suitcase stuffed with packages of miyeokguk ramyeon before he left on a trip to New York on his Instagram on Nov. 4, it became a bit of a social media sensation.

His followers commented that they wanted to try out the snack as well, especially after seeing that the popular chef was a fan himself.

The newly-released ramyeon, which hit stores in early September, is a best seller. Within a month after its release, over five million packages were sold, meaning that one out of 10 Koreans have already tried it. Word of mouth spread rapidly thanks to social media, and almost instantly, people rushed out to the local convenience store to get their hands on the new item to try it for themselves.

This particular ramyeon has drawn attention for suggesting that one should eat noodles with their miyeokguk, a seaweed soup Koreans eat on their birthday alongside a bowl of rice. For ramyeon aficionados, miyeokguk ramyeon represents a turning point for their favorite snack. Instant noodles have typically recreated already existing noodle dishes, instead of creating an unfamiliar combination.

Ottogi decided to use the flavors of miyeokguk, which most Koreans eat with rice, and add noodles as part of its attempt to make a variety of products that are replaceable with home-cooked meals, often called HMR (home meal replacement) products in Korea.

“There are many ready-to-eat products made with the flavors of miyeokguk, so the company started to think of what else they can do with the flavor that has been reproduced by many different companies,” said the company in a release. “This was one of the ‘think-outside-the-box’ ideas because no one imagined that miyeokguk would go well with ramyeon noodles.”

Also, since miyeokguk is a soup Koreans eat on their birthdays, many are using it as a substitute when they can’t make it themselves.

Ottogi has a hit on their hand with the miyeokguk noodles; the company has long tried to mix and match different flavors in its instant noodles. The company has also added curry to its noodles to attract fans of its curry product, who usually mix it with their rice.

Instead of releasing something that already exists in the market, retailers work to find local delights that they can make into a bowl of instant noodles. Younger consumers are adventurous and curious about trying out items they have not seen elsewhere, so that they can be the first one of their friends to spread the word of a tasty find on social media. There are now many reviewers who search for different kinds of ramyeon available only in certain stores or regions.

Sokcho, on Korea’s east coast, is known for its red crabs. Convenience store chain CU put red crabs into its cup noodles, considering that many people love adding the ingredient to ramyeon noodles when they eat at restaurants in Sokcho while visiting the coastal city.

Another convenience store chain, GS25, took attributes of its seafood ramyeon to Jeju Island. The island is known for its fresh eats from the ocean.

7-Eleven has taken a different approach to commercialize what’s available at restaurants in a cup. Korean-style Chinese food jjambbong from popular restaurant Gyodong Banjeom in Gangneung, Gangwon, has now been made into a cup noodle available at its stores.

While many strive to create new flavors to attract consumers, Emart24 has taken a different approach to make the instant noodle more affordable than ever.

While one package on average goes for over 1,000 won ($0.88), Emart24 introduced Minsaeng Ramyeon last month, which costs about 550 won per pack. The particular ramyeon is made into package instead of a noodle cup because, while noodle cups attract younger consumers in their teens, 20s and 30s, packaged ramyeon sells well among consumers of all ages.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]