Korean BBQ Essentials: Best Microwaveable Rice [2019]

There wasn’t much room for error as I really had to split hairs when judging each of the four Korean instant rice brands. Rest assured that we found all of them to be convenient and (relatively) satisfying in an emergency. But taking in per package price, texture, and overall quality of each grain, CJ’s white rice reined supreme in this Korean microwave rice battle. You can’t compare it to perfectly fluffy rice cooked in a rice cooker, but it does a pretty damn good job of saving your ass in a pinch.

Editor's Pick:

To be honest, none of the Korean instant rice brands soared above the rest, but there had to be a winner and CJ’s white rice took the top spot. With its great value (roughly $1.75 – $2.00 a package depending on where you find it) and overall quality if you’re set on picking the best CJ is for you. One issue across the board is that the rice tends to come out a little dry for our tastes, but CJ came out relatively.. moist (sorry). It also has the least ‘processed’ taste. The rice sticks together nicely for the most part, but don’t expect the same fluffy perfection as you would from a stovetop or rice cooker.

Just make sure not to overcook it! I would personally test it out 10-15 seconds under the actual cook time (1:30 minutes), but anything over will dry out your rice even more. For the price and convenience CJ’s white rice is your best bet for all your emergency rice needs.

Runner Up:

It was an extremely close call between Ottogi’s cooked white rice and CJ’s, but Ottogi’s slightly stronger processed taste knocked it down a touch. Visually, Ottogi had the cleanest, whitest looking rice, and I found it to be a little more moist than CJ’s, but it’s accompanied by a slightly stronger processed tasting. Nevertheless, you definitely can’t go wrong with Ottogi’s korean instant rice, especially if you want to buy in bulk (packs of 12 or more).

Just because we love you all, my favorite midnight snack or pick me up is one of these mixed with a little bit of soy sauce, sesame oil, and topped with a fried egg (maybe spam whenever I’m treating myself!).

Other Korean instant rice tested

I had to cheat and and throw a non Korean microwave instant rice brand in the mix, but I had to include Nishiki as it’s one of the most well-known brands of rice out there. There’s definitely nothing wrong with Nishiki’s instant rice, but it came out a bit mushier (and yet dryer somehow) in comparison. It didn’t “fluff” up and it sort of felt like I was eating a large piece of congealed rice as opposed to a million individual grains of greatness. Most importantly, it was the most expensive at $2.49 per pack! You’ll still be fine if this is the only one available, but I’d rather spend a little bit less if I could.

I’m digging the name — “Haru Haru” meaning day by day was also a famous song released by Big Bang nearly a decade ago (a staple during our college years), so name alone this rocks! However, it did fall short of the top spot primarily due to it visually having a strange brownish tint (maybe it was the package I got) and a it being a tad dryer than Ottogi. It was the second cheapest rice at $1.99 per package, but in a competition where I really had to split hairs, there wasn’t enough to justify it coming out on top. Nevertheless, as with the rest of the competition, you really can’t go wrong as we’re really reaching to find negative differences at this point.

Why Korean instant rice?

Kimchi may be the Holy Mother of Korean food, but rice is the glue that holds everything together. I couldn’t remember a day growing up when the rice cooker wasn’t on, the kitchen filled with the hint of its sweet aroma and warmth that makes home… home. There really isn’t that much to rice, what brings you to the table isn’t its complex flavors or unique texture. Yet it’s quintessentially Korean. It’s the foundation to the identity of a Korean meal and consequently what makes us… us.

Korean rice is light in flavor, relatively stickier (but not clumpy!), and takes a few tries to perfect it to one’s tastes. However, when perfected (or even when you make a bad batch), it’s a requisite complement to Korean food as Korean cuisine (like a lot of Chinese and Japanese dishes) tend to have stronger spicy or salty notes that requires rice to mellow out. Honestly, there’s nothing better than mixing some rice with any combination of soy sauce, kimchi, sesame oil, spam, egg, or both… a simple meal that is easily one of the most satisfying to our bellies as well as our hearts.


The only downside of perfectly cooked rice is that it takes soooo long to make! Okay maybe an hour isn’t too long, but if you’re impatient and not prepared like me, that could be a problem. In comes instant rice. All you need is a microwave to create something that comes as close to greatness as you can in a couple of minutes. It may not be perfect and your parents might look at you in contempt, but in an era where instant gratification is preferred, microwavable instant rice fits right in.

What makes Korean instant rice good?

Microwavable instant rice won’t ever be able to replace a fresh pot of rice cooked in a rice cooker. However, it still should have the same components of any good Korean rice. We’ll be evaluating each package the same as we would freshly cooked rice, we’ll just temper our expectations a little bit. The point is to find the best microwaveable instant rice, not the best rice in the world.

Fluffiness – All rice (outside of maybe Southeast Asian sticky rice) when it comes out of the pot, rice cooker, microwave should be “fluffable”. As in if you pick at it a little with the tines of your fork or tips of your chopsticks you should be able to be able to separate the individual grains out. If the grains break apart or mush up then you’ve got an overcooked mess on your hands.

Moistness – Some cultures or dishes call for pretty dry rice, and it’s not necessarily a negative. I love the more dry Chinese rice that you get at Chinese American restaurants, but that type of dryness isn’t to be expected with Korean rice. You don’t want a porridge but there should definitely be some level of moisture that pushes Korean rice further on the “sticky” side than you might expect from a Chinese or Japanese establishment.

Taste – I love the floral nature of basmati and jasmine rice, but when it comes to Korean food what you’re looking for is ‘clean’. I know that might be difficult to define as a taste, but what should come to mind when you put some rice in your mouth is cleanliness and purity. Rice is more of an elevator or palate cleanser in Korean cuisine, and if your rice has unexpected flavor notes it might detract from the rest of the meal itself.

Texture – Some of this might fall under fluffiness and moistness as well, but the most important factor in texture is that there is a tiny bit of ‘bite’. The grains of rice should give way as you chew but we don’t want cotton candy or porridge here. We’re looking for pillowy clouds of heaven encapsulated within each grain.

Why trust us?

My wife and I did a blind taste test of each, following the package directions. After much deliberation (and bickering), we agreed to a score and the final results in accordance with the rubric below. After our test, we gladly ate up the remaining rice! Kudos to my dog Ponyo for helping prepare.

best korean instant rice ponyo

How we chose what to test?

I perused the aisles of my local HMART and realized how I have never noticed the number of microwaveable instant rice brands out there! Like a kid in a candy store. For this particular test, we limited the products to just instant, microwavable white rices. I also selected four of the most popular brands available in the US.

Survey results

ComponentCJ's HetbahnKoholic Haru Haru Instant RiceNishiki Premium Grade Instant RiceOttogi Instant White Rice
Fluffiness (Flat Earther - Puppy) (1-10)4434
Moistness (Sahara Desert - Rainforest) (1-10)4445
Taste (Processed - Nature Made) (1-10)5434
Texture (Nuts - Rice Cake) (1-10)6585

What to look forward to

So much endless possibilities with this test! In addition to testing out more microwaveable instant rice brands, we eventually look forward to pairing instant rice with jjigaes (stews), bibimbap, etc. to give you the best instant rice to have with other Korean dishes. Let us know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!

