A bowl of ramen sits with beef, snap peas, corn and egg on top

How to Improve Your Instant Ramen Game

One of the great things about living in Japan (or subscribing to Nakama Noodles) is the huge amount of premium instant ramen options available. However, a true ramen pro will know how to take a good cup, bowl or pack and turn it into a masterpiece with just a few additions. That’s why, as ramen experts, we’re giving you tips on how to make instant ramen better (when you need to).

Here are just a few things we kept in mind with this list. We’re located in Japan, so we’re giving you the same tips that Japanese folks use to improve their ramen. We also want to make sure that we’re not completely changing the flavors, just adding to it. Last, this advice works especially well for ramen packs, but can still work well with cups and bowls.

Just Start Adding

One way to level up your ramen is to just add ingredients or toppings. Some of these options will add more volume and fill you up, while others will add to the flavor profile of the ramen.

Veg It Up

Ramen with pork, carrots, cabbage and seaweed added
Veggies are great for adding volume and nutrition. That's why you see veggie-filled ramen in Japan's school lunches sometimes. Image via Instagram (@hero0706)

Adding vegetables can help to both add flavor or change the flavor of the ramen based on what you add. There are also so many options out there for you.

If you want to enjoy a traditional Japanese ramen experience, try adding things like spinach, bean sprouts, dried seaweed, scallions, green onion or thinly sliced onions. You can get fancy with steamed bamboo shoots as well. Corn is also a popular option that goes particularly well with miso-based ramen, especially in Hokkaido.

Some other ingredients that are popular but not as common in Japan can include shiitake mushrooms, cabbage, daikon, carrots and edamame. You may also add bok choy for a slightly broader Asian take or add kimchi for a bit of Korean spice and flavor.

For the most part, vegetables won’t affect the flavor profile, and options like spinach and dried seaweed will actually soak up the soup taking in the flavor. Meanwhile, kimchi, onions and scallions will add a bit of aroma and a bit of flavor to the ramen. You may also consider beni shoga (red pickled ginger) as a topping that will add a bit of sourness.

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Get Your Protein In

We all know that protein can be delicious, but it can also help you to stay satisfied for longer and help with any muscle gainz you’re trying to make. A good protein will not only satisfy the stomach but it will satisfy the senses when paired with a good ramen. While you’re free to add your favorite protein source, certain ramen styles pair better with certain protein.

Pork Belly

Ramen with green onion, egg, bean sprouts and a big piece of pork belly
Some places pride themselves on their pork and will give you a nice big slab like this one!

Char siu pork, or braised pork belly, is the typical go-to for ramen. If you can make this and cook it to the point of amazing tenderness, you can put it in almost any type of ramen with or without sauce. You can also try using braised pork rib (bone out) as well.


Eggs are another popular option as a topping, but there are several ways to use it to improve your instant ramen. The most common way egg is used in Japan is by soft boiling the egg. This is because soft boiling leaves a creamy yolk that adds creaminess to the broth when opened. However, for those that don’t like soft boiled egg, hard boiled, fried, or scrambled eggs are also great options.


Chicken is a less common topping in Japan, but it really does go with anything, including ramen. While we love chicken as a topping, it’s best to pair it with ramen that has a chicken base or at least uses it in the recipe. That helps to make sure that it perfectly fits the flavor profile. You can even use crispy karaage (fried chicken thigh) as a decadent topping.

A bowl of spicy chicken ramen in Japan with ground chicken and chicken breast on top
If you want to go healthier than fried chicken, tasty chicken breast or ground chicken are also great options.

Ground Beef

Beef really only shows up in one form in Japanese ramen and that form is ground. Ground beef can often be found in cup noodles as meatballs in flavors like shoyu or shio. However, ground beef is also common in tantanmen, a spicy ramen with ground beef on top. That’s why we especially recommend using ground beef (or ground chicken) with instant tantanmen.

