Aside from the underlying hardships and horrors of this lockdown, I’ve really been having a grand ol’ time in isolation… catching up on gaming, I would cook daily, and I’ve even revisited unfinished life goals and dreams. Like eating my way through the pot noodle section of the local Tesco. So with the opportunity for travel grounded for the foreseeable future, I decided to explore Asia and the orient through plastic cups of rehydrated noodles. As I scour the instant noodles/instant ramen shelves of Tesco in search of the best Pot Noodles in Britain.
When I say the best Pot Noodles in Britain I really mean the best ‘instant noodles in pots’ rather than the specific ‘Pot Noodle’ brand. Because the classic Golden Wonder: Pot Noodles have more or less become synonymous with similarly packaged instant noodles/instant ramen/pot noodles/cup noodles… or whatever you prefer to call them. But the term ‘best’ is obviously subjective, so I’ve ordered them instead to reflect the ‘best pot noodles’ for the current lockdown situation. By ranking them by calories/healthiness to help kerb the rise of self-isolating fatties.
I should also point out that all these pot noodles (or similar) should be easily found in pretty much every local supermarket e.g. Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, ASDA’s. And while I’d love to include the Asian Supermarket favourites, like Indomie Salty Bois and Super Hot Samyang, a craving for Mama: Tom Yum Creamy will not likely slide for ‘essential travel’ with travel restrictions at this time. But I will revisit these down the line. However I have covered similar before (in video below) from the remote rural rice fields of Thailand.
Itsu: Eat Beautiful (£1.75)
“Yoshihiro and his broths…” Itsu would make an easy introduction to the classic broths of Japanese ramen (instant ramen) where there are 4 common flavours including Tonkotsu (pork bone), Shoyu (soy sauce), Miso (fermented bean paste), and Shio (salt). Listed above in my own personal preference. In Itsu’s case, their broths are miso, and the genius behind them all is Yoshihiro who fused some delightful miso broths with herbs and spices, that you can “eat with pride”.
But I will go out on a limb here and say these Itsu noodles are homegrown here in the U.K. Firstly, because Itsu doesn’t seem to exist in the instant ramen scene in Japan. But the potentially fictitious Yoshihiro is also said to be from “Nagano Valley” near Tokyo. I have been to Nagano before, the prefecture, the city, the snow monkeys, and Google maps don’t even know where Nagano Valley is. Anyway, they seem to be selling a more upmarket ‘Japanese’ pot noodle experience. “Eat with pride” “Eat beautiful” “Solution for foodies” which seems to be an alternative to slobbing away on a Bombay Badboy.
So given the questionable origins of Itsu I was happy to branch out to satay (sate), a common street food staple in Southeast Asia which has become somewhat of a generic term for barbecue meat skewers. However sate is probably better known for its sauce, a delightful spiced peanut sauce (Sambal Kecang) from Indonesia (or Malaysia if you’re from Malaysia). And personally I like my ‘sate’ to be less sweet or coconutty, and more hot and fiery and Sumatran style.
Anyway, I go with itsu Satay Rice Noodles and I was genuinely surprised by the unlikely goodness of this pot noodle as the flat rice noodles and miso broth really bring a freshness to what is otherwise a junk food staple. The flavour of peanut sate is there as well, and while it’s not outstanding, it can easily be fixed with a bit of personal seasoning (salt, ground white pepper, and chilli flakes). These rice noodles are also gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and oddly there’s no mention of peanut in the ingredients so they’re probably fine for allergies. Good job Itsu!
Pot Noodles: Asian Street Style (£1.75)
I assume most people are familiar with ‘Pot Noodles’, the actual brand, in the U.K? Well ‘Asian Street Style’ appear to be Pot Noodles new oriental range that not only offer exciting Asian flavours but are low in fat/calorie as well. At least when compared to their classics. Which again is likely due to the use of rice vermicelli noodles instead of the usual wheat noodles. As wheat noodles are normally fried to first dry them.