Wrapping it up

We weren’t completely surprised that there wasn’t a huge variety among the different microwaveable instant rice brands but it’s reassuring to know that the quality is relatively decent. For an emergency (or to be honest convenient) save to your meal Korean microwaveable instant rice is a great go to that should be a staple in every pantry. I’m actually a little curious to see what would happen if we served a bunch of these unbeknownst to our families…

Korean BBQ Essentials: Best Flavored Soju [2019]

After 10 hours of research, testing, and perusing the many liquor stores and online vendors available, we can conclude that Chum Churum’s Apple soju is the best flavored soju you can buy in the U.S. today. I have been on a massive sugar rush lately as each flavored soju packs a ton of sweetness. Regardless of my energy levels, Chum Churum – Apple took the iron throne as the dry, sometimes harsh alcohol edge is perfectly masked by the wonderfully delicious, sweet and sour, candy-like aspect of each sip.

Editor's Pick:

Apple might be a little played out at this point, but Chum Churum’s is easily the best flavored soju with its sweet and sour balance being reminiscent of some of my favorite candies.

It does have the lowest alcohol content (12%) out of the test batch, which can explain the near absence of alcohol flavor. It is also super sweet so I’m not sure how much of it I could drink before feeling a little queasy, but that’s something you should expect when drinking flavored alcohol in general. For less than $6 at liquor stores, it’s liquid gold candy and definitely worth a try.

As soon as I twisted open the cap, the smell captivated my senses. It’s strong, it’s sweet, it’s sour, it smells just like green apple. All I can think of is how I wish that my bathroom smelled exactly like this (I’m sure you’re not supposed to think that about a bottle of alcohol). The taste doesn’t disappoint either. It’s very similar to a green apple lollipop with a trace hint reminding you that you’re drinking an adult beverage. The apple flavor also remains strong from the beginning to end making it a pleasant drink throughout.

best flavored soju chum churum soju peach runner up

Runner Up:

Peach flavoring in candy and drinks in general has a pretty mellow flavor profile, and it doesn’t ever get as sweet or flavorful as the actual fruit. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but in the soju world you need a little more oomph to get on the same level as the apple soju.

My wife prefers the peach flavored soju, which makes sense. My palate favors much stronger flavors than my wife’s, so if you want to to go with a milder taste I’d recommend trying the peach one out.

The smell is nice and pleasant, not overwhelming, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that you were drinking alcohol. Taste wise the peach flavored jolly rancher notes really come out. Its sweetness does do a pretty good job of masking the alcohol, just not as well as the apple. If I’m opting to drink flavored soju, it’s because I want to reduce the taste of alcohol as much as possible (kind of the main point).

Flavored soju's tested​

best flavored soju other flavors tested chum churum soju citron

Chum Churum Soju - Citron

Meh. It’s not bad, but definitely not as good as the Apple or Peach. Mostly it’s because I couldn’t stop thinking of Emergen-C, which I usually drink when I’m feeling sick. Also, its floral, citrusy smell reminds me of my scented floor cleaners… and being sick or cleaning are not my favorite conversation topics when I’m drinking soju.

Out of the flavored sojus Citron is definitely on the lower end of the sweetness spectrum, which is a good thing as flavored sojus tend to get so sweet that they are difficult to drink for a long time. However, Chum Churum’s Citron just doesn’t mask the alcohol as well as the Apple and Peach. Additionally, it starts off with a strong citrus punch, but it quickly peters out and by the end just tastes like medicine. Again it’s not bad, but don’t expect freshly squeezed orange juice here.

Why flavored soju?

Many people would agree that soju’s claim to fame in the alcohol world isn’t really its flavor. Soju, as well as soju lovers, know what it is – a relatively low alcohol content spirit you can get for about $1.50 in Korea or $5 in the States. Soju is also a great foundation for a mixed drink due to its light, more neutral taste, at least compared to vodka or whiskey. Anyone can be a soju mixology expert and its flexibility has resulted in thousands of mixed soju creations — soju + beer (somaek, soju bomb), yakuroto + soju, [enter any fresh fruit] + soju, etc. However, it does take some extra ingredients, a little extra effort, and maybe a blender to create that perfect concoction.

It wasn’t until 2015 that flavored soju finally came out on the market. I can just picture it in my head — a bunch of grown Korean folks sitting in a conference room asking themselves “what can we do to capitalize on the best selling liquor in the world? Oh, let’s make it tasty!” Pure f’ing genius. According to the Korea Times, Lotte, the owners of Chum Churum soju, came up with the idea of flavored soju to attract women customers who “showed they prefer fruit flavored alcohol such as wine and cocktails, but are reluctant to drink the beverages as they are relatively more expensive.” After it’s release sometime in 2015, Lotte sold 10 million bottles of flavored soju in 2 months. Again, damn.

On the surface, there really isn’t much of a difference between regular, mainstream soju and flavored soju. They both come in everyone’s favorite little green bottle, are made by the same major soju companies, and generally follow the same distillation process. However, flavored soju has a lower alcohol content (12-14% compared to 18-22%) and is obviously flavored, usually with some type of fruit, making it sweeter and tastier than its counterpart (it better since you’re getting less alcohol). Also, flavored soju seems to be a drink better suited for hanging out with your friends while probably not the direction you want to go when drinking with your boss. I don’t think I want to find out how my father-in-law would feel about me if I were to offer him a flavored soju. It seems even more out of place when thinking about traditional soju etiquette… not exactly sure how it would play out.

Regardless, flavored soju’s popularity is rising and is a perfect vehicle for an endless night of drinking games due to its low alcohol content and fruity taste (wait would a flavored soju shot even be considered a punishment?). Just be careful though! It may not taste like alcohol at all, but that’s when things get dangerous.

What makes a flavored soju good?

There isn’t much in depth research on what entails good flavored soju, most likely due to it being such a recent development. Buzzfeed recently released a video of “Americans Trying Flavored Soju” and consistent with the video a lot of it depends on your own personal preference. To try to narrow it down I focused on four main components that I look for in flavored soju, or frankly any fruit flavored cocktails.

  • Smell: Flavored soju should smell as fruit-like and non-alcoholic as possible. When you’re paying extra for a flavor it better actually smell like it. Most people might not think about the smell when drinking hard liquor, but as with wine, it does play a huge role in the overall experience and heavily influences the overall drinking experience.
  • Taste: More specifically, how well the flavorings mask the taste of alcohol; otherwise, why drink flavored soju in the first place. This also encompasses how artificial or natural the flavorings are. It doesn’t matter how inventive, creative, or awesome a flavor idea might be if it comes out horribly in the execution.
    • Sweetness: Look I get it, it’s meant to be sweet, but there’s great, natural sweetness that keeps you coming back for more and there’s cloying, syrupy, overpowering sweetness that sends you looking for something else.
  • Finish: The flavor should hold up throughout the drinking experience. It should be as smooth as possible while retaining that fruity note from beginning to end.

Survey results

ComponentSmell (Plug my nose - Sweet Heaven) (1-10)Balance (Straight up soju - Fresh squeezed fruit) (1-10)Sweetness (Chalk - Pooh's honey) (1-10)Finish (Sand paper - Baby's bottom) (1-10)
Chum Churum Apple9887
Chum Churum Citron6475
Chum Churum Peach8686

Why trust us?

I’ll never reach soju god status, but with each test my confidence in my ability to provide an honest and research driven review that speaks to the heart of the soju drinking world has grown. There was no point in doing a blind test here as anyone can easily tell which soju is which (if you can’t then you’re wasting your money). However, to ensure quality control each soju will be chilled to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and will be both sipped and then shot (1/2 shot). Between each drink, I will use a slice of lemon and a sip of water as a palate cleanser.  I will be focusing on four elements:  nose (smell), balance, sweetness, and finish (smoothness).