A bowl of udon with beef strips, green onion and chili pepper on top
You can also add beef to udon and yakisoba, dishes that more commonly feature beef. Image via Unsplash

Season It Up

Part of just improving instant ramen can be as simple as adding the right seasoning to take it from good to amazing. Try experimenting with both dry and wet seasonings that add or bring out certain flavors in ramen.

Dry Seasonings

There are plenty of options for dry seasonings that you can add to ramen. Pepper is an easy option that is always in your pantry. However, for a more Japanese experience, togarashi (chili pepper seasoning) is great for adding a bit of easy spice, while sesame seeds adds some extra flavor to your noodles.

Furikake (Japanese rice seasoning) is also an option as it can add both flavor and a bit of protein based on the type, but it’s better suited to yakisoba.

Sauces & Other Seasonings

A bowl of tantanmen ramen with ground pork, egg, peanuts, and lots of chili oil on top
You'd be surprised what a bit (or a lot) of chili oil can do to enhance or change the flavor of a good ramen bowl. Image via Unsplash

Wet seasonings are also great and incorporate into the soup so well. Popular ones you can find in ramen restaurants include Yuzu kosho (Japanese citrus and pepper) paste, garlic paste, chili paste or chili oil, and soy sauce.

Yuzu kosho paste adds a unique bit of spice and tang that I love with my char siu pork. Meanwhile chili paste and chili oil add a bit of a kick to the ramen. Soy sauce is best added to non-shoyu ramen since it might create soy sauce overload. Other options like hot sauce, gochujang, or spicy miso are always welcome too.

Indulge with Some Dairy

A bowl of ramen with Hokkaido butter, corn, egg, and added vegetables
Butter and corn are particularly popular options for miso ramen, adding even more flavor! Image via Instagram (@nicolalala68)

Japan actually has access to some really good dairy, with Hokkaido dairy being particularly popular in Japan (and abroad). Particularly, Hokkaido butter is super popular and is so good in ramen. Butter is best suited for miso ramen, also popular in Hokkaido, adding a bit of flavor that compliments the nutty miso. However, I find that it can also help to add flavor to instant shoyu ramen.

Another great addition to ramen is cheese. While many foreign ramen lovers tend to add cheese slices, Japanese shops tend towards shredded cheese or grated cheese. One of my favorite ramen experiences so far has been a cheese and karaage ramen with plenty of garlic and grated parmesan.

Soup Mix-Up

A bowl of ramen with ice in the soup and chives and ground beef on top
Even the addition of ice to make a cold ramen is a simple option to change up the ramen experience. Image via Instagram (@kansugi_noafood)

One way to level up your instant ramen experience is to make more fundamental changes to the soup. The idea of changing the base isn’t necessarily based on changing the flavor, but complementing the flavor of the base.

One example is adding peanut butter to bases for a nuttier flavor, which actually complements miso’s nutty taste and incorporates well with shoyu ramen. Kewpie mayo is great for adding creaminess to tonkotsu or shio ramen. Using soy milk as a base can also be good for making a creamier ramen.

Another great example we’ve seen on social media is adding tomato sauce to Cup Noodle’s classic chili tomato flavor for a thicker and more tomato-y taste.

Rice it Up

This is less of how to make instant ramen better and more of how to get the most of your ramen. When you’ve eaten all of the noodles of your bowl and you have a bit of soup left, just add some cooked rice to it. Japanese rice works best, but you can use other types of rice. However, Japanese rice absorbs the soup so well and makes for a filling meal.

This tactic is particularly popular with tonkotsu and Yokohama Iekei ramen shops, especially ones where blue workers ate. Adding rice meant that they would be nice and full and stay that way until they finished work and had their next meal. It’s a truly ingenious idea that we have a long day ahead or spent a little too much in the month.



Now that you have all these different ways to make the most of your instant ramen, all that’s left is to experiment and eat as much ramen as you can. If you need some premium ramen to experiment, keep Nakama Noodles in mind!