Vifon Hủ tiếu nam vang (“Phnom Penh” Style Rice Noodle)

I like a lot of Vifon’s products — I’ve enjoyed their porridge, and I remember this one being a pleasingly garlicky soup, so when it showed up on a shopping trip for less than $1 per bowl, I snapped it up.

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Quality: 3.5/5 stars
Spiciness: 0/5 chilis

Review

It’s not quite as garlicky as I remember, and they’ve added little globules of TVP which don’t actually do much for the soup, but this one’s quite recommendable it. The rice noodles cook up wonderfully, and are much tastier than the more traditional noodle-cup freeze-dried muck. Even thoguh it’s weaker than I remember, the broth is still assertive and rich. My only real complaint would be that this soup tends towards the thin side: I make it with less water for a richer flavor and for a less empty-looking bowl: the TVP bits don’t really bulk the soup up in any real way.

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Trader Joe’s Spring Onion Rice Noodle Soup Bowl

Guess who finally got to the Louisville Trader Joe’s! “These are great,” the clerk assured me as he rung up my three noodle soups. They have both microwave and boiling-water instructions on these things; I went for the boiling water route.

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Quality: 2.5/5 stars
Spiciness: 0/5 chilis

Review

The noodles are maybe too short: trying to fish the etceteras packet out I spilled some of them, which typically wouldn’t happen with full-length rice sticks. That having been said, I’m always a fan of the rice-noodle soups, and thought it initially looked like there weren’t enough in here, looks can be deceiving. The flavor was quite mild, which could be a plus for some folks but I found it a bit unexciting. I wouldn’t entirely characterize the flavor as “spring onion” either; garlic was the dominant note, but maybe I’ll have a better handle on it after I try the other two flavors. The dehydrates were rather indifferent; corn didn’t quite work as a complementary flavor and texture on this one, although the carrots did well enough.

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Vifon Cháo Thịt Gà (Artificial Chicken Porridge)

I got a 6-pack of this at the same time as the Cháo Cá, because I’d never had it before.

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Quality: 1.5/5 stars
Spiciness: 0/5 chilis

Review

I had high hopes after their excellent fish porridge, but this one is actually pretty unimpressive. The “chicken” is onion-flavored TVP, which is texturally and flavorwise a bit unsetting, and the overall flavor is a bit too much of salt and onion; there’s not much ginger or any of the other flavors that made the cháo cá so pleasant.
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Vifon Cháo Cá (Fish Instant Porridge)

I’ve had this before, but I’m always on the lookout to get it for under $1 per bowl, because it’s enjoyable enough to be worth it.

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Quality: 3.5/5 stars
Spiciness: 1/5 chilis

Review

Porridge doesn’t get much respect as a lunch in America, but this stuff is unusually good and well-balanced. Instant-rice isn’t quite as satisfactory texturewise as stuff that’s actually properly cooked, but they make up for it in this presentation with lots of excellent flavor. The strongest note is of ginger, unsurprisingly due to the ginger powder and freeze-dried ginger in the packets, and a second spice edge comes from the pepper this is amply provided (but in a separate packet, so you can use less or none if you wish). But the fish carries its weight pretty well too — the chunks of fish in the foil packet have a consistency akin to tinned fish, and while they’re not quite up to par with fresh fish, they add the right fishy notes to this porridge. Unless you’re averse to the idea of a rice-soup instead of a noodle soup, or violently dislike ginger or fish, this is a very nice one to try out. I advise filling it to a little ways below the interior “edge”, as that makes for a thicker and richer soup.

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Nissin Bowl Noodles, Rich and Savory Chicken Flavor

This might be the latest incarnation of what used to be called the “Souper Meal”; it’s got about the same form factor and the same “Finishing Touch” packet in the shrinkwrap, but the noodles seems to have been changed. I picked this up as a single unit: Nissin and Maruchan stuff is rarely exciting enough for me to really fathom eating a whole case of it. I also prepared it wrong; it apparently wants to be microwaved, same as the Yakisoba, and instead I just filled it with boiling water. The result was actually fairly palatable in spite of it. Also, for science, and for you, my loyal readers, I tried making it as directed. It honestly came out about the same, although the noodles were more evenly cooked.

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Quality: 2.5/5 stars
Spiciness: 0/5 chilis

Review

The noodles were pretty decent; they’re a cut above the usual awful freeze-dried stuff, with a big more of an egg-noodle flavor and heartiness. The actual broth was actually pretty dull, I’m afraid, blandly chickeny and short on hooks to make the meal remotely interesting, although it did have a lingeringly brothlike mouthfeel absent in a lot of soups whose broths feel (if not taste) watery. The freeze-dried veggies were tolerable but far from extraordinary: the cabbage helped give it some textural and flavor variety, but the carrots and corn were not exactly raising the bar. All in all, it’s not a terribly adventurous bowl but it’s a pretty decent variant on the timid everyday American bowl, and for people who aren’t looking for excessive spice, it might be more pleasing than the often fiery adventurous fare.
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Maruchan Yakisoba, Spicy Chicken Flavor

This one was another one-off purchase, although I picked up a cheese flavor yakisoba, which I’m sure is vile, at the same time. It’s kind of cheating from the point of view of my mission: this one isn’t reconstituted with boiling water, but is filled with cold water and then microwaved, so it’s not one that can really be done with just a kettle (take note in the unlikely event that you’re using my reviews to find food for camping or for a particularly sparsely furnished office).

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Quality: 3.0/5 stars
Spiciness: 2/5 chilis

Review

The order of operations on this one is a bit odd: I was instructed to add the spice packet after microwaving, when there wasn’t much liquid, so the flavors ended up rather inconsistently distributed. However, in spite of that, this one was pretty good: the noodles were a bit rubbery but not actually tough, and the dehydrates were if not actually adventurous at least well-chosen (I maintain that you can’t go wrong with cabbage, and this had a fair bit of cabbage in). The powdered flavoring had enough heat to earn the “spicy” moniker but not a particularly brutal level, and a certain undertone of sweetness which worked pretty well. It was generally satisfactory if unambitious, and I imagine these noodles would be even better if I’d actually prepared them properly, by sprinkling the powder and folding the noodles over, mixing as I poured, instead of dumping the packet out and stirring in a vain attempt to distribute the spices.

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Maruchan Instant Lunch, Lime Chili Flavor with Shrimp

Continuing the noodle review! This one I just picked up as an individual item to broaden my horizons; I’m pretty sure I had it before, but years ago.

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Quality: 2.5/5 stars
Spiciness: 1/5 chilis

Review

It’s more citric than spicy, really, which at least puts it a bit outside the American mainstream although not in any truly adventurous way; most Thai Tom Yum flavors get a most robustly citric style. Maruchan soups are mostly an uncreative lot, with serviceable but unimpressive noodles and invariably the unambitious etceteras of peas and carrots; this one, with dried shrimp, is slightly outside their usual fare, which together with the not-displeasing citric edge pushes it above the extremely bland usual, but still not out of mediocrity.
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