How we chose what to test?

My wife kept raving about this peach flavored soju a couple of years ago in Atlanta and me trying to be awesome of course have been insistent on finding some around where we live. So after years of searching, I was pleasantly surprised to finally find a few flavors at a nearby liquor store in a heavily populated Korean area of town. I haven’t had much success elsewhere, so it may be difficult to find flavored soju if you don’t live near a Korean grocery/liquor store. I’ve also noticed that online options are limited with shipping being a major hurdle as well.

Although our current options are pretty slim, with flavored soju’s growing popularity in the U.S. I’m certain that the universe will find a way to bring some more great flavored sojus into my life. In the meantime, let’s see how these three sojus turn out.

What to look forward to

I plan to include other flavored soju as I encounter them and am definitely open to recommendations. I do like to travel, so maybe I can use this as an excuse to see Jinwoo in NYC or Jimmy in LA, areas rich with Koreans and soju. Sorry Shin, I don’t think Minneapolis will make the cut.

Wrapping it up

I never really had an affinity for flavored alcoholic beverages. Maybe it’s just the wannabe macho side in me, as I’d rather have a nice scotch with an ice cube or a shot of soju straight up without adding anything else to it. I prefer a less complicated, straightforward drinking experience. This taste test didn’t exactly convert me as I still prefer regular soju over flavored, but it is a nice change of pace and something to consider for those who lean towards the fruitier or sweeter drinks. So cheers to expanding our horizons, discovering new tastes, and most importantly enjoying them with the ones we cherish the most.

Korean Instant Noodles: Best Korean Udon [2019]

After 12 hours of research, testing, and slurping to my heart’s content, we have concluded that Wang’s Katsuo Instant Udon is the best Korean udon in the US. The variety of instant udon noodle soups out there truly warmed my heart, but Katsuo udon’s flavors work harmoniously with each other and paired with their thick, pillowy noodles and you have a wonderfully comforting dish great for a cold night… or any night really.

Editor's Pick:

Wang’s Katsuo instant udon edged out Nongshim’s original instant udon due to its more complex flavor profile. A great level of saltiness, sweetness, and tanginess with none overpowering another and all coming together in the end. It brings an earthy undertone to it which adds to the comfort of the broth. The noodles were non-fried, thick, and fluffy so that each slurp felt like an adventure of its own.

This instant udon noodle package comes with a liquid broth and some dried ingredients such as tempura flakes, but nothing that should throw you for a loop. Smart move since it really lets the broth and noodles shine. I can definitely eat this every day, regardless of the weather outside.

Runner Up:

The OG! I remember eating this (along with instant ramen noodles) as a little kid and it never disappoints. If I had to give them a title, Nongshim’s udon would be the jack of all trades of udon. It has it all — soft yet chewy noodles, a nice mellow broth with a hint of sweetness in every spoonful.

I also really enjoyed the little narutos and tempura pieces that go in it as well. The reason I knocked this right below Katsuo is because the taste is slightly less hearty and I didn’t get the same level of sweetness as I did from Katuso (I don’t know… maybe my taste buds are dying out). Regardless, everything is so balanced and smooth it still hits the spot.

Other Korean instant udon tested

Although Nongshim advertised this as udon, it’s eerily reminiscent of the thin fried noodles that usually come in the standard pack of instant ramen. This automatically knocked it down a few pegs, udon is a specific kind of noodle, can’t fool me Nongshim. Unlike most other instant udon noodles the soup base comes in powder (instead of liquid) form. The broth is a little blander than the other tempura udon, but it rounds out pretty nicely and has a good little kick in the end.

The extra ingredients are definitely the best characteristic of this udon and a slight notch ahead of most of the other brands tested. This instant noodle soup comes with thick pieces of fried tempura that add a slight fish cake flavor and soak up the broth’s flavor well. The extra textural contrast is a nice touch.

There are a couple parallels with Nongshim’s tempura udon here, the thin, deep fried, ultimately disappointing instant ramen noodles… that again are not what udon noodles texturally are. Paired with a powdered soup base while more flavorful and seasoned than Nongshim’s doesn’t bring the hint of sweetness I typically expect from udon noodle soup.

Although advertised as tempura udon there was a marked difference in the tempura cakes compared to Nongshim’s… mainly in that there really weren’t any. This makes a little sense as they focus more on the ttigim (튀김) or fried part instead of tempura; either way, it did come with my favorite fish cake — naruto! Fun fact: the more famous Naruto’s name actually comes from narutomaki, a fish cake usually found in ramen.

I was really excited to find this brand because honestly how can you resist mixing bulgogi and udon together? Bulgogi, which typically falls on the sweet side, should seem like a perfect fit with udon. However, I admit that I was naive in thinking that there would be some pieces of meat in there. The picture definitely fooled me!

The packet comes with non-fried thick udon noodles, a liquid soup base, some dried ingredients, and sesame oil. While the noodles were on point, I didn’t quite understand the sesame oil. It doesn’t blend in very well with the broth and stands out as a flavor on its own. I’d skip out on it the next time. Also, the broth came out too sweet compared to other brands. You’ll definitely need some kimchi or something else sour to cut through the sweetness.

Why instant udon?

The world of instant noodles is awesome. Instant noodles come in all shapes and sizes and flavors and can be filled with steaming hot broth or stir fried in extremely spicy paste. Next time just go through your local Asian grocery store and you’ll see endless versions of instant noodles such as instant ramen, pho, gomtang, mee goreng, jajangmyun, etc. As I mentioned before, instant noodles are college students’ and drunk friends’ lifeline. Their affordability and convenience has made it a college dorm staple and a fixture in pantry shelves around the world. Ever since Momofuku Ando invented the instant noodle in 1958, it has become a global phenomenon with everyone putting their own twists and spins on the OG.

As one of ramen’s brethren, udon (우동) originated in Japan and the style varies depending on the region. It’s not much of a surprise that Koreans started to make instant versions of this comforting dish. It doesn’t get as much hype in the U.S. as ramen but don’t let this fool you… it’s underrated in terms of taste and health (relatively). Udon refers to how the noodles are made — from wheat flour — and is usually much thicker, more pillowy, and softer than ramen noodles. Unlike most instant ramen noodles, udon noodles aren’t fried which results in a much lower calorie content, but a much more limited shelf-life. Udon also has a neutral taste making it extremely versatile and can be added to tons of different Korean flavored stews and soups (i.e. budae jjigae, kimchi jjigae, hot pot, etc.) or even broth-less such as yaki udon, which is one of my favorite dishes to make.

What is good instant udon?

Although there are tons of variations of udon, it is traditionally served in a hot, mildly sweet soy-sauce like broth and can have a range of ingredients such as shrimp tempura, vegetables, and fish cake (my favorite is white and pink swirly things called naruto). It’s great for any occasion, but perfect to eat piping hot when winter’s breath starts chilling the air.

My expectations for good instant udon noodles aren’t as high as you would typically get at a restaurant, but the requisites are still pretty similar – a mildly sweet broth with thick, fluffy noodles. The extras are sometimes nice, but mostly I’m in it for the heart warming broth and noodles; I don’t want too much stuff in my way. Plus, I’m not sure how I would feel about seafood kept at room temperature for several weeks.

