Do not get me wrong, we have all been there. I have, on many occasions, found myself at the dried noodle aisle of Target gravitating towards the 49 cent per package Maruchan ramen. There is something about the cheap, sodium filled, MSG flavored noodle that makes for the perfect late night meal. If there is a Maruchan ramen flavor out there, I promise I have tried it. That being said, I have noticed after eating way too much instant ramen that all of it ends up tasting pretty much the same: a mushy mess so salty you can feel the sodium on your mouth. In the past couple of weeks, I have discovered three hidden instant food gems that will satisfy anyone's taste-buds, regardless of whether they are a lazy college student or Gordan Ramsey. These dishes practically cook themselves, yet they taste like a home-cooked meal hand-made by my Asian mother.

Self-Heating Instant Rice Meals

Erin Wei

Thank goodness for modern science. This meal is so easy to make, even the water heats itself. A simple trip to a local Asian market will lead to the discovery of a plethora of different self-heating instant rice and entrée meals. Pictured above is a lovely spicy fish and vegetable dish with steamed rice, but other vegetarian and meat variations are all available. These meal boxes cost anywhere between $1-10, and they contain all of the ingredients needed for the meal. A sealed pouch containing magnesium and iron is placed in water under the white compartment container holding the food. The pouch reacts with the water, resulting in a fascinating exothermic reaction, heating the food in the compartment above. Within 12 minutes of steaming, your Asian rice dish is ready for your enjoyment. If you are the type of person who does not want to deal with time-consuming meal prep or a mess in the kitchen, this type of instant meal will be very enjoyable.

Instant Udon Noodles

Erin Wei

Rice dishes aren't your cup of tea? More of a noodle person? I've got you covered. If you love instant ramen, you will adore its richer, more sophisticated older sister: instant udon. Udon noodles offer more of the chewy, springy texture of an authentic hand cut Asian noodle with a more umami, subtle soup base. This, like instant ramen, is made by adding the fresh vacuum sealed noodles, soup base, and seasoning add-ons into the purchased bowl and either adding water for microwaving or steaming with boiling water. With a low price point of anywhere between $1-2 for a single bowl to $10-20 to buy in bulk, instant udon has a similar price point and efficiency to instant ramen but with an added level of sophistication and flavor. This is my favorite 6-pack of fresh udon noodle bowls if you are interested in trying it out.

Self-Heating Instant Hot Pot

Erin Wei

Complete with veggies, meat, and crystal noodles, instant hot pot is the no-hassle version of an Asian staple. Using the same self-heating technology as the aforementioned rice dish, a traditional winter hot pot can be experienced in the matter of minutes. The best part about the instant hot pot is fresh vegetables are preserved and vacuum sealed in each purchased meal, making this a tasty and nutritious hassle-free meal option. If you are like me and are addicted to spicy food, these instant hot pots can seriously pack a punch. Spicy hot pot will make your nose run and your eyes water. Less spice inclined and individuals with geographic tongues do not need to worry. Hot pot is incredibly customizable, and these instant hot pots come in flavors that will please any taste-bud. 

Final Notes

While instant ramen is incredibly cheap and delicious, there is a whole world of equally efficient and tasty foods out there for anyone eating on a budget. Although this article only provides three examples of delicious instant foods, there are still so many new foods and budget meals to explore.