Korean

This Is the Single Best Pot for Anyone Who Lives Alone

A holdover from my father's bachelor days, the iconic Shin Ramyun pot has stood the test of time.

by:
August 16, 2019
Photo by Ty Mecham. Food Stylist: Amelia Rampe. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


My parents had this one nickel-plated aluminum pot since before I was born. It was my father’s instant ramen pot, a holdover from his bachelor days in Seoul. I was devastated the day I couldn’t find it in our kitchen cabinet. Turned out my mother had finally thought it time to throw it out (1).

What’s funny is we had that same decrepit pot for years, even though, back then, you could probably get one for a couple dollars at the store (I bought mine at H Mart years later for $4.49). I never understood why we didn’t just buy more of them, especially since there were four of us, and the pot could only cook one serving of ramen at a time.

I suppose there’s a very good reason for why these pots are as small as they are (2): When cooking instant ramen, it’s important to cook one at a time. Have you ever noticed how a pound of pasta cooked in a bigger pot of water somehow gets mushier faster than a quarter pound of pasta cooked in a smaller pot of water? I don’t know the science behind it, but I’m convinced that food just tastes better when you cook it small-scale.

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Top Comment:
“As a child, the lid helped me eat ramen because it helped the noodles cool and I was bad at chopsticks. Also swear it makes the noodles taste 2x better. Although she hasn't used it in decades, my mom still has her own "golden" pot in the back of a cupboard! Perf recipe :D. Also, fun fact: salted water boils slower because salt raises the boiling point of water (the same way it lowers the freezing point).”
— Colleen
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I especially loved that pot because there was a line on the inside that told you the perfect amount of water to pour in for a single package of Shin Ramyun. The thin aluminum also meant that water boiled gloriously fast, which is, for obvious reasons, convenient for when you’re making instant ramen.

The Pot. Photo by H Mart

I still remember the day I walked into H Mart and saw an entire shelf dedicated to these golden Shin Ramyun pots. I had just moved to New York City and was learning to fend for myself in my tiny Manhattan kitchenette. As an intern at Food Network at the time, I was obsessed with the fancy stainless steel skillets and enameled Dutch ovens that television cooks like Rachael Ray and Nigella Lawson were using on camera. Bright and shiny and new. After rent and groceries, what remained of my meager paychecks went to these appliances (hi, Alfred).

This may be why that shelf of cheap aluminum pots was such a Proustian madeleine for me. I was so wrapped up in building out my first kitchen as an adult, that I had forgotten all about my father’s flimsy bachelor pot.

My parents had this one nickel-plated aluminum pot since before I was born. It was my father’s instant ramen pot, a holdover from his bachelor days in Seoul.

I bought one, of course, and to this day I probably use it once a week. The only difference is that I replace mine every couple of years because I find that, over time, the plating wears off and the bottom becomes porous (not great for a hot, spicy noodle soup).

Despite its many flaws as far as pots go, I keep one in my kitchen at all times because a) it boils water freaking fast, b) it’s perfect for small-scale cooking, and c) it takes me back to a time, years before I was born, when a hungry 26-year-old bachelor (3) named Ki Kim stood by his stovetop in a basketball jersey, waiting for his water to boil.

My father, forever ago, with his sister.

How To Make Ki’s Perfect Shin Ramyun

Invented in 1986 by South Korean food company Nongshim, Shin Ramyun is now Korea’s bestselling instant noodle brand. I’ve written before about how I knew Korean food was gaining traction outside of Korea when I could buy my Shin Ramyun in the same drugstore, supermarket chain, or corner bodega as my Cheez-Its.

Shin Ramyun was a staple growing up in a Korean immigrant household with two working parents. Looking back on it now, I think it helped that, though these are instant noodles, they’re so much more substantial and filling than any of the other brands on the market, especially when you crack in an egg at the end for extra protein. And at just a dollar or two a pop, it's one of the cheapest meals I know.

Shin Ramyun is Korea's highest-selling brand of instant noodles. Photo by Ty Mecham. Food Stylist: Amelia Rampe. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

There’s only one right way to cook Shin Ramyun noodles, according to my dad: You have to under-boil them slightly so they stay jjolgit jjolgit, the Korean onomatopoeic word for “chewy.” Ki is particularly proud of his three-minute noodles: The package says to cook them for four to five, but he knows better (they carryover-cook in their own hot, spicy balm).

Ingredients

  • 1 package Nongshim Shin Ramyun
  • 1 large organic egg
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • Kimchi, for serving
"Jjolgit jjolgit." Photo by Ty Mecham. Food Stylist: Amelia Rampe. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

Directions

In The Pot, bring about 1 1/2 cups water to a boil (the back of the Shin Ramyun package says 2 1/3 cups, but my dad uses less water for richer noodles and a more concentrated broth). You’re supposed to add the powdered soup base and dried “flakes” (a mixture of dessicated bok choy, shiitake mushroom, carrot, green onion, and red chile pepper) at this step, but I never do that. Nigella taught me that you should always salt your water after it comes to a boil because salted water boils slower than unsalted water (I may be wrong, but I figured the same must hold true for noodles).

