We are entering the hottest days of the year—called “dog days” in Korea—and the scorching heat has hit many parts of the world. No less hot than the weather, but in a much more positive sense, is the popularity of Korean ramyeon.
A perfect combination of chewy noodles and savory soup, Korean ramyeon is enjoying an increasing demand in overseas markets. It is loved by consumers in Japan, the US, ASEAN countries, and the Middle East.
This is largely thanks to the efforts of Korean companies to develop various new products in line with changing trends in the world food industry. For the existing products, the companies have customized the products’ flavors and cooking methods to captivate the taste buds of local consumers in each market.
Korea Agrafood would like to introduce our readers to some major Korean ramyeon products that have entered the global market and share with you the secrets of ramyeon’s popularity.
Part 1. What Kinds of Korean Ramyeon Are Hot Overseas? Popular Products by the Spiciness Level
# Extremely Hot: Will Set Your Mouth on Fire, so Grab Water and a Sweet Dessert
In recent years, Buldak-bokkeum-myeon (stir-fried noodles with spicy chicken), which is extremely spicy, has been a sensation in the instant noodle market of China and ASEAN. It was first introduced there through social media and YouTube in 2015. If you search for Buldak-bokkeum-myeon on video-sharing sites, you can find a great number of clips showing people trying Buldak-bokkeum-myeon. They show some eaters taking the challenge shouting “Cheers!” and others making funny expressions as they suffer under the power of capsaicin.
The popularity of Buldak-bokkeum-myeon spread from online channels to offline stores. In large supermarkets of Jakarta (Indonesia), and other cities of Southeast Asia and China, there are sections exclusively selling Buldak-bokkeum-myeon. Special events such as “Speedy Eating of Buldak-bokkeum-myeon” contests are organized and a public broadcasting station of Jakarta made them into a regularly aired program.
Even among Koreans—who generally enjoy spicy food—Buldak-bokkeum-myeon is considered super-hot, so several ways to enjoy it in a less spicy way have been introduced on Korean websites. The most typical one is to add cheese as it reduces the spiciness and doubles the sweet taste. Any kind of cheese can be used as the topping—from sliced and string cheese to pizza cheese. A popular recipe is to put chopped string cheese on the noodles and wait until it melts in a microwave. Butter, instead of cheese, will also make the noodles taste sweeter. You can soften the taste of the dish by adding a raw egg to the boiling ramyeon noodles. It is also common to mix in canned tuna, instant rice, or milk.
With its traditional spicy flavor, Shin Ramyun has been enjoying steady sales since its launch in 1986 and is now exported to over 100 countries around the world. Jjambbong-ramyeon, which is also fiery spicy, is consistently receiving import requests from foreign buyers.
# Very Hot: Unusual Ramyeon Fascinating Consumers
To match the diverse preferences of foreign consumers, Korean ramyeon producers have developed and released a variety of instant noodles with new flavors―cheese, curry, tomato spaghetti, rabokki (stir-fried instant noodles with red pepper paste gochujang), jjajang (black soybean sauce), and others. Some of those products have gained more popularity abroad than in Korea, and it is easier to find them outside the country. Most popular among them are cheese, potato, and vegetarian varieties.
Cheese Ramyeon is a well-known Korean product in ASEAN. Sweet cheese powder has been added to the red soup, giving it a creamy flavor. First exported to Hong Kong in 2011, the product has gained great popularity in Taiwan, Singapore, and other markets of Southeast Asia.
As the name of the product (translated as “potato noodles”) implies, Gamjamyeon noodles are made with potato (over 50%) and are both chewy and soft in texture. Black pepper adds spiciness to the soup. The Japanese people praise the product for the harmony of chewy noodles and an unusual spiciness coming from black pepper powder.
Soon Veggie Noodle Soup was selected by American website Ramen Rater as one of the world’s top 10 instant noodle products. It possesses a vegan certification and halal certification as it does not contain any animal ingredients.
#Always Hot: Common Korean Ramyeon Loved by Foreigners for a Long Time
While some instant noodles from Korea receive positive reviews from foreign buyers and consumers for their uniqueness, the common products with delicious red soup enjoy a continuous popularity keeping the original flavor of Korean ramyeon. Their spicy soup and chewy noodles never fall out of favor. There are hundreds of different brand offerings. Among such products, those with unique packaging design or containing kimchi are most popular.
The first product to be offered in a rectangular box, Dosirak changed the mainstream of Korean ramyeon market which focused on products in cups and round containers. The product has recorded a rapid increase in sales volume overseas as well.
Kimchi Ramyeon is also enjoying popularity abroad. The addition of dry kimchi flakes makes the flavor of this ramyeon close to kimchi-jjigae (kimchi stew). The product tastes clean and refreshing.
Part 2. Korean Ramyeon in Keywords
# Koreans love ramyeon. Korea has the world's No.1 instant noodle consumption per person
According to a 2017 report by the World Instant Noodles Association (WINA), Koreans consumed 76 units of ramyeon on average in 2016, which is the highest rate in the world. Vietnam came in second with 55 packages per person, followed by Indonesia (52.8 units).
# Despite its small size, Korea is the 7th largest consumer of instant noodles in the world
The total number of ramyeon units sold in Korea last year reached 3.5 billion, making the country the seventh largest in consumption of instant noodles in the world. China, including Hong Kong, consumed 44 billion units, Indonesia came in second with 14.1 billion, and Japan was third with 5.4 billion.
# Korean ramyeon is exported to over 100 countries
Ramyeon is one of Korea’s largest exports among agricultural products. The export volume has been steadily increasing, reaching US$ 290 million last year. The export volume was US$ 213 million in 2013, US$ 280 million in 2014, and US$ 219 million in 2015.
The export markets have also become more diverse. Korean ramyeon is now sold in over a hundred different countries, with China, the US, Japan, and ASEAN being the leading importers. You can have Korean instant noodles at the “end of the world” in Punta Areana, Chile, and at the “roof of Europe” in Jungfrau in the Alps.
# Ramyeon tops the list of foods foreigners want to bring home from Korea
One travel agency conducted a survey, asking foreign tourists in Korea what food they would want to take home with them at the end of their travels in Korea. Over 40% of the respondents answered “ramyeon.” (Other popular choices included seaweed (20%), chicken and beer (17%), bulgogi (15%), and kimchi (8%).) Many participants of the survey said that they tried Korean instant noodles out of curiosity as they had seen them in TV dramas. They also noted that ramyeon turned out less spicy than they had expected and very delicious.
# Most popular types of Korean ramyeon by market
Although all of the exported types of ramyeon enjoy popularity overseas, some of them sell particularly well in certain markets. Kimchi Ramyeon, for example, has many fans in China and the Middle East because kimchi is very popular there. Japanese like Gamjamyeon (potato noodles) for its chewy noodles and the unusual flavor of its black pepper seasoning. In Russia, the brand name Dosirak is a household word. Cheese Ramyeon has won the hearts of many consumers in Hong Kong, whereas Buldak-bokkeum-myeon (stir-fried noodles with spicy chicken) enjoys a sensational popularity in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. With its meat flavor achieved without using any meat, Soon Veggie Noodle Soup appeals to many Muslim consumers. Shin Ramyun is widely popular in the US and Europe.
Park Sung Eun firstname.lastname@example.org
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