Ramen Noodles may not be the most healthful thing to survive on when you're in college -- or otherwise strapped for cash -- but they sure can be a real asset in a broke person's portfolio.
Ramen noodles were honored recently by none other than Google. More specifically, the inventor of Ramen instant noodles -- Momofuku Ando -- was the subject of a Google Doodle on the Google front page. It took Ando 48 years to "perfect" his instant Ramen recipe.
But Momofuku Ando's brainchild is the real star. Broke folks from points all over know that you can grab a whole case of Ramen -- that's 12 packs -- for around $2.00, putting a lunch at less than 20¢. That's surviving. And when you consider that you can get a variety of flavors at most stores that carry instant Ramen -- including chick, beef, pork, and "Oriental flavor" -- you can get a flavor rotation going and stand to eat Ramen multiple times in a week, or even in a day.
Prep couldn't be simpler for stock Ramen noodles. Open the pack; drop the block of noodles into a small pot and just cover with water; dump in the spice pack that came in the pack; bring to a boil; kill burner and wait about 2 minutes. Done. The whole thing takes maybe 5-6 minutes. College students not allowed hot plates can use a microwave. Failing that, dorm inhabitants have been making Ramen with a coffee pot for decades.
But eventually the tolerance for straight-from-the-pack Ramen noodles runs out. That's when you need a few simple add-ons to hack your Ramen back to a somewhat more interesting level.
Here are a few of the best Ramen hacks, with a particular eye toward the cheap or even free. Find your own combinations or spins on these.
Spices and condiments: Hang on to spice and condiment packs from restaurants, takeout, and food court islands. Hoard up on soy sauce, black or white pepper, pepper flakes, or even lemon and lime juices. Pizza joints are great for packs of pepper flakes, Parmesan cheese, and even some spice blends. Get ginger from sushi deli packs. Or go nuts and actually buy some stuff. Experiment with different flavor additions and combinations.
Veggies: You can get frozen vegetables real cheap. Add some broccoli, snow peas, edamame, shredded carrot, and other veg you might like. Others don't even need to be frozen. Baby spinach, green onions, and other leafy items can be wilted right in to your Ramen just before eating.
Egg: Swirl in beaten raw egg, a la egg drop soup. Or just dump in some scrambled egg, or even top your bowl off with a boiled egg for a more authentic approach.
Meat: Here's a new level. Microwave up some leftover meat, chop it up, and dump it in. This could be anything from pieces of steak to leftover wings. Maybe Ramen noodles and soggy chicken nuggets is going too far, but you get the idea.
Forget the flavor pack: Most of the above tips can be used with the provided Ramen flavor pack. But you can also set that thing aside altogether and just use the quick-cook noodles with your own spices and add-ins. Hang on to the pack to flavor rice, scrambled eggs, or your own fake Rice-a-Roni mix. You can also use them to sprinkle on buttered bread, toast it up, and have a garlic bread alternative (or addition).
If you have access to a stove top and pan, pull the Ramen out of the water just a little early and stir-fry it with any of the above elements.
So don't despair over the limitations of that quarter-a-pack of unhealthy subsistence. You can hack it.