Anyway, I’m not certain why the brand is named “Asian Street Style”, but I’m guessing they’re inspired by the whole ‘authentic’ Asian street food fad that I admittedly buy into as they’re almost always more exciting than plain old Chow Mein. So I go with the Pot Noodle Asian Street Style Thai Red Curry, a staple of Thai cuisine that’s pretty much never found near street food outside of Khao Rad Kaeng curry canteens. But I’m always excited for anything curry, and I’m already thinking of more Thai curry flavours, like panaeng, and massaman, and how awesome could Khao Soi be?
But, for now, I make do with Thai Red Curry (Kaeng Phet) and I am straight off surprised that they actually smell and taste more like a Thai red curry than I expected. There are definite hints of coconut milk, kaffir lime, galangal, and weirdly cumin, I think. I dunno. So the signatures of Thai curries are there, only they just seem to lack the same fusion and intensity of a good and proper coconut curry. As expected. I’m just a Thai curry snob. The vermicelli ‘woonsen’ noodles also give a fresher and ‘healthier’ flavour when compared to the classic pot noodle range.
Kabuto Rice Noodles (£2.00)
Okay, there is an obvious pattern here in the top spots, where again the gluten-free rice noodles of Kobuto appear to be the ‘healthy’ option in the world of instant noodles. So if you want healthy noodles – go with rice noodles. Anyway, the branding is also similar to the ‘authentic Asian’ flavours, and, like Itsu, it follows a likely fictitious Japanese origin story of Samurai Master Crispin and his handcrafted recipes from his family kitchen. “With the skill, dedication and discipline of a Samurai warrior”. Similar branding, but cuter, and more anime/weeb-inspired.
So I go with the Kabuto Rice Noodles Vegetable Laksa. And. I know. What exactly is laksa? Is it a noodle or is it a soup. Or both. First off, “laksa noodles” are famous thick rice noodles used in Malaysian staples such as the fiery coconut-based Curry Laksa and the sour fish-based Assam Laksa. And the word laksa may even derive from the Hindi/Persian word for noodles “lakhshah”. But Laksa is also to describe noodle soups, a variety of them, even without laksa noodles involve. Which came first. The noodle or the soup? Anyway I remember bringing my noodle conundrum to the head chef of Resorts World Genting (Malaysia) who avoided me for the rest of the day. “Surely with egg noodles, would it not be curry mee?”
Laksa does tend to be a regional thing, although I did expect these noodles to be more like a ‘curry laksa’. Not so much with cockles, blood cubes, and tofu sponge, but at least some flavours of a Curry Laksa paste. But I found it closer instead to an asam or even a Laksa Soto, and I’m really just making stuff up now. Anyway, the noodles are light, the soup is punch-in-your-face zesty with coconut, chilli, and ginger/galangal flavours. They are also said to contain only natural ingredients with no additives/preservatives/flavour enhancers. The healthy new future of pot noodles. At twice the price.
Batchelors: Pasta ‘n’ Sauce (£1.10)
Pasta is obviously a descendant of Asian noodles, wherein the 13th-century, Marco Polo brought noodles from China to Italy. So pasta is pretty much Italian noodles. Just ask anyone from Italy. And while I would love to include all instant pasta pots here along with their founding fathers, I will keep it simple with just the one ‘Pot Pasta’, in Batchelor’s Pasta ‘n’ Sauce. As this is an instant food favourite of mine that I eat fairly regularly. Only I eat the packet version, like I mentioned in my “Eating Weird Stuff from B&M post” (it has been an exciting couple of months). But there will be obvious differences given the packets are prepared in a pot… Although they are relatively low fat with just 9% saturated fats per Pasta ‘n’ Sauce Pot. vs. 38% in Bachelors Super Noodle Pots. That’s less than a quarter.
Batchelor’s Pasta ‘N’ Sauce Cheese & Broccoli: I followed the usual Pot Noodles instructions by filling the cup with boiling water to the waterfill line. I replaced the lid and waited. After 2-minutes, I stirred again and then replaced the lid again. After a further 3-minutes it was ready to eat. But it was still a tad al dente. So that’s 5-minutes of waiting for a Pot Noodle/Pasta, which is no different to similar packets. Only there are extra steps with the packets after adding the boiling water to a saucepan. Like adding milk, an optional blob of butter, and just anything to pimp the flavours and ingredients of the pasta. As they are a lot more versatile when cooked on the hob. With few extra steps. Either way, they taste like a poor man’s carbonara.
