Not only do foreigners like the taste of instant noodles, they also enjoy experimenting with different ingredients to create unique dishes. (Photo: Li Hao/GT)
The water in the pot kept bubbling up as Lauren Wood boiled a pack of the well known brand Master Kong's sour and hot beef instant noodles on the stove.
"I love Chinese ramen (the name foreigners often use for instant noodles used in Asian cooking) because it's easy to find, cheap and convenient. Being a foodie, there was no way I could pass up Chinese instant noodles," she said.
Chinese instant noodles went viral on the Internet during the Rio Olympics. Discussion heated up among Chinese Web users after photos of Chinese coaches and athletes eating instant noodles were uploaded on social media.
However, Wood, a German who works in a bank based in Beijing, has her own ideas when it comes to cooking instant noodles. One of her favorite ways to prepare them is to grill instant noodles with cheese
She whisks two eggs in a little bowl before she adds the cooked noodles in. Then she mixes the egg with the noodles and places them in foil, refrigerates them for 15 minutes and grills the noodles for 8 to 10 minutes. Her final addition is a slice of cheese on top.
"By grilling the noodles, they become crispy on the outside and the cheese gives it creaminess," Wood said. "I am so addicted to it that I eat it at least twice a week to please my cravings."
Wood is not alone. Many foreigners are huge fans of instant noodles and experiment with their own way of cooking them.
Passion for creativity
For Wood, creative cooking makes her even more interested in trying to cook instant noodles with different ingredients, in different ways.
Besides her grilling method, she also has other unique recipes. She proudly announces that she has invented a "ramen noodle pizza."
"One day when I was eating a piece of pizza, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I could try to make pizza with ramen noodles. So I gave it a try right away," Wood said.
First, she broke the block of instant noodles lengthwise into two halves to make it thinner, and then she added tomato sauce, baked bacon, ground beef and sliced yellow peaches on top of the two blocks. She put it in the oven for about 10 minutes and all there is left to do is enjoy.
"I love the taste and enjoy using a wide variety of ingredients, but I love the feeling of putting my creativity and imagination to the test more," she said.
By combining instant noodles and pizza, she brings the crispiness of instant noodles to the pizza and the richness of pizza to the plain noodles. "Enjoying your very own delicious brand-new idea is wonderful," she said.
Instant noodle pizza is not the only invention. Inspired by the eggs used in grilling instant noodles with cheese, she also cooks "ramen egg tortillas."
She breaks the block of noodles into pieces and boils them in water. Then she cuts spring onions and puts them in a bowl with whisked eggs before adding in the cooked ramen. After mixing the ingredients well, she adds oil to the pan and cooks them.
According to her, it is a great choice for breakfast and dinner. "With the eggs in it, it is nutritional and thus suitable as a proper breakfast. It's a lot less boring than having bread and milk every morning."
Besides, she said, it is also ideal for dinner after a long day of work because the whole meal only takes about 15 minutes to prepare. "Compared with other noodles like spaghetti, ramen can be cooked much quicker. I owe it all to my creativity."
A taste of home
Aside from the creative aspect of cooking Chinese instant noodles, many foreigners use it as a chance to incorporate familiar tastes from home in a quick and easy way.
Emile Koekemoer, an English teacher from South Africa based in Beijing, adds Aromat, a spice from her home country, when she prepares ramen.
"It (Aromat spice) has a distinctive taste. I live for the spice and add it to almost any dish possible for some additional flavor," Koekemoer said. "It makes everything delicious and reminds me of home."
Lalima Singh, an Indian flight attendant who has been working in the Beijing Capital International Airport for two years, likes to add different curries in as she cooks instant noodles.
According to her, in New Delhi where she used to live, it is safe to say curry is added into almost every dish and she enjoys the flavor it brings.
"To me, the taste of curry reminds me of home," said Singh.
Since most of the time, there is no curry in Chinese food, she constantly looks for ways to blend it in Chinese cuisine.
Three months after she arrived in Beijing, she tried Master Kong braised beef noodles for the very first time and liked it a lot, although she found it a little oily.
"While I was eating, it came to me that maybe I could put a little curry in it. It turned out well and brought me back to the flavors of home. And at the same time, the curry combated against the oiliness," she said.
Weird food mash-ups are known in China as "dark foods," based on a loose translation, which refers to food with a weird shape or taste. Some instant noodle recipes invented by foreigners manage to make it into the group.
Andrew Cock, a 36-year-old American sales manager in Beijing, likes to try unusual ways to enjoy food, including instant noodles.
As Cock was tearing open a salty and spicy flavored instant noodles last Wednesday, a bottle of Sprite in the refrigerator caught his eye, and he decided to make an interesting combination.
"I thought it would be great to enjoy ramen in refrigerated Sprite on such a hot summer day," Cock said. "As I put the cooked ramen and its spices into a bowl and poured Sprite in, I was so excited that I could not wait to taste it."
After the first bite, Cock was amazed at how perfect the cooking method combined the saltiness of the packets and the sweetness of the drink. "It was somewhere in between; not too salty or too sweet."
He even went one step further by adding some slices of peach, calling it a magic touch as it gives instant noodles a taste of fruit.
Besides Sprite, he also tried other things, including putting instant noodles in black coffee and milk. But in the end he did not like the outcome of the combination. The bitterness of the black coffee was too strong that the flavor of the noodles was completely suppressed. Then he tried to add sugar, but it still could not blend well. The same thing happened with instant noodles in milk as the milky flavor fought against the spiciness of the instant noodles.
Even though not all of his ideas turn out well, he still loves trying unusual and seemingly mind-blogging ways to cook instant noodles.
Wang Fa (online personality Fa Ye), director of Brave Gourmet, a popular show on youku.com, an online video and streaming service platform, said that since instant noodles are so common, it is a food people are comfortable experimenting with - similar to how people experimented with potatoes by steaming, grilling, frying, and so on.
"It helps make people's life less boring and less routine," he said, adding that people enjoy diversity in food and different ways of cooking instant noodles are certainly a great way to promote diversity.
With a big smile on her face, Wood enjoys preparing the ingredients she needs to make another ramen egg tortilla.
"The actual taste is not what really matters. Instead, the unexpectedness and happiness brought by each new exploration is what I care about," she said.