When you only have a few components they all need to shine in their own right. The seasoning and flavors from the soup package paired with any extra toppings need to produce a vibrant and fortifying broth, while the noodles should soak up all that flavor whilst maintaining that chewiness that tells you you’re eating something. The noodles should be “al dente” and maintain its structure throughout your entire meal. You don’t want noodles that immediately mush up like baby food. Flavor wise for this test we’re looking mainly at the depth/complexity of flavors in the broth. Something that isn’t overpowering, but flavors that subtly pop up in your mouth while not disrupting the balance.

Survey results

ComponentComplexity (1+1 - e=mc^2) (1-10)Sweetness (Halloween - Valentine's Day) (1-10)Extra (Simple is sweet - More the merrier) (1-10)Noodle Thickness (Toothpick - Elephant's Butt) (1-10)Noodle Chewiness (Melt in your mouth - Rubberband man) (1-10)
Nongshim's Original Udon54477
Nongshim's Tempura Udon41625
Wang's Bulgogi Udon67477
Wang's Katsuo Udon64477
Ottogi's Tempura Udon51526

Why trust us?

I’m not a food expert or a noodle connoisseur, but I’ve probably had over thousands of instant noodles in my lifetime. We also spend countless hours researching and testing the product to ensure a more objective basis of judgment. Simply though, I’m just here to give my honest opinion of a dish that is seriously underrated and I believe one of the next big food trends. Additionally, the purpose of this test isn’t to develop an individualized opinion of each udon, but to compare and contrast in the hopes that you can find what fits best for you.

How we chose what to test?

This test actually happened by random. As I was perusing through my local H-Mart I was surprised to see the instant noodle aisle filled with instant udon instead of ramen. After researching some of the most popular brands and companies, we chose five varieties of udon noodle soup, all coming in cup noodle form, and pitted them against each other. To qualify all the instant udon noodles needed to be from a Korean manufacturer, state udon in the title, and be cooked with broth.

I cooked each udon per instructions and nothing was excluded from the package and no outside ingredients were added. The noodles were cooked at different times to ensure proper texture. I divided the test based on two basis — the broth and the noodle.

What to look forward to

We will update this post with any other instant udon that we can’t resist to slurp down as well as any recommendations. In addition, we will continue to explore the world of instant noodles and the myriad of varieties out there. It’s a huge and deliciously expanding food scene and we are excited to have only scratched its surface.

Wrapping it up

Instant noodle fans, rejoice! As the popularity of instant noodles trends up, plenty of variations continue to be created to fit all types of palates at an affordable price. Instant udon is no exception but in a universe where ramen is king, udon will surely sneak up on people. Its mild, sweet taste really hits the spot when I want to eat something that doesn’t feel too heavy. The noodles in my opinion really steal the show though as each bite has this wonderfully satisfying texture to it and the slurp-ability is second to none.

As we continue to truly sit down and taste different Korean food (or at least Korean variations) while being a part of Goghism, it’s amazing to note the cultural influences and other nuances that goes in each cuisine. I’ve further grown to appreciate the tastes that can come out of any dish, regardless of whether it’s a $50 sushi course or a $2 instant noodle bowl. Hopefully in the near future as I continue to slow down and really taste food, I’ll be able to create dishes of my own that my wife won’t immediately refuse or criticize (she’s a pretty good cook btw). On second thought, give me a few more years.

Korean Instant Noodles: Best Spicy Chicken Ramen [2019]

After 8 hours of researching, testing, and repeatedly setting my stomach on fire, Samyang Curry Buldak Bokkeum Myeon is the best spicy chicken instant ramen you can buy today. All of the varieties of spicy chicken instant ramen we tested got me sweating nearly instantaneously, but the curry works nicely with the spice to give it a multi-toned flavor that isn’t simply overwhelming you with heat.

Editor's Pick:

I was honestly surprised this came out on top. Usually I stick with simpler flavors and shy away from the gimmicky. However, the curry mellowing out some of the spiciness made this slightly more enjoyable to eat. However, do note that it is still really spicy!

The curry tasted similar to the Japanese golden curry sauce mix and melded together seamlessly so that I was able to get a nice balance of curry and spice flavor with each bite. In addition, this pack came with an extra side of vegetables, which made me feel great that I was eating healthy for once… I don’t think this is for everyone, but for curry and spicy instant ramen noodle fans out there, this is a marriage we’ve all been waiting for!


Easily the spiciest out of the three, I started sweating a few bites in, but I kept going back for more. It comes with one sauce packet that coats the noodles in a dark, red, glaze. Your body will know immediately how spicy it’s going to be at first glance.

Just like the picture on the packet, a wave of heat will rush over you as soon as this hits your lips. However, after the initial barrage, a pleasant sweetness and tanginess comes through. Be warned, you won’t get an explosion of flavor in your mouth. The original buldak bokkeum myun was meant to be hot. If this isn’t enough spice for you, try out the 2x spicy version.

Best Cover Photo

Now before judging why anyone would want to put cheese inside spicy chicken ramen, cheese has actually been really popular in Korean dishes such as jjigaes (stews), rice bowls, pork ribs, and pretty much anything else your heart desires. This version of buldak bokkuem myeon came with two packets, instead of one, with the other packet being powdered cheese.

The cheese was definitely not overpowering, much subtler than I thought it would be. You can taste cheese with each bite, but unlike the curry flavored, the spice is still very much the dominant note, which is probably intentional. I know that this is spicy instant ramen noodles, but I probably would have preferred to have an actual slice of cheese melted and stirred into the noodles, giving a more gooey texture.

Despite it being my least favorite of the three I would definitely eat this again, and it should peak the curiosity of all cheese lovers out there. Plus, how can you resist not trying it out when you have a picture of an awesome looking chicken sitting on top of a wheel of cheese serenading or just loving the heck out of a slice?

Why spicy instant chicken ramen?

Korean food is known for that signature spicy kick of gochujang and gochugaru, and Korea’s take on instant noodles doesn’t stray far from the tree. I have yet to see a Korean grocery store that isn’t stock full of towers of spicy noodle packages. You can’t even trust the ‘mild’ versions if you’re on the spice averse side.

Several years ago I stumbled upon buldak bokkeum myeon (불닭볶음면), which literally translates to ‘fire chicken stir fry noodles’, and it’s definitely a game changer in the spicy instant noodle world. Buldak bokkeum myeon is advertised as ramen but doesn’t have any broth. Instead, after boiling the noodles you drain out all the water and stir in the seasoning sauce (similar to a well known friend of mine Chapagetti). No clue why they decided to go with spicy instant chicken ramen, but I’ll just go with the flow so I don’t have to keep on typing out buldak bokkeum myeon.

Given its extreme level of spiciness it’s not really surprising that spicy instant chicken ramen got a challenge all of its own a la the Cinnamon Challenge dubbed the “fire noodle challenge” (불닭볶음면 도전).

The challenge is to down the entire bowl of noodles without a drink. In 2017 Samyang upped their game and dropped the hek buldak bokkeum myeon (hek = nuclear), which doubles the spice level (8,706 SHU) as opposed to the ‘weaker’ original (4,404 SHU). Any time you go ‘nuclear’ to describe a dish it only means trouble for the next morning. Naturally, of course, the even more mouth firing “nuclear fire noodle challenge” became a thing. I thought I was ok with spice, but let me tell you, this makes me sweat more than a Korean sauna. The spice is tantalizing and addicting, but incredibly painful at the same time. Even my mom, who I’m 99.9% certain doesn’t have any taste buds, gave it her seal of approval.