Nissin: Cup Noodles (£1.00)
For anyone new to Nissin, they are literally the inventors of all instant noodles the world over from where they originated way back in 1958 in Japan (Momofuku Ando). Nissin then went on to invent the first pot noodles (Cup Noodles) in 1971 and have pretty much dominated the Japanese instant ramen industry for the past 50-years. Anyway, while I am back reminiscing, I should really share the basic/essential components of a proper, non-instant bowl of ramen noodles. Which includes 3 essential ingredients. The noodles, the toppings, and the broth. And so the perfect bowl of ramen for me would include ramen noodles (obviously), a rich tonkotsu (pork bone), and tasty slabs of pork on top.
On the shelves, I find the options of sukiyaki beef, kaisen seafood, pork tonkotsu, and teriyaki chicken. Pots which I would typically avoid otherwise, in favour of the more fiery/curry pots like Cheese Curry and Tantanmen (check out their outstanding Japanese pots here). But Nissin Cup Noodles Pork Tonkotsu does pretty much translate as ‘the ultimate ramen’ by ‘the gods of instant noodles’. And, they are good and tasty, instant-wise, but they still needed a bit of pimping with some ground white pepper and spice.
Otherwise it is hard to replicate a good and proper tonkotsu ramen, with runny eggs, fat slabs of pork, and an umami broth like liquified pigs. A meal hard to beat. But even harder to replicate using dried bits of flavour and hot water. Although I do always crank my tonkotsu up anyway with a bit of ground white pepper and some shichimi togarashi. Anyway, design-wise, the packaging is fairly flawless. So arguably more has been offered in aesthetics and branding, unlike in Japan, where Cup Noodles packaging is about as minimal/simple as it gets.
Tesco: Wicked Kitchen (£1.50)
Do you ever remember those ‘Tesco Value Range’, the ‘Everyday’ products, the Blue and White ‘Jail Bird’ food? They were more or less cheap, no-nonsense, minimally branded imitations of popular products already found on their shelves. Cheap products aimed at value-conscious and penny-pinching shoppers and with the same stigma attached. So shoppers were obviously embarrassed to be seen buying them. Therefore Tesco decided to rebrand their off-brand products with as little effort possible, and this gave to generic names like Boswell Farms, Stockwell & Co, Hearty Food Co….
“Exclusively at TESCO”. Not because they bagged the exclusive rights to some superior products. They just made them all in-house instead. So I started with Hearty Food Co, a knock off brand of Pot Noodles, with two classic flavours ‘Chicken & Mushroom’, and ‘Spicy Curry’ on their shelves. Curry being the obvious choice for me. And the Hearty Food Co Spicy Curry Noodle Pot are okay I guess. I did shake some salt in to bring out the flavours. Not quite Pot Noodles. Awk, they’re fine. At the same time, I do often find off-brand products to be better than the originals. So there’s still room to explore.
Next is Wicked Kitchen: Spicy Coconut And Rice Noodles, Tesco’s own brand vegetarian food, with a premium pot of pot rice noodles at a staggering £1.50. But still cheaper than the cheapest branded rice noodles on their shelves. So I go with the only noodle option on the shelves, the ‘Spicy coconut & rice noodles’ a ‘fragrant coconut ginger, lime and chilli broth with mushroom and coriander’. Flavours I cook with almost daily. And I’m seriously impressed by the fresh noodles and the fantastic fragrant flavours. Similar maybe to Thailand’s ‘Tom Kha’ coconut and galangal soup. Seriously, I’m impressed.
