The Secret Ingredient That's Missing From Your Instant Ramen

Instant ramen noodles have been a staple of American budget cuisine for so long that at times we've almost come to forget their Asian origins, or at least that was the case up until recently when gourmet ramen restaurants became a thing. Still, when it comes to instant ramen hacks, many of these seem to revolve around Asian-inspired flavors such as coconut milk, curry paste, soy sauce, sriracha and kimchi. All of these are great ways to take perhaps the cheapest meal available outside of a restaurant dumpster and make it into something that's actually pretty darn palatable. 

One of the very best ways to totally transform a bowl of instant ramen, however, involves a tweak that was initially reviled as being super-gross until people found out that the source of this hack was a Korean-American chef who said he'd grown up eating his ramen this way.

This secret ramen ingredient isn't as weird as it seems

So what does Roy Choi, creator of L.A.'s Kogi taco truck, swear by adding to his ramen? American cheese! If your initial response is "what the...???", or just "yuck!", you're not alone. When the The New York Times first published Mr. Choi's recipe, the responses on Twitter ranged from "Instant ramen with American cheese? Good grief" to "SLICED AMERICAN CHEESE? ON RAMEN? WHO WOULD EAT THAT?" all the way to "If you used to put American cheese on your ramen noodles I hate you."

Calm down, cheesy ramen haters. It turns out that adding American cheese to instant ramen isn't culturally insensitive, it actually has roots in Korean cooking that date back over 60 years. The American GIs who spent time in-country during the Korean War had rations that included processed cheese slices, and after the war was over, a lot of the cheese and other rations stayed behind after the GIs went home. Somehow these exotic ingredients started finding their way into Korean cooking, and American-inspired dishes like cheesy ramen became and remain super-popular throughout Korea today, as well as in the Korean-American community.

How do you use American cheese in your ramen?

While Roy Choi's favorite ramen recipe calls for a poached egg, chopped scallions, and sesame seeds in addition to that sliced American cheese, The Kitchn provides a much simpler way to cheese up your instant ramen: Just make it according to the package directions as usual, then top it with a torn-up cheese slice (or two, if you're feeling crazy). Let it sit for a minute, then stir it up well. Now you've got yourself a bowl of melty, creamy, cheesy goodness that feels a whole lot more luxurious than plain ol' broth. Mid-20th century fusion cuisine at its finest (and cheapest).