Which reminds me, Jinwoo and Shin, I challenge you to the nuclear fire noodle challenge!

How we chose what to test?

Since Buldak Bokkeum Myeon’s development in 2012, Samyang has created six other varieties that differ in taste but solidified their spicy trademark. We’ve pit three: the original, curry, and cheese to see which one of these red headed step children stand out. We’ll be basing this on: spice level, balance of flavors, complexity of flavors, and the overall texture of the sauce and noodles. I cooked each pack per instruction, nothing was excluded, and no outside ingredients were added. The noodles were all eaten 20 minutes after cooking was completed.

Survey results

ComponentSpice (Beginner mode - RIP) (1-10)Balance (Pick up league - Olympic gold) (1-10)Complexity (1+1 - e = mc^2) (1-10)
Buldak Bokkeum Myun (Original)934
Cheese Buldak Bokkeum Myun743
Curry Buldak Bokkeum Myun665

Why trust us?

In the same vein as our Korean BBQ Grill post this flies somewhat in the face of our conventional methodology. As we don’t have the capacity to go out and test all of these rice cookers ourselves we opted to do the next best thing. We applied similar methods as we have for our Best Restaurants posts: relying on the power of the customer base, researching with integrity (we do not have any ties to the companies making these rice cookers), and being self aware enough to know that we are not smart enough to put forward our own opinion. We are simply relaying all of our research in as consumable of a format as we can; hopefully in the near future I can fulfill my lifelong dream of having a hundred rice cookers in my place, all singing their songs of warmth, happiness, and the cooked rice way.

What to look forward to

First thing, of course, is to build out the stable of reviewed medium sized rice cookers. We’ll be going down our list as quickly as we can but if you have any rice cookers you are curious about hit us up and let us know. We are continuing our great journey into the hardware side of the culinary world, come along and help us see it through!

Wrapping it up

It was great seeing how many medium sized rice cookers there are out on the market that do a great job of what they’re supposed to do… cook rice. But like any piece of hardware durability seems to be a consistent and major issue for these babies. Also, I know we’ve harped on this a bunch in our Korean BBQ Grill post, but these companies really need to come out with some palatable names for their babies. Writing about something that is a jumbled bunch of letters and numbers drives me up the wall. Regardless, it’s reassuring to know that the well being of our rice eating brethren lie in good hands. May your rice be always hot, fluffy, and perfect.

Korean Instant Noodles: Best Spicy Korean Ramen [2019]

After 22 hours of research, testing, and gluttony, we have concluded that Shin Ramyun is the best spicy instant noodle (Korean ramen edition) in the US. I thoroughly enjoyed each ramen as they constantly kept me reaching for more. However, Shin Ramyun’s bold, spicy flavor, and the consistency of their noodles from start to finish made it the cream of the crop in this truly tasty battle. If you’re looking for the best spicy instant noodles coming out of Korea then look no further.

Editor's Pick:

Namja ramen epitomizes everything that I want and more in what can only be the best spicy instant ramen. The noodles are pretty comparable to the other instant ramens in this list besides it being slightly thinner, but the star of the show is really the broth. It’s definitely the spiciest instant ramen out of the list and the deep red color of the broth didn’t disappoint. However, there’s more to it than just high spice levels – the broth is filled with garlicky, peppery, and salty goodness that make every bite pretty intense. The bigger and bolder ramen made it to number one in our list.

Runner Up:

I’m not too sure why Nongshim opted for the less common “ramyun” spelling, but I’m not going to knock them for being a little old fashioned when they’ve been there for the Korean public through thick and thin. I could tell instantly that this ramen was going to be pretty spicy because the broth was a much deeper red compared to the others. This was the second spiciest ramen and it punches you straight in the mouth from the first bite. However, after withstanding the initial spice surge, more nuanced and complex peppery notes came out; resulting in much more than a one tone ramen. Most instant ramens just try to up the heat level and base everything on how many tears they shed and how many taste buds they burn off.

Also, while the noodles weren’t any thicker than other ramens’, they maintained their chewy consistency throughout. It also retained its curvy shape even after several minutes of chillin’ in the broth. Although the pre-packaged “vegetables” weren’t anything spectacular, the depth of spicy flavors along with the nice texture of the noodles made this my top choice for spicy Korean ramen.

Runner Up:

Sutah was definitely a dark horse in my eyes and I was truly surprised when it ended up second, I mean my general go to has always been the thicker Neoguri. I was captivated by the super red, volcano inspired broth and the way the heat just keeps on coming. Sutah is one of the spiciest ramen on this list, and when I’m looking for something spicy this really hits the spot. The fire really cuts out any type of greasy or oily mouth feel that came out in some of the other ramens tested. However, the flavor profile is pretty one dimensional and lags behind Shin’s.

Side note: the noodles looked a little… distorted. Maybe the water in my neighborhood has some chemicals or what not, but the noodles came out with some weird bubble marks. Despite the off look, there was nothing wrong with them flavor or texture wise. Hit Sutah Ramen up if you’re craving some lava soup.

Other Korean spicy instant ramen tested

The broth seemed a bit weaker and less spicier compared to the other ramens at first glance, and as it turns out Samyang ramen was definitely the least spiciest out of the bunch. That alone knocked it out from contention for me. The noodles also started to get a bit mushier the longer it remained uneaten relative to the rest.

However, it definitely had the most interesting and complex flavor profile out of the bunch. Instead of the typical spicy flavor that I got from the others, the broth had a strong chicken stock flavor. I was surprised to see that it’s actually made from beef broth because I swear it tastes more like chicken. If you’re looking for a less spicy ramen with an interesting flavor profile, I’d give this a shot.

The best thing about Jin ramen is the pre-packaged vegetables that it comes with. It has an earthier flavor profile which isn’t surprising due to all the little mushrooms. Besides this however, nothing else really stuck out. It wasn’t as rich or bold as Shin and Sutah and the flavor wasn’t really as complex as Neoguri or Samyang. The noodles also seemed to fall apart the fastest as the original curliness quickly softened up and they became soggy.

Jin ramen is still pretty good, but it lacks that extra something that would help it stick out from the others.

Neoguri probably belongs more with jjamppong (짬뽕) instead of ramen, but I couldn’t resist testing this out with the others. Unlike the other packages it has a nice seafood type flavor enriching the broth with a surprising amount of depth for a midnight snack. It also comes with the freshest looking dehydrated vegetables paired with large chunks of seaweed (one of my favorites).

However, it comes out oilier on the palate than Shin and Sutah because there’s not enough spice to cut through the grease. I do like the seafood flavor, but it definitely needs more of a kick to it.

Yeul literally translates to fever and there’s really no better way to describe this ramen than to a fever. The spice level initially wasn’t too bad even though the broth had a slight habanero-like flavor to it. But like a fever, it slowly creeps up on you until it’s too late and your either glistening in sweat or reaching to quell some of the slow burn in your mouth.

The noodles are slightly thinner than Shin ramen but still maintains that chewiness that you’d expect in any good instant ramen. It didn’t beat out the Namja or Shin due to the lack of depth in flavor – it definitely wasn’t as bold, peppery, salty, etc., as those two. However, it’s definitely worth a try especially if you like spicy food as it was one of the spiciest in this list.