Naked Noodle (£1.20)
So I screwed up slightly with Naked Noodles as I was all excited to see Katsu Curry, a Japanese curry traditionally served with rice and a katsu pork cutlet. A curry I cook almost weekly. But I also failed to see it was a Pot Rice. Soz. Anyway, I do love my J-Curry to be full-on curry, like hot S&B or CocoIchibanya. Without those carrots, potato, raisins… So I was excited to read “intense curry, sweet garlic, and aromatic garam masala”. The foundations of any top-notch curry. But again I did have to pimp it up again with some salt and dry chilli flakes,
Take 2, Naked Noodle: Egg Noodles Singapore Curry. “Egg Noodles in a Chinese curry sauce”. First off, Chinese is a very generic term used to blanket the mixing pot of diverse food cultures in Singapore, where Chinese cuisine alone is split into regions/dialects such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka and Hainanese (I love me some chicken rice). But I also find Singaporean cuisine to be ridiculously misunderstood globally where their most famous food ’Singapore Noodles’ is nothing like anything on the island and are also from Hong Kong (Xing Chow Bee Hoon probably the closest in Singapore).
I may seem a bit dickish about terminology here but it’s a bit like getting a shepherd’s pie ready meal in Asia to find its cottage pie, or more like ordering bangers & mash only to get bratwurst and sauerkraut. Anyway, when I think Singapore Noodles I think Char Kuay Teow or Hokkien Mee. When I think Singapore Curry I think Fish Head curry… but that’s wishful thinking given it’s a Singaporean mix of Indian and Chinese cuisine.
YOGIYO: Korean Kitchen (£1.75)
YOGIYO. “Ramen Noodles. Authentic Korean Street Food”. Are these words not contradictory? Should it not be ramyon? Anyway. I’m not great when it comes to Korean food given my little knowledge goes no further than bimbimbap and bulgogi beef barbecues. But I do know that YOGIYO are full of flavour, or at least the flavour packets are really massive. Which is similar to their rather tall pots when compared to stumpier alternatives, yet they don’t really contain any more noodles (75g). It’s all an illusion.
So, in South Korea ‘Yogiyo!’ means ‘over here!’ And it’s apparently something heard a lot in busy Korean restaurants. Cute? Anyway, in the pot noodle shelves there are some intriguing flavours like kimchi and sesame chicken. But I regrettably lumped for the Yogiyo Beef & Mushroom Noodle Pot noodles having been won over by the ‘3 chillies’ and super spicy hot labelling. I’m a sucker for my fiery chilli kicks. So there is a fiery spiciness to the soup, and admittedly I did the last dregs of the cup. But the flavour was otherwise off. At least I didn’t understand it. And while I am all for punch-in-your-face heat and spices, there obviously needs to be an overall balance with actual flavours of the food. I dunno. I’m probably outside my comfort zone here.
But it does feel like YOGIYO have focused more on a hipster-like branding instead of flavour. Which is similar to many supermarket products these days where you’re really just paying a premium for unnecessary marketing, packaging and whatever. But it’s hard to ignore their whole independent backstory, at least it fits a narrative, starting out as a humble London street food van to their current success… in instant noodles? It just feels all a bit overambitious when competing against instant ramen giants like Nissin and Pot Noodles.
Batchelors: Super Noodles Pots (£1.00)
We have an ‘Asian food cupboard’ in the house with big bags of dried stuff like lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, tamarind, curry pastes, and too many chillies. Otherwise it’s normally bunged with cheap multipacks of instant noodles (Pran and Koka Noodles atm) and mountains of unused instant noodle seasoning sachets. Because instant noodles are merely an ingredient in Fanfan’s cooking, and the seasoning is unnecessary, inferior I guess, to the meal planned ahead.
“Oodles of flavour”, apparently. So Super Noodles are Britain’s most famous ‘packet’ instant noodles which are traditionally prepared in a saucepan of boiling water. They have even been around since before I was born (their 1982 advert here) yet it wasn’t until recently (2017) when they crossed over to compete in the big bad world of Pot Noodles.
Now, in 2020, I finally have the opportunity to put them head-to-head, and while I am familiar with almost all the original Super Noodle flavours, Batchelor’s say that flavours differs from the standard Super Noodle range. Exciting. But they don’t really look like they’ve changed. They just look like a chunk of Super Noodles squashed inside a cup. Exciting.
Again I play it safe with Batchelor’s Super Noodle Pot Curry, ‘noodles in a curry flavour seasoning with peas and tomato’. Unfortunately they are worse than I remember, given they’re kind of mushy, and messy, and a bit like baby food. They’re really just not my style of noodles. I prefer a bit of chew in my noodles. And even ground white pepper and dry chilli flakes failed to save them. They’re still good for the saucepan though.
