Saturday, October 4, 2008

Nissin Cup Noodles - A U.S. vs. Japan Product Comparison

Before I start I have to say it's been a while since I had any Nissin Cup Noodles. I had recently received two (Original and Seafood Flavor) from a Japanese coworker friend who particularly favors these instant noodles.

I had brought them along a recent business trip since I didn't know what the tight two-day schedule may bring as far as meals were concerned. I also had with me a U.S. version (Shrimp Flavor) purchased at a gas station for comparison.

For the sake of not having to repeat these names, I'm going to abbreviate them to NCN-JP and NCN-US. So nerd of me but isn't this post already?

First off the name. In Japan NCN is known as Cup Noodle (singular) where as in the U.S. it is Cup Noodles (plural). Naturally, we are in the land of more is better. Just kidding. I think it simply sounds more natural this way here.

The packaging although the same in shape and size cup was very different. All NCN-JP's (lower left image) are now in Eco-friendly(er) Paper Packaging. As this article mentions, it has an interesting texture that is just as insulating as the older foam polystyrene version. What is this "Tack Seal" on the bottom for? You'll see in a minute.

To the right is the NCN-US in the older polystyrene cup with the addition of a cardboard sleeve. Why the difference? Don't know for sure but while my guess for the use of foam is lower cost, the paper sleeve is mainly for product presence on the grocery shelves (or gas station counter).

I didn't bother studying the printed information on them so this is going to be a very general comparison. The weight felt about the same. I lifted both cups in a seesaw fashion.
When opened the Japanese version was very familiar looking after all these years. Comes with dehydrated Shrimp and Eggs in addition to small nuggets of meat product.

The NCN-US Shrimp Flavor had peas and carrots including a few shrimp although less than the Original Flavor NCN-JP.
Both soup concentrate powder were already in with the noodles. Visually looked about the same.

I used the coffeemaker to boil up some hot water. As I poured into the first cup I noticed a slight coffee scent in the water. Oops. But somehow I wasn't too worried.. Compensating small variables such as these for a close-to-forty-years-old-real-world-scenario-proven-snack-meal shouldn't be a problem. Over chlorinated water? Camping water purification tablets? Not a problem! (Probably.)

The Tack Seal for the NCN-JP while helping to remove the plastic wrapper also helps to close the lid shut. Oh they just had to squeeze in a gimmick somewhere. I had to use the clothespin pinch method with an unsplit disposable chopstick for the NCN-US. Come to think a plastic fork feels more appropriate for these noodles but I didn't have any at hand. I always travel with a couple of disposable chopsticks though. ;)

And on to the tasting..
The NCN-JP. Fluffy egg bits, shrimp that taste like shrimp, tasty meat nuggets if not on the mystery side and green onions.

The noodles were also the familiar finer type but quite the quantity than I had remembered. The cup was filled with noodles all the way to the bottom. I've heard rumors of Nissin's clever packaging where the density of the noodles differ from top to bottom to ensure a more even doneness. I forgot to confirm this but I'd believe it..
The soup had a lot of flavor. It would be too difficult for me to accurately describe so I'm not going to try. But it's not overly Asian and a taste that certainly seems to be accepted in other countries/cultures widely.

Which gets me to the NCN-US. The lack of water shown below was my fault. I didn't have enough and didn't bother to make more. And while that could explain the very artificial taste of the noodles, it doesn't the fact that the soup had hardly any flavor. Dark colored hot water that seemed only slightly reminiscent of the Original. The Shrimps were also rather tasteless.

Forgot to mention, no coffee flavor or scent detected in both. No match for Nissin's artificial flavorings.

The NCN-US sample I bought for $0.69 but I have seen them as low as $0.49. I believe the NCN-JP's go for around 120-Yen which is about a buck.

As for eating in dimly lit lonely business hotel rooms go, I would definitely fork up the extra fifty-cents and choose the NCN-JP for that extra comfort.
I didn't get a chance to taste the Seafood Flavor this time around but now I also have a Curry Flavor to try thanks to my said friend. (I have tried them since and can be read about here.) But no more taste tests in dimly lit lonely business hotel rooms, as much as I like to think experiences like these help build one's character.

On a lighter note, a few Nissin Cup Noodle Commercials collected by NOTCOT here.

A few Nissin instant noodle product reviews from Tontantin's 600+ collection on YouTube here.

And a perfect product placement scene from Freedom (produced by Katsuhiro Otomo of Akira)..

Read about Freedom Project on Wikipedia here and visit the official site here.


Neat. I feel cool about consuming Cup Noodles again. Go Katsuhiro Otomo!


edjusted said...

Very cool and thorough comparison. I love reading about little differences like this in Japanese vs. American ramen. And great link to the commercials. Thanks!

Dennis K. said...

Thanks for the compliment Edjusted! Now my dimly lit hotel room Cup Noodles experience will not be in vain.. ;)

Keizo said...

I agree with ed, great comparison! I never thought that they would be so different. Keep 'em coming!

Dennis K. said...

Thanks Keizo! Not a whole lot going on with Ramen down here but I'm probably due for a Santouka SD write up soon.. Just in time! haha.

Keizo said...

Hey Dennis, how is Tajima's ramen? I heard they were pretty good but I have yet to make it down there. Hopefully I'll have time after I finish the Foo-Foo Challenge.

Dennis K. said...

Hi Keizo, funny you ask I just had a bowl of their Asari Ramen today at the second Izakaya Tajima location. I would consider Tajima's ramen (both location) an assari (thinner) type but more importantly consistency seems to have been a problem (especially with the first location). As for the Asari Ramen I had today I thought it was ok and certainly the better of what San Diego has to offer. I know there are a lot of tasty ramen houses up in L.A. so not sure if it'll be worth your time honestly. It would really suck to make it all the way here only to find them on a "off day".. Unfortunately for me beggars can't be choosers.. sigh. But they're not bad. There are more bad ramen places than good ones in SD.. double sigh.

Yimou said...

What a great blog entry. But it seems the people from U.S. still are very lucky. Come and try NCN in Europe and you will start crying like a little girl. I came back from Japan where I enjoyed the original NCN. By the way the only instant ramen that do not make my stomach acid explode. So I bought a NCN-EU, made in Hungary it seems. The shrimps look like little cut fingernails. Super small, white... plus a bit green stuff and a few lonely peas. I cannot understand Nissin licenced this trash. The noodles feel and taste like a low quality product, too. I am so disappointed. The NCN in Japan were so much different. Cheers. P.S. the NCN-EU are also not stomach friendly. At least not to mine.

Dennis K. said...

Hi Yimou, thanks for the report! Not sure why this stuff fascinates me so much.. :)
Curious what the cost of the made in Hungary version you had was. In fairness the US version is half that of the Japanese. Too bad I can't find NCN-J's even at Japanese markets here. I'd be happy to pay some up charge for them but maybe I'm a minority.

Yimou said...

Hi Denis, oh yeah, the price is super fair though. Unbelievable 1,09 EUR (1,36 USD on 2009-03-22) for a NCN-EU, half size of the original Japanese one. Oh boy, that's what I personally call a great deal... not!