I liked it… it’s just not what I expected it to be. The first thing that comes to mind is ddukbokki. The soup base is viscous (probably why it’s a tang/stew), the noodles are much thicker, and the taste sweeter than the other ramen brands I tested. Honestly, replace the noodles with rice cakes and I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.

It’s easily not as spicy as its stir-fried counterparts, but still packs a nice punch. The sweetness neutralizes some of the spiciness so you’re mouth won’t be on fire. There’s also a good amount of garlic flavor (which I love) that comes in one of the packets. The noodles are much thicker but it soaks up a lot of broth so make sure not to wait too long. However, what makes this spicy chicken ramen brand awesome is that it’s a perfect vehicle to add in whatever additional ingredients you want. Just the next day I added in odeng, sausage, cheese, and bean sprouts, and it really just took it to another level. Unfortunately for this review, I judged only on the original ramen content itself, but if you’re feeling creative, this is a great bet.

This wasn’t a part of the taste test as it’s not ramen (I know what it says on the package but this is meant to be eaten without broth), but if you are looking for some insanely hot Korean instant noodles, try out Samyang’s Buldak Bokkeum Myun x2. I thought I was pretty good with spicy food, but this immediately makes me want to crawl into a corner and cry. I usually only put about 3/5 of the spicy sauce and fill it up with other side ingredients (e.g. rice cakes, odeng, etc). I don’t know why I put myself through this and my wife was laughing at me the whole way through, but if you’re up to the challenge definitely try this out. Don’t forget that I warned you though.

Why spicy instant ramen?

Honestly, there is no better drunk food than instant ramen (and mine needs to be spicy). Every slurp is a taste of heaven, the broth warms the soul, and the noodles sober the mind (don’t quote us on that). But spicy instant ramen is much more than something you crave at the end of a long night, its affordability and convenience has made it a college dorm staple and a fixture in pantry shelves around the world. Ever since Momofuku Ando invented the instant noodle in 1958, it has become a global phenomenon with everyone putting their own twists and spins on the OG. Just check out this list of twelve unusual ramens and you’ll get a taste of the ramen hysteria. South Korea’s passion for spicy instant ramen is no exception and probably on another level than most other countries. In fact, South Korea has the most consumers per capita of this wonderfully sinful dish. Korean instant ramen generally tends to be much spicier so for those who can’t handle the heat be wary. Sold and consumed almost anywhere you can find them in individually wrapped packages or in styrofoam cups (aka cup ramen). Although several studies have been critical of instant ramen’s nutritional value (or lack thereof), South Korean life expectancy far exceeds the average American life span so it can’t be all that bad… right?
Celebrities eating ramen
“Rooftop Prince” from Source
Not only is instant ramen cheap, affordable, and tasty, it’s an indelible part of Korean and Korean-American culture. The first thing most Korean boys learn how to make is instant ramen and most of them probably go through life without learning how to make anything else (or make well at least). From the first time you learn how to break up the noodles, sprinkle the flavoring pack on top, and eat them like chips, to the first communal pot of ramen on the floor with your friends, to the first pot you share with your significant other; spicy instant ramen is the soju of the food world… much more of a cultural and life experience than a cheap food product. We’re not kidding ourselves, most people aren’t looking at a package of instant ramen and thinking of culinary integrity, but it would be impossible to look at Korean and Korean American food culture without the reliable package that’s there for everyone… and I mean everyone.

What is Good Korean Instant Ramen?

Although they share the same name, nobody would seriously compare instant ramen to actual ramen shops that cook their broth for days, use fresh noodles, and put a couple fatty slices of braised pork on top. Instant ramen is meant to be eaten on the floor of your college dorm with your friends, at night after being drunkenly thrown together, I’ve seen people pour boiling water straight into the bag while on a fishing trip. But that doesn’t mean they are all the same, and that you can’t expect some level of quality from your favorite package. So what determines whether a Korean instant ramen is good or not?

When you only have three main components they all need to shine in their own right. The seasoning and flavors in the instant soup package paired with the dehydrated vegetables need to produce a vibrant and fortifying broth, while the noodles should soak up all that flavor whilst maintaining the chewiness that tells you you’re eating something. The noodles should be “al dente” and maintain its structure throughout your entire meal. You don’t want noodles that immediately mush up like baby food. Obviously, flavor wise for this test we’re looking mainly at how spicy the ramens are, but we’re looking much further than the initial burning fire. Spiciness is not a one trick pony, it can add complexity and nuance all of it’s own, think of the fruitiness of a jalapeño or the vinegar punch of Tabasco.

All of that needs to come together into one soul restoring, drama reducing, and hunger abating bowl that is miles ahead of the competition when comparing the time and effort put in with what comes out.

Survey results

ComponentBroth Spice Level (Bell pepper - green pepper) (1-10)Broth Complexity (1+1 - e=mc^2) (1-10)Broth Seasoning (Bland - Bold) (1-10)Noodle Texture (Thin - Thick) (1-10)Noodle Texture (Disintegrates - Chewy) (1-10)
Shin Ramen64757
Samyang Ramen36555
Jin Ramen43454
Sutah Ramen72756
Namja Ramen96947
Yeul Ramen93547
Samyang Spicy Chicken Ramen Stew78877

Why trust us?

I’m not a food expert or a ramen connoisseur, but since I haven’t seen any Master Sommelier certifications for ramen broth I’m not exactly a lightweight either. I’m just here to give my honest opinion of a dish that has been with me throughout my life and always takes me to grandma’s house. Additionally, the purpose of this test isn’t to develop an individualized opinion of each ramen, but to compare and contrast in the hopes that you can find what fits best for you.

I conducted a blind taste test of some of the most popular ramen brands. My wife cooked each ramen per instructions, placed a few chopsticks worth of noodles in a small bowl, three table spoons of broth, and placed the pre-packaged ingredients on top. Nothing was excluded from the package and no outside ingredients were added. The noodles were cooked at different times to ensure proper texture, and I tested the noodles after it had sat in the broth for a few minutes to check structural integrity.

How we chose what to test?

We chose five of the most popular Korean spicy instant ramen brands that can be found in Asian grocery stores in the United States. I’ve also seen some of these brands pop up in popular grocery chains as well. Qualifications were simple – Korean, spicy, and ramen (although Neoguri is technically jjampong style it’s definitely part of the Korean instant ramen canon in our minds).

What to look forward to

There are so many different brands and types of Korean spicy instant ramen out there that I was too worried for my health to test them all out at the same time. However, we’ll continue to bulk up this list in conjunction with my healing stomach. If you have any favorites or mystery boxes that you want to see on this list definitely hit us up. We will also be testing out other types of Korean instant noodles so be on the look out!

Wrapping it up

Some people don’t even consider Korean instant ramen to be real food, and we’re not trying to move people from thinking otherwise. We know where instant ramen stands in the food pantheon and the standard pantry. But I also have my personal favorites and no matter how it may be looked down upon it’s always been something I’ve loved to eat. With all of that, I was pleasantly surprised that there actually is a high level of variation among instant ramen brands (aside from just how spicy it is), and there is more depth and nuance within each than I ever expected. It’s gratifying to see how when you actually take the time to take things slow… or eat more slowly… that something I’ve probably eaten a thousand times can show me something new.

