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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
(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.”