Unilever: Pot Noodles (£1.00)
In 1977 Golden Wonder introduced Pot Noodles to the U.K. and since they have pretty much dominated the instant cup noodle market through to this day. During this time they also managed to take a proud symbol of Japan’s convenience culture and degrade it to become the “Slag of all Snacks”. A label not so much representative of instant noodles themselves, but the class of British public that eat them. A symbol of laziness, slobbery and delightful, hedonistic good-time indulgence. Anyway, I’ll try to link into some of their more controversial adverts along the way. “Have you got the Pot Noodle Horn“.
Back in the 1980s and 90s Pot Noodles introduced me to all sorts of world flavours when foods were nowhere near as global as they are today. However, they were banned from my house, so I would rent movies and eat them at a mate’s on weekends before I was old enough to get silly drunk (around 12). And I always remember a limited edition ‘Pots of the World’ series including Szechuan (Sichuan) Spicy Chicken, Texan Beef, maybe, and any other documentation seemed to have dropped off the planet. Either way, I will always have this nostalgic connection with pot Noodles.
Anyway, it was like gastrotourism for poor kids at the times, and my persuasion towards Pot Noodles may be due to nostalgia attached given I’d probably still go for the classics before most of this list. Some Beef and Tomato, some Chicken and Mushroom, have you ever tried Original Curry mixed with a Bombay Badboy. Pow! But there is very much a downside to Pot Noodles where many pots contain almost half the daily sat fat intake or more.
But these days I don’t really see past the Bombay Badboy to be honest as it’s savoury and fiery flavours make for the perfect base to any hot sauce noodles soup. Just fire in Sriracha, Cholula, Franks, whatever you fancy, and that’s your chilli cravings sorted for a while. But this time I thought I’d go for one of their newer pots. Pot Noodle Chicken Korma. And they are just hard to fault. Chewy noodles, amazing flavour, pimped out with a healthy addition of Sriracha sauce. I do crave my added spice. Also, check out my fav food reviewer Gary 200’s review of Bombay Badboy.
Nissin: Soba Noodles (£1.40)
Having already adventured through the common broths of Japanese ramen noodles, I will now expand to the wider world of Japanese noodles. And here there are traditionally 4 classic noodle varieties in Japan with Ramen (thin wheat noodles), Udon (thick wheat noodles), Soba (traditionally, buckwheat noodles), and Somen (thinner wheat noodles). Although some do consider ‘yakisoba’, which translates as ‘grilled buckwheat noodles’, to be another.
Anyway, with Nissin Soba Classic Instant Noodles you do expect some tasty buckwheat noodles, only Soba can be used as a generic term for noodles, so they’re really just “instant wheat noodles” here… Sorry celiacs. The classic flavour of Nissin: Soba is then ‘Yakisoba’, a traditional sauce that yakisoba noodles are cooked with (is this getting confusing?). A sweet, savoury, and sticky soy flavoured sauce, with a hint of Worcestershire sauce. A flavour known as yakisoba sauce.
When it comes to noodles I always order the thickest, chewiest noodles on the menu. In Thailand, where I eat noodles almost every other day, it would be egg noodles (Baa Mee) which I normally order dry (haeng) and with the soup on the side. It’s a bit like a deconstructed noodle soup. So I do prefer my noodles dry, as they’re just more filling and less soupy in my stomach. But I’ve never found any similar in Pot Noodles before Nissin: Soba.
As expected Nissin: Soba are prepared slightly differently to your usual pot noodle. Where the noodles are prepared first in boiling water before draining and stirring in yakitori sauce mixed in after. So be careful not to add the sauce until after the water is drained or you’ll just be pouring away all the flavour (like I near did). And I am impressed with Soba giving both classic and hot a whirl. The flavours are authentic, we have chewy noodles, and even the fake ‘chicken’ and cabbage add a bit of bite. Good job!