Once the water is boiling, plunk in the disc of noodles. Admire how snugly the circular fried ramen fits into The Pot. Now you can add the powdered soup base and dried “flakes.” At this point I always flip the disc over with my chopsticks so the soup ingredients, which will have accumulated on top, can disperse into the water. About 2 1/2 minutes in, crack an egg into the roaring soup. Don’t disturb it (there’s nothing better than twirling the ramen into a barely cooked yolk and taking that first unctuous bite just before the world sets). Cook the noodles for another 30 seconds—and not a second longer.

Take The Pot off the heat and garnish with scallions. Use the lid as a makeshift plate, holding it in one hand and a pair of chopsticks in the other, and alternate bites of chewy, toothsome noodles with rank, dank kimchi.

Do you recognize this pot? Or this ramen? Let us know in the comments below.

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(1) Years later, I’d ask Jean over KaKaoTalk (Korea’s WhatsApp) why she threw that pot away. She wrote back, “Not good for your body~~” She had seen a television segment claiming that those pots can release aluminum into your ramen. But according to the science editor at Cook’s Illustrated, “the amount of aluminum that leaches into food is minimal." Another source, Dr. Sharyn Winters, adds that aluminum, anyway, “is not easily absorbed through the digestive tract.”

(2) There is South Korean census data out there that proves more and more Koreans are choosing to live alone. A “solo-darity” movement is making waves, in which a growing number of Korean women are rejecting marriage and outdated gender roles. There’s even a solo dining trend called honbap, a celebration of eating alone. These patterns might evidence why those quick-boiling, single-portion ramen pots are as popular today, in our All-Clad and Le Creuset present, as they were in the 1960s when they first gained traction in postwar South Korea.

(3) Shin Ramyun’s marketing has been historically gendered. The brand’s official jingle is still, in 2019: “Shin Ramyun can make a man cry.”

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Eric Kim is a Senior Editor at Food52, where his weekly solo dining column, Table for One, runs every Friday morning. Formerly the Digital Manager at Food Network, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.

15 Comments

Barbara S. August 29, 2019
Loved your article ! Thank you for sharing your family’s recipe and your story
I loved it! More please
 
Brenda August 29, 2019
My daughter spent a year and a half teaching English in Korea. When I went to visit we took a Korean cooking class with a market trip and it was amazing. I went to the local version of our Dollar store and bought really inexpensive stainless steel bowls, chop sticks, spoons, pots and everything else I could fit in my suitcase. I use them all the time and am so happy to have them. Why do we not have these available here? Almost worth another trip to Seoul to stock up!
 
Molly F. August 29, 2019
Thank you for such a sweet article and the strong urge to now make this.
 
ms. D. August 18, 2019
How can I buy the pot if I don’t live near the store?
 
Author Comment
Eric K. August 18, 2019
Hi Ms. D, you can order one online: https://www.amazon.com/Korean-Ramen-Noodle-Chopstick-scrubber/dp/B078SPFS1Y?tag=food52-20
 
Deborah K. August 17, 2019
Despite also being Korean, I could never get into Shin Ramyun. However, I have a deep deep fondness for Sapporo Ichiban ramen. I remember eating it as a kid, especially when I was sick, washed down with a cup of cold Sprite. Thanks for the great article.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. August 17, 2019
Ah Deborah, me too! I grew up w/ the beef flavor. So delicious.
 
susan August 29, 2019
I second the Sapporo Ichiban ramen!
 
Allie September 1, 2019
I ate those for breakfast every Saturday in my very non-Asian family home. My brother had a very good friend who was Korean so we 'discovered' them before they became ubiquitous in the States. We were just out of nyc so you could get anything. I loved them. I'd sit down to slurp noodles (I AM half Italian. Sort of.) and watch "Saturday Morning Cartoon Express." Oh now I feel so OLD. But fun. Thanks for the chance to remember.
 
Colleen August 16, 2019
"Use the lid as a makeshift plate, holding it in one hand..." THIS. As a child, the lid helped me eat ramen because it helped the noodles cool and I was bad at chopsticks. Also swear it makes the noodles taste 2x better. Although she hasn't used it in decades, my mom still has her own "golden" pot in the back of a cupboard! Perf recipe :D. Also, fun fact: salted water boils slower because salt raises the boiling point of water (the same way it lowers the freezing point).
 
Author Comment
Eric K. August 17, 2019
Thanks for the science, Colleen. And couldn’t agree more—ramen somehow tastes better in this pot.
 
Kristen M. August 16, 2019
You look so much like your dad (minus the impressive hairdo), Eric. And damned if you didn't make me want exactly this ramen, in this pot, for dinner.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. August 17, 2019
Apparently, my dad had just gotten a perm.
 
Shane L. August 16, 2019
This weeks article brought back memories of my time in the Marine Corps, when I was stationed at Camp Schwab, in Okinawa. Different pot, different brand of noodles, but I cooked up lots of them in my barracks.
So happy that I found you on Food52. Always, your words give me major feels, some good, some sad, but always, when I read you, it’s a good day.
-S
 
Author Comment
Eric K. August 17, 2019
It’s a good day when you can feel something.