Korean instant noodles are notorious for being on the spicy side. But one brand stands out: Hot Chicken Flavor Ramen (buldak-bokkeum-myeon, 불닭볶음면), also called Buldak Ramen. Join us, if you dare, as we explore the secret behind Korean fire noodles!
Note: Ramyun/ramyeon (라면) is the Korean word for instant noodles. We'll be using both "instant ramen" and "ramyun" here.
Buldak Ramen: History and Trivia!
Samyang Foods’ Buldak Ramen is a staple of Korean instant noodles. But it’s not as old as you might think. The Original flavor was only released in April 2012! Thanks to the Fire Noodle Challenge (which we’ll get to in a moment), it became popular everywhere, inspiring more Buldak flavors and products.
Image Credits: Image via eBay
Another fun fact? Buldak Ramen is Samyang Foods’ most lucrative product. In 2017, it made up 85% of the company’s total exports as well as 55% of total sales. In August 2022, it reached 4 billion cumulative sales, with one in two people eating the spicy ramen.
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Are you familiar with Samyang Foods' fire chicken? Buldak Ramen's mascot is present on all of the noodles' packaging. Its name is Hochi (호치), it can eat five Buldak packs at once, and its birthday is April 13.
Image Credits: Image via Samyang Foods
Korean fire noodles consist of wheat noodles, spicy sauce, flakes (vegetable or seaweed), and/or cheese powder. All packets contain artificial chicken flavoring, which might or might not be vegetarian-friendly.
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Finally, Buldak Ramen are stir-fried noodles, unlike standard instant ramen. Once the noodles are boiled, you drain them and then add the sauce and toppings/powder, stir-frying for 30 seconds before eating.
What Are the Buldak Ramen Flavors?
So, how spicy are these noodles? There are eight main flavors, each one going up the Scoville scale (SHU).
Level 1: Jjajang (1920 SHU)
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Get the taste of black bean noodles (jjajangmyeon, 짜장면) with this packet. Flavorings include black bean paste, soy sauce, cheese powder, and garlic. If you can't find a Korean restaurant, make this instant ramen for Black Day.
Level 2: Cheese (2323 SHU)
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Cheese is one of Koreans' favorite ramen toppings. So why not have cheese-flavored Buldak? The soup contains artificial cheese flavoring, while the powder has fat-free dry milk powder, roasted sesame, and dried laver (seaweed). For more cheesy goodness, try the Quattro Cheese, which has four varieties of cheese: mozzarella, cheddar, Camembert, and Gouda.
Level 3: Carbonara (2600 SHU)
Italy meets South Korea. Inspired by the popular pasta dish, the flavorings include mozzarella cheese powder and garlic powder to create a creamy sauce. It’s a fancy choice for binge-watching your favorite k-dramas, which is why we included it in last month's Korean Dramas box.
Level 4: Mala (2700 SHU)
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Now for Szechuan fire! Mala is a sauce made with peppercorns and chili used in Szechuan cooking. The soup comes with Chinese pepper concentration, chili extract, paprika powder, and red pepper powder. The flakes include dried oak mushroom, boy choy, and cabbage. If the last three Buldak flavors didn’t faze you, then you’ll feel the burn with this one.
Level 5: Curry (3810 SHU)
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Our last stop outside of Korea: India. The soup comes with curry powder, red pepper powder, and black pepper powder, while the toppings are dried potato fries and carrot with textured vegetable protein. These noodles are on the hotter side, so if you’re feeling disappointed by the first four flavors, the curry might be for you.
Level 6: Original (4404 SHU)
Image Credits: Samyang Philippines via Instagram
The noodles that started it all. With soup that contains chili extract and powder, curry powder, paprika extract, and black pepper powder, you’ll bet that this ramen will give you a kick. (The flakes are simple roasted laver and sesame.)