Ko-Lee: Bang Bang Curry (£0.90)
Big brash bright colours and bold ‘bang bang’ in-your-face bubble-fonts. Ko-Lee are about as unsophisticated and unashamed as you will find in the world of pot noodle branding. And they’ll probably be the first you’ll see on the pot noodle shelves. And Ko-Lee appear to be the new ‘slag of snacks’, the unhealthiest of the noodle shelves, as the big brands of Pot Noodles have apparently been tamed through controversy and reigned in by the health police. Ko-Lee otherwise are less apologetic, the new slag of all snacks. Eat me or **** off.
This was actually my 2nd run at Ko-Lee Noodles having given the Ko-Lee Go: Thai Hot & Spicy a rustle before. However I am rubbish with instructions, and, after adding the sachet of flavour/geschmak/gout, I filled the cup to an inside line. Only to find two water-fill levels on the outside, one for a noodle snack and the other for noodle soup, and I more or less ruined them with far too much water. But I was impressed by the flavours which were surprisingly similar to the Mama Noodles: Tom Yum (Nam Sai), a flavour of instant noodles I’ve probably eaten my own body weight in through Thailand. Definitely worth a go.
Anyway, take two, and I go for Ko-Lee Bang Bang Noodles: Ruby Murray Curry flavour. Although I did have to google ‘Ruby Murray’ beforehand only to find that she’s a famous post-war pop singer who lived just up the road from us (13-miles) on the Donegall Road in Belfast. Just 2-miles out from our ‘local’ Asia Supermarket. Anyway, I have never heard of Ruby Murray but apparently she is Cockney Rhyming slang for “curry”. Completely irrelevant I know, but still a happy coincidence.
Anyway, the chewy, filling noodles of Ko-Lee are right up my street, the flavours are definitely Asian, and Ko-Lee even include a plastic fork, which is more like a trident, in every pot. So I do suspect they were produced for an Asian market where pot noodles are easily prepared at every convenience store or konbini to eat on the go. Otherwise instant noodles are prepared mainly at home in the UK with kettles/boiling water found right next to the knife and fork drawer. So it feels almost like Ko-Lee have just dumped a load of tasty Asian noodles into European markets and relied on the cheap and cheerful product to sell themselves. Why waste money on regional branding.
The Best Pot Noodles in Britain?
I did spend most my time here whinging about the authenticity (or lack of it) in pot noodle flavours. But this otherwise has little influence on whether or not I buy a pot. As most folk will have a fair idea from the design and images and labels on the packaging. Otherwise price and overall value for money are where my decision lies, as I could easily buy fresh egg/rice noodles from Tesco’s (300g/£1.25) and throw something 10x awesomer together using simple pastes, spices, and ingredients from the cupboards. So in similar time (around 5-minutes), I could literally cook better/healthier food for 2-3 people and it will be cheaper than many of these measly pots of rehydrated noodles (180g). And that’s why pot noodles are considered lazy food rather than convenience food in the UK.
So my top 3 noodles will mostly be based on deliciousness, value for money, and really just whether or not I’d buy them again when not on offer. I really don’t want to pit wheat noodles against rice noodles either so it will likely be a more diverse selection. Anyway, my personal favourite pot noodles, in no specific order, are:
- Wicked Rice Noodles: These were the unhealthiest of the healthy rice noodle options. But they were also the tastiest, the cheapest, and I would maybe even fork out £1.50 for them. It was an easy win.
- Unilever Pot Noodles: Partly influenced by my passion for food tourism as Pot Noodles are the U.K’s equivalent to Japan’s Cup Noodles. With 10s of flavours to explore. And somewhere there will almost always be a reduced price/half-price offer going on Pot Noodles.
- Nissin Soba Noodles: I would probably eat noodles/noodles soups thrice a week in Asia. And I will always go with the noodles with a bit of meatiness, a bit of bite, a bit of chew. So this is where Nissin Soba Noodles add to this selection.
This is more of an introduction to instant ramen and popular pot noodle brands on the British supermarket shelves. But it does set a stage for further research, and further flavours and further slobbery, given each brand (other than Wicked) have around 4-5 pot noodle flavours to explore. And Pot Noodles alone have upward of 10. So you’re talking around 50+ flavours in total. It’s a great time to be alive. And I’ll try to update them along the way.