Over the weekend, I was at an Asian grocery store here in Saint Paul, picking up a few things we needed for dinner. I was committing one of the Grocery Shopping Cardinal Sins(TM), because I was shopping while hungry.
I grabbed what we needed, then found myself heading towards the cash registers by way of the Aisle of Instant Noodles – hundreds of linear feet of shelves jammed full of instant ramen, cups-of-noodles, and similar blocks, cups, bowls, and blobs of reasonably instant noodley goodness. Amid all the brightly-colored packages covered in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, possibly-Thai-I-have-no-idea, and the occasional bit of gratuitous English, I spotted something that stood out, by virtue of it’s sheer size – a gargantuan, Texas-sized bowl of instant noodles that I initially thought was a “family size” package, to be honest.
I asked myself “Self, are we hungry for instant noodles today?”, to which myself replied “we can do that, sure”. It was a buck seventy-five, or thereabouts. How could I go wrong?
Here’s what I wound up with – a bowl of beef pho (i.e. pho bo) “Instant Rice Noodle Soup”, made by Tay Ho in the United States. (Yep, American-made instant pho. What’s the world coming to?) It looks like this:
To give you an idea of the size of this thing, that’s a 500ml beer stein propping up the package:
When you bust open the cellophane, you get to the contents of the bowl, natch, and here I was pleasantly surprised:
You get a big block of rice noodles (rice flour, salt, sugar), the usual seasoning packet (sugar, salt, anise, cinnamon, ginger, onion, “spices”), the somewhat-common dehydrated-veggie packet (cilantro, green onion, mint), and the surprisingly large foil pouch of meat (beef bits in a sauce that mainly involves soy sauce, sugar, water, and sesame oil). There’s also a disposable plastic spork, a packet of Lee Kum Kee hoisin sauce, and a packet of sriracha sauce, also made by Lee Kum Kee.
The instructions say to place, pour, or squirt everything into the bowl, fill with water up to a line inside, cover, and nuke in the microwave for “approximately 2 min”. On the assumption that maybe, just maybe, the manufacturer knows what they’re talking about, that’s exactly what I did.
To make the soup hot and the noodles soft, I had to irradiate it for five minutes, not two. Your mileage may vary, here, as our microwave is almost old enough to vote.
Stir, let cool slightly, and eat.
How to describe this? Well, it’s pho-flavored, to be sure. It’s not the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten, but it’s far tastier than a lot of “instant noodle” dishes I’ve had. As tends to be the case with rice noodles, they pick up only a slight hint of the soup flavor on their own, so most of the flavor is in the soup broth and related goodies floating therein. People who eat a lot of Cup Noodle or cheap brick ramen may be surprised by how delicately flavored the broth is, and how comparatively little salt seems to be in it.
Despite the ginormous size of the container, and the amount of soup it makes, remember that this is pho, made with rice noodles – on its own, it’s not quite as filling as instant ramen made with fried noodles. (It’s perhaps worth noting that the whole thing, despite its size, is just 200 calories; a much smaller chicken-flavored Cup Noodle package is 296 calories, almost 50% more.) That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind; sometimes it’s kind of nice to not be all sleepy after lunch.
The bottom line? If you like pho, I’d recommend this as a tasty, well-made quasi-premium instant noodle meal. If you have never had pho – for shame! – but like ramen or other instant noodles, yet find them to be too spicy or too salty (or both), this is definitely something you should try. If you’re one of those freaks of nature who makes your instant ramen double-strength, with two seasoning packets, and then throws in a bouillon cube or three and several squirts of hot sauce… the subtle and delicate flavors of this stuff is not for you. If you’re a starving college student looking for cheap calories, this, again, is not what you’re looking for.
You can apparently buy Tay Ho instant rice noodle soups online here, but I wouldn’t bother, at those prices. If you live near a decent-sized Asian supermarket, they probably stock it, at a much better price, and they’re not hard to miss – just look for the largest plastic bowl in the noodle aisle.
Nutritional info, for the bored and curious, taken from the label:
Noodles and seasonings: 90 calories (10 from fat), 1g fat, 0g saturated and trans fats, 50mg cholesterol, 380ml sodium, 3g carbs, 2g dietary fiber, 1g sugars, 1g protein.
Meat packet: 110 calories (95 from fat), 4g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 45mg cholesterol, 480mg sodium, 4g carbs, 1g dietary fiber, 1g sugars, 15g protein.