There’s no food out there that’s as versatile as ramen. It’s perfectly delicious on its own, but much like other classic bases like rice or pasta, pairs easily with myriad spices, textures, and proteins. It also acts as a flavor multiplier, making every ingredient it touches just a little bit better. It’s no wonder you can easily have ramen for three meals a day, every day.
We’re all familiar with the usual ramen toppings: Sliced boiled eggs, pork belly, sliced green scallions, garlic chili oil, and every variety of mushroom out there.
But if you weren’t aware of it yet, several other unexpected pantry staples can serve as the secret sauce to your next best ramen combination yet. Here are some of our favorites:
It’s not too much of a stretch to say that avocado goes well with pretty much anything. It’s creamy in texture, luxuriously brimming with healthy fats that keep you full between meals, and is renowned as a rich source of fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin B6.
Try it out: For your next bowl of ramen, slice up some super ripe avocados and pair them with a sliced egg. Or, make avocado tempura for an even richer meal. You’ll find that even if the avocado disintegrates into the broth a bit, your broth will only taste velvetier.
Sure, peanut butter might strike you as a topping to be saved for toast and oatmeal or the occasional dessert. But if you’ve ever tried an Indonesian Satay sauce — where peanut butter is a central ingredient — or any Sesame peanut noodle dish, then you already know that this breakfast spread is the perfect noodle topping.
Try it out: Plop one teaspoon of smooth peanut butter into your ramen after it’s done cooking (but before it’s cooled off), and stir into your broth. For an even bigger flavor kick, add a squirt of sriracha or soy sauce. Be sure to go easy on the serving, as peanut butter can easily overwhelm other flavors.
At least in the US, curry powder contains a whole bag of ingredients, including turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, and cardamom. It’s the ultimate all-in-one flavor enhancer.
Try it out: Just a few shakes of this powder can add immense depth of flavor and enhance whatever flavor of instant ramen you’re already working with. Throw in some chopped green onions to bring it all together.
Try any of these surprising ramen toppings on some delicious, healthy, plant-based instant ramen!
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Can of tuna
Tuna isn’t just a broke college student’s favorite Trader Joe’s item — it’s also a quick way to add some tasty protein to a standard bowl of instant ramen.
Try it out: After cooking your ramen, drain it and add your packet of seasoning, a can of tuna, and a drizzle of oil or a teaspoon of butter. Mix it up for a tasty, budget-friendly meal.
Slice of american cheese
If you didn’t already know, cheese on ramen is actually a pretty popular South Korean comfort food. (In fact, a slice of American cheese goes pretty well on many Korean street foods!) No need to get fancy here: There’s something about processed American cheese that melts with perfect form on ramen, and that turns any bowl of noodles into a downright seductive meal.
Try it out: Immediately after you’ve cooked your ramen, place one or two sheets of American cheese on top of your ramen, wait one minute until the cheese has enveloped the dish, then dig in and watch as the cheese coats every chopstick-full of noodles in creamy goodness.
Coconut milk is made by grating the white flesh of mature coconuts. It’s thick with a buttery consistency and has a nutty aroma that tastes expensive. Believe it or not, it’s the secret core ingredient in many cuisines you might already enjoy, including Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Indonesian foods. If there was ever a curry, soup, or rice dish you felt was extravagantly smooth and rich, it probably had coconut milk in it! All to say, we can say with confidence that coconut milk and ramen broth is a sure winner.
Try it out: Cook ramen according to instructions, then stir in about a quarter of a can of coconut milk. Combine together until the broth takes on a rich, milky color.
Packed with that inexplicable tastebud-tingling flavor compound known as umami, bacon is a one-two punch of both savoriness and protein. That’s a bonus that MSG or anchovy powder can’t claim.
Try it out: Fry up some bacon in a separate pan and chop into bits. If you have some vegetables like baby corn, bok choy, or bean sprouts on hand, sear them up in the remaining bacon grease. Add it all to your ramen for an intense flavor experience.
Known for its salty, tender, and fatty profile, corned beef marries perfectly with the chewy, savory base of ramen. Much like the cabbage and potatoes in the classic eponymous Irish-American dish, corned beef will elevate anything it contacts into a full-fledged seasonal favorite.
Try it out: Grab some corned beef at the deli counter, and place it on top of your finished ramen dish. Garnish with chopped cabbage for a more complete pairing.
Sliced roasted potatoes
When you’re craving a ramen dish with a bit more body, or simply want a change in texture, add some roasted potato cubes. Despite getting a bad rep from their fried incarnations, potatoes are packed with nutritional value, including generous amounts of Vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.
Try it out: Chop a medium-sized potato into cubes, then disperse them on a cooking sheet. Drizzle some olive oil, salt, and paper, and coat evenly. Place roasted potato cubes on your ramen and enjoy.
Like many pasta dishes, even instant ramen can benefit from a splash of creaminess. As an especially concentrated dairy product, a few teaspoons of half-and-half have the power to add a bit of richness into every spoonful of broth.
Try it out: Pour a bit of half-and-half — enough to transform the broth from translucent to an opaque color — and mix into the broth.
Pineapple chunks and spam
You might have already tried your ramen with spam or another salty meat like corned beef, but have you ever added a sweet, juicy fruit like pineapple to it? If you’re a believer in the church of sweet and salty, then you know this combination is meant to be.
Try it out: The biggest challenge here will be cutting up an entire pineapple, so if you can, just get a box of pre-cut slices, drain it, and get on with your day. On a pan, cook thinly sliced spam until brown on both sides. Place both spam and pineapple slices on top of cooked ramen and enjoy, ideally with a large ramen soup spoon that lets you enjoy both salty and sweet ingredients, as well as ramen, in one mouthful.