Level 7: Stew (4705 SHU)
Image Credits: Samyangfoods Global via Instagram
Spicy stews (jjigae, 찌개) are part of Korean cuisine, which is why it makes sense to have a Buldak stew flavor. Like the name suggests, this ramen is cooked with extra water, diluting the noodles and turning them into a stew. The soup comes with red pepper powder, chives powder, and onion paprika extract, while the powder has dried red pepper and garlic powder.
Level 8: 2x Spicy (8808)
The name says it all: 2x Spicy contains twice the spice as the Original. This means (1 you’ll have the hottest (and hardest) time with them and (2 we don’t recommend a non-spicy eater to start with these fire noodles. Work your way up so you can tackle the 2x Spicy flavor with more confidence!
Samyang Foods also released the Hot Chicken Flavor Ramen Mini (12,000 SHU) and Ice (4404 SHU, above) varieties, as well as limited edition flavors including 3x Spicy Ramen (13,200 SHU, below).
Image Credits: L'EMERVEILLE via Instagram
Some folks may find Levels 6-8 a breeze, while others will be feeling the burn at Levels 1-3. Cooking the noodles with just half the spicy sauce or mixing in other ingredients like milk will reduce the fire noodles’ heat, making them more tolerable for people unused to spice.
The Fire Noodle Challenge: Do or Do Not?
You're probably familiar with Buldak Ramen because of the Fire Noodle Challenge. In 2014, Josh Carrott from the Korean Englishman YouTube channel gave his friends a crazy challenge: be the first person to finish their spicy ramen without cooling down!
Well, it spread like wildfire, and soon everyone was trying Buldak. Ten years later, YouTubers are still uploading videos of themselves trying the Fire Noodle Challenge.
As you might expect, this isn’t for the faint of heart. Here are a few tips from us that you might find helpful:
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Have something cool to drink or eat. Water isn't recommended, since it's unable to dissolve the spicy chemical capsaicin, making hot things seem hotter! Milk or ice cream are better options.
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Take breaks, especially as the heat intensifies. Use this opportunity to wash your dishes or get some work done. You can even do a workout to a “hot” K-pop track, like NCT Dream’s “Hot Sauce,” to mitigate some of the spiciness!
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Don’t feel pressured to complete the challenge. If you’re starting to feel uncomfortable or sick, then stop eating. We care about our Seoulmates’ health!
"Do You Want to Eat Ramyun?" Explained
You’ve probably heard k-drama characters ask this question when they meet a beautiful lady or handsome man. It might seem strange to address a stranger this way – but it's actually an innuendo!
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The phrase comes from One Fine Spring Day (2001). Female lead Eun-soo (Lee Young-ae) invites male lead Sang-woo (Yoo Ji-tae) to her house. Unsure how to go about it, she asks him, “Do you want to eat ramyun?” (Ramyeon meo-geul-laeyo, 라면 먹을 래요) Of course, she wasn’t looking to “just” eat ramyun with him.
Nowadays, you’ll find people using this phrase or the variation “Ramyeon meokgo galrae” (라면 먹고 갈래), sometimes as a joke but other times as a serious question. If you’re unfamiliar with the sentence – especially as a foreigner – it could lead to some awkward situations.
So remember, Seoulmates: if a random person at a club or somebody on your first date asks if you’d like to eat ramyun at their place, politely but firmly say no. Unless you’d like something spicier that evening!
You don't have to try the Fire Noodle Challenge. However, we do suggest you try at least one Buldak Ramen flavor. It might be scary for people with a low spice tolerance, but it’s also fun and exciting. Plus, you might prefer to feel the heat at home than at a Korean restaurant!
Image Credits: Image via Seoulbox
Korean instant ramen might be available at your local convenience store, but why search for it when you can order it online? Our Seoulbox Signature box comes with a packet of instant ramen, along with countless treats and some K-beauty and K-pop goods. Get yourself a box and let your Korean adventure begin!
Have you tried the Fire Noodle Challenge? Which Buldak Ramen flavor is your favorite? Let us know below!