West 32 Soju: A Refreshing Take On Soju

Last updated: [last-modified]

We’re excited that we can tell West 32 Soju’s story, a company dedicated to their vision of an American soju that upholds the essence of the Korean drinking tradition and culture. With all-natural and gluten-free domestic ingredients resulting in a clean smooth finish without the artificial sweetness, we’ll be watching and cheering them on their journey.

A Look Into Their Journey:

Nothing is more exciting than the present. Well, I’m sure there are plenty more exciting things, but in the present, we have the ability build upon the past and shape the way for the future. This concept can apply to anything – from Hyper Loops to what’s for dinner. The development of West 32 Soju is no different. When founders Maxwell Fine and Daniel Lee reached out to us, I didn’t know what to expect since I had never heard of any soju being made in the US. Even my mom, a restaurant owner and avid soju fan, was shocked at the prospect of a US distilled soju because it wouldn’t be “original.” Yet, once I heard their story I was definitely intrigued and impressed by their passion and unique approach to soju’s evolution in a way that blends their taste and the trends of today.

The seed for West 32 Soju was planted and cultivated in the NYC block where Max and Dan spent countless nights drinking soju with friends. Their vision is to share that social experience with an all-natural, neutral tasting soju. It’s still too early to say whether David can bring down Goliath, but if craft beers have shown us anything it’s that there’s always room for some variety. Regardless, I’m excited to watch and cheer as they strive to make soju an indelible part of America’s drinking culture.

Distilling an Idea

The idea of West 32 Soju started out like how many great ideas begin… with bottles of liquor and good company. After becoming friends in college and moving to New York City, Max and Dan were regular fixtures in the K-town scene, filling up on mouth-watering dishes and having countless soju-filled nights. However, during a typical night out a few years ago, they realized that the same questions kept popping up… from “why is soju so sweet?” to “damn, how bad will my hangover will be tomorrow?” and then for the first time, “what can we do about it?” What started as a spur of the moment idea became a passion that sparked the beginning of Max and Dan’s journey.

Coming up with the idea was the “easy” part. Following through with it on the other hand, especially in a top heavy industry dominated by Jinro, Lotte, and the like, took some serious conviction. Max and Dan, however, weren’t phased by the competition because they were taking part in an endeavor that they truly enjoyed. I was impressed by their dedication and the depth of their research around the nature and process of the soju distillation industry (ask them how many artificial ingredients most soju companies use). I haven’t verified their findings but the artificial, chemical-like, sweetness they refer to is definitely present in almost all of the sojus I’ve tried.

Building the Brand

West 32 Soju is “a different sprit, an all-natural, better-tasting, superior soju.” Armed with their research and a vision Max and Dan built their soju’s identity on domestically grown, gluten-free all-natural ingredients. They use cane sugar as a light sweetener and corn for the base foundation through their triple-filtering process, striving for a more neutral, less artificial taste. They emphasized the importance of using domestically grown ingredients, to give their soju an American twist. To give their brand even more of a distinction, they decided to do away with the twist off cap and instead replaced the cap with a cork in order to better preserve freshness after use. Although it slightly makes me sad that I won’t be able to “flick the cap”, it’s bold and refreshing to know the level of thought and care that went into every detail, even something as forgetful as the cap. Plus, I’m eager to see if the soju drinking public can come up with some cork based drinking games.

In light of the similarities and differences, Max and Dan stressed the importance of wanting to preserve the essence of soju when developing their brand — a drink that “continue[s] the time-honored Korean ritual of celebrating life” and one that can be shared amongst family, friends, or even a group of strangers. They wanted to capture their memorable nights in NYC hanging out and building friendship and share that experience with others through their soju.

After over two years of research and tests, West 32 Soju officially launched in December 2016. I had the chance to try out West 32 Soju and can personally say that they did deliver on their promise to create a refreshing and more neutral soju. You can read more about my review on West 32 Soju in our previous post. Currently, West 32 Soju is available in three states as well as online and is kicking ass in local liquor tasting competitions. They are currently focused on expanding to other locations in the US so be on the look out at your nearest karaoke bar or restaurant!

West 32 Soju

Wrapping It Up

It’s fascinating to see the origins of what could become a powerhouse in the food industry and see what shaped their journey so far. It makes me happy to see and meet people that want to spread awareness of Korean culture in the US. Jinwoo said it best in one of his previous posts, “one of the benefits of being second generation anything is that you get to stand on what the first generation built when they came to the US. It’s exciting to see that in Korean food today as we move away from the comfort of our traditions and start wondering how we can leave our own mark on them.”

Max and Dan never made soju before starting West 32 Soju, but through their passion, they found an avenue to channel it with others. What’s pretty cool about West 32 Soju goes beyond the product itself, but the friendship that continues to strengthen and evolve through their common drive and vision. Listening to their story really resonated with me here at Goghism because we get to share our passion and most importantly gives us an excuse to talk to each other all the time (right Shin and Jinwoo?).

Korean BBQ Essentials: The Best Beer for your Somaek (Soju + Beer)

PSA: Please read responsibly.

After 20 hours of research, testing, and getting buzzed (maybe more than buzzed) we have concluded that Cass Fresh is the best beer for somaek (소맥). Cass by itself is nothing spectacular: mild and light with little complexity. However, simplicity is king with somaek as other beers with deeper, richer flavors clashed with or completely masked the accompanying soju. You can’t go too wrong with other light lagers for your somaek, but Cass edged out the competition with the overall balance it provided. Bottoms up!

Editor's Pick:

The decision was difficult but Cass prevailed. Cass isn’t the best beer — it’s pretty unspectacular, not a very pronounced flavor profile, and there are plenty of other beers I prefer on their own. However, its unspectacular-ness is what makes it a great combination with soju. Cass perfectly muted soju’s cloying sweetness, leaving the freshness of an ice-cold beer with a soju kick. Its flavors also didn’t clash with soju as Cass doesn’t have much to play with anyways.

My wife sometimes makes fun of me for being a simpleton, but as Cass and I proved, sometimes being simple is the best.

Runner Up:

Budweiser gets the second spot, but was not far off by a long shot. If anything, Budweiser has a smoother finish, but you won’t get quite the same kick of soju that you will with Cass. The more hoppy and heavier nature of Budweiser does a great job of mellowing out the slight harshness of the liquor, but on a Friday night you want something that packs a little punch. This didn’t factor into the taste test but Bud Heavies are much more filling than the lighter Korean lager, which over the course of the night will start taking its toll.

Other medium sized rice cookers tested

I was really excited to try this combination because Guinness is my jam and never does me wrong. How can you do me like this Guinness? This was by far the worst combination as Guinness’s subtle coffee flavor clashes with soju’s brashness in an awkward competition for my taste buds’ attention. Guinness doesn’t mute the soju, making it harder to drink, or complement it in any way, making it less fun to drink.

I really wanted to like you, I really, really did. But in the end, it wasn’t me, it was you.

Competition was stiff among the lite beers coming down to granular distinctions that could have gone either way. Hite is slightly hoppier when compared to Cass and Budweiser, which we’re quickly realizing does not pair well with soju. By itself, I prefer Hite over Cass or Budweiser, but with somaek weakness is strength.

Hoegaarden has a mild citrus taste with a spicy finish and it doesn’t overwhelm you with strong, deep flavors. Its fruity and springy note seemed like a good mix with soju at first, but it falls into the same situation as Hite. Soju just doesn’t mix well with different flavors as it generally detracts from more subtle and nuanced notes. It sort of defeats the purpose of drinking a beer like Hoegaarden.

