The long and short of the “premium” noodle bowls from Costco.
On a recent trip to Costco, I came across a 6-pack of udon noodle soup in prepacked bowls. I like to save money by bringing my lunch to work, and it isn’t always feasible to pack leftovers or make lunch in the morning. Because of this, I always like to have some lunch options on hand in case I can’t bring food for whatever reason. These noodle bowls looked tasty and they were on sale, so I decided to pick up a box of them.
Within the box are 6 individually wrapped styrofoam bowls. Inside the bowl are a small packet of udon noodles, a pouch of liquid soup base, and a pouch of flakes. The noodle pouch has an interestingly squishy texture, being already cooked and kept hydrated in the packet. The liquid soup base looks almost like soy sauce, a dark liquid with an amber hue. The flakes are contained within a foil packet, a mystery until time to open them.
According to the directions, I opened the noodle packet and dumped the contents into the empty bowl. The instructions say to fill the bowl with water above the noodles, which is coincidentally about how much my office coffee machine dispenses on the “large hot water” setting. Placing the lid on the bowl, I waited two minutes for the noodles to loosen. After the time had elapsed, I removed the lid and began to gently stir the noodles. Many of them had separated from the bunch, but a few remained clinged together. I assumed these would loosen completely in the second stage of preparation.
I drained off the water through the slitted bowl lid and opened the vessel again. I opened the liquid soup base pouch and poured it over the noodles. Contrary to its appearance, the soup base smells far more mild than soy sauce, almost herbal in aroma. The flake pouch contained several green onions, some seaweed, chili peppers, mushrooms, radishes, and a few other unidentifiable ingredients. Clearly, the flakes were dehydrated for preservation purposes. As instructed, I filled the bowl with another large hot water from the coffee machine, stirred the contents of the bowl, and placed the lid on for another minute.
With the directions finally complete aside from the final step of “serve,” I removed the lid. At this point, the noodle soup began to resemble the Asian dish I was expecting. A collection of pale noodles floated amongst a few bits of vegetable matter in a dark, murky broth. Honestly, it looked like something I would be served at a restaurant, aside from the bowl being made of a disposable material.
The flavor of the dish is really good, with that savory umami sensation trailing every bite. Despite being dehydrated in the packet, the flakes offer a number of distinctive flavors and contribute greatly to the entire soup. After dispersing in hot water, the noodles look far less processed and unpleasant than they did in the pack. With such a high fluid content, there’s a lot of broth to consume. As such, it’s almost like a pho that involves slurping and (in my case) tipping the bowl to my mouth like a cup. Despite the absurdly high sodium content, the flavor is both mild and complex.
Texture is where the dish starts to lose me, and turned a coworker away from it altogether. Obviously, something cooked and preserved isn’t going to have the same sort of appeal as a fresh preparation. The flakes adopt a slightly soggy texture once they absorb some water, especially the radishes. Udon noodles by nature are somewhat chewy, but these seem to be even more so than fresh noodles. For me, the texture made the dish somewhat quirky, but still palatable. Those less open to unique textures may want to steer clear.
Nutritionally, this dish is about on par with processed food: crazy high sodium and lacking everywhere else. The serving size is half of the bowl, but who eats half a bowl of noodles? Putting the numbers together, that’s 2500mg of sodium, over 100% of the daily recommended intake. Calorie content is a little more mild at 440 kCal total, and nothing else is really out of the ordinary. My blood pressure isn’t fond of the sodium level, but that’s the case with any over processed, packaged food.
Advertised on the box is the Chef’s Best Award for Excellence for 2012, from the American Culinary ChefsBest organization. Clearly, people who know their stuff thought this dish was worth being awarded. For what it is, I’m inclined to agree. This is not fine dining at a Michelin starred restaurant. This is a bowl of noodles that I picked up from a local wholesale store. I got hot water from an office coffee machine and ate them at my desk. Framed in that mindset, they’re pretty good.
I’d recommend the Nong Shim Udon Noodle Bowl for the fan of Asian food who wants something quick and easy to make. Add hot water, wait three minutes, boom: bowl o’ noodles. It’s not as good as restaurant udon noodles, but it’s much easier, faster, and cheaper at under $2 per bowl. If you don’t like Asian food, this is not for you. Don’t come into it expecting the Americanized ramen you see on the shelves of Walmart for 20 cent per pack. It’s a different dish entirely, one that is much closer to its Asian roots. I like it, but it certainly isn’t for everyone.
TL;DR Pretty good noodle bowl, but high in sodium. Worth trying.
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