If you don’t like the flavor of soju, then this is the combination for you. Sweetwater IPA has a much stronger, sweeter, and bitter flavor than our contending lagers, which drowns out any feeble remnants of soju. I actually liked this somaek combination since it just tasted like Sweetwater. We wanted to primarily test for balance and pair combination, however, which ultimately kicked Sweetwater out of the running. What’s the point of drinking somaek if you can’t even tell that it’s somaek. Additionally, somaek is meant to be chugged, go ahead and chug as many IPAs as your heart desires, but it’s not a very pleasant experience.

*There are many great IPAs out there, but as a former Atlanta resident, I wanted to remain loyal.

What is somaek?

I’m sure if you’re reading an article about liquor you’ve heard the saying, “beer before liquor, never been sicker.” I can only tell you what I’ve seen from personal experience, not a lot of scientific research out there on this subject for some reason, but somaek (pronounced so-mek) blows past this age old debate.  Similar to other internationally famous duos — Guinness and Baileys (Irish Car Bombs), sake and beer (Sake Bombs), whiskey and beer (boilermakers) — somaek mixes soju (소주) and maekju (맥주)(beer), true examples of synergy.  Somaek has continued to become extremely popular in Korea and is steadily rising in popularity in the United States, coinciding with the rise of Korean food and culture in general.

We haven’t come across a definitive origin of this titular combination, there are stories ranging from enterprising Korean college students to American GIs stiffening up lighter Korean beers, but one thing is for sure… this stuff hits you fast. Given the relatively low alcohol contents of Korean lagers and soju (most American and European liquors stick around the 40% range while soju is 15% – 20%) it’s not difficult to see where the impetus came from. I like the thought of hundreds if not thousands of ambitious people independently figuring out a way to liven up their night a little.

Somaek isn’t tied down to a specific type of beer by definition, but as the two most popular beers in Korea are Hite and Cass, the common sense choice is a light lager. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Asian beer that wasn’t a lager. But most importantly, it doesn’t really matter, somaek is about creating that 분위기 (bun-wigi), atmosphere, where friends, family, and strangers can come together and enjoy themselves. You can laugh at those who lose a game and have to drink as punishment. Or maybe it’s something that you do together when you sit around waiting for some meat to be cooked at a Korean BBQ. In other words, somaek is more than just a mashed up combo of soju and beer; it’s one more way to celebrate the bonds of friendship and help create that sense of camaraderie. As always, drink responsibly and have fun!

What makes a good beer and somaek combination?

There’s no universally agreed upon ratio of soju and beer.  Truthfully, I’ve always just kind of eyeballed it depending on my mood and mixed accordingly. What you really want is a good balance between the taste of beer and soju. One study surveying 1,860 people asserted that the “golden” ratio was 30% soju to 70% beer (3:7 ratio). At this ratio, they were able to slightly mute the taste of soju but still have both the freshness of the beer and the slight kick from the soju. It’s kind of like adding hot sauce to a dish. I don’t want to be overwhelmed, but I do want to sweat a little. Like hot sauce, soy sauce, ketchup, and sauce really you’ll probably need to experiment to find your “golden” ratio (good thing the experimenting is fun).

There are also several ways to make your somaek. Again, I’m pretty simple and prefer to just pour soju into a cup of beer and gently stir the contents. A lot of my friends drop a shot of soju into a glass of beer and throw it back. If I’m really amped up, I’ll create a “soju bomb” (similar to sake bombs) where you would place a pair of chopsticks parallel to each other (with about an inch of space between) atop a glass of beer. You then place a shot glass of soju on top of the chopsticks and start slapping the table in conjunction with your friends so the shot glass falls in to the beer to drink. (Usually obnoxiously chanting something over and over like a bunch of monkeys)

Despite my simple antics, somaek creation is serious business. In fact, according to koreatimes, mixing beer and soju is called “manufacturing” with Hite Jinro providing licenses to 100 people who posted their own somaek recipes on Hite’s blog site, beer2day.com. Here’s an example of beer2day’s site: http://www.beer2day.com/1178. Unfortunately, it would take me forever to translate this, but to quickly summarize people were competing in an event for the best somaek recipe. Pretty cool!

Survey results

ComponentTaste (Beer - Soju (1-10)Pairing (Jeckyl and Hyde - Bonnie and Clyde) (1-10)Smoothness (Awkward Turtle - Smooth Criminal) (1-10)
Budweiser and Chamisul Fresh577
Cass and Chamisul Fresh586
Guiness and Chamisul Fresh623
Hite and Chamisul Fresh676
Hoegaarden and Chamisul Fresh576
Sweetwater and Chamisul Fresh258

Why trust us?

We aren’t food or alcohol experts, we’re regular guys (except maybe Jinwoo) who enjoy good food and drinks and are willing to research and serve as guinea pigs to help create a better experience for all.

To ensure consistency, we mixed in 1 shot of soju and 2 ½ shots of beer for each somaek across all beers. We also chose to stick with the lightest soju that we had previously tested, Jinro’s Chamisul Fresh, and tested a variety of beers including 3 lagers, 1 stout, 1 IPA, and 1 ale. We included 3 lagers in this taste test because we wanted to include two of Korea’s most popular beers as well as a popular American beer.  The beers and soju were refrigerated to 37 degrees Fahrenheit. After each somaek taste test we rinsed our palates with lemon and gurgled our mouth with water. Lastly, we conducted this test over a two day period, with 3 somaek combinations per day.

How we chose what to test?

We wanted to test different types of beers and include some of the most popular brands with some of my happy hour go-tos. As a result, we ended up with three lagers (Budweiser, Cass, Hite), one IPA (Sweetwater), one Stout (Guinness), and 1 Witbier (Hoegaarden). We tested three lagers in order to include two of the most popular Korean beers, Cass and Hite, since it just kind of made sense for a somaek taste test. This isn’t an extensive list of beer types or brews by any means, but we had to start somewhere and honestly my fridge and liver just don’t have the space.

What to look forward to

Tell us what your favorites are! We’ll update this post with any beer that your heart and palate desire. We will also be following up this post with a review on soju cocktails.

Wrapping it up

I honestly didn’t know what to expect with the taste test and which beers would go best with soju. I’ve always just gone with the flow and never really put much thought into it. So actually getting to do research and testing on this topic was a pretty fun experience for me, especially when I came to discover just how serious and nuanced the art of somaek can be. While I believe that the simpler, lite-r beers provide the best balance, don’t be afraid to experiment with the ratio or the types of beer you have stocked up in your fridge. And as always, be responsible but have fun!

Korean BBQ Essentials: How to Drink Soju

PSA:  Please read responsibly.

We wanted to take a deep dive into how to drink soju: the what, the why, and honestly… the why not. Our hope is to bring in the uninitiated and share our favorite way to spend an evening; if we manage to help enhance the average soju drinker’s experience too, well that’s all gravy. Welcome to a brave new world…

Table of Contents:

How to Drink Soju: Etiquette

You might wonder why how to drink soju is so important to us, I mean, why not just drink it? In a study published by the World Health Organization in 2014 South Korea came in 17th for most alcohol consumed per capita. Breaking down the numbers further it turned out that of the 12.3 liters per person about 25% went to beer, 1.6% wine, 2.9% spirits, and a whopping 70.5% going to “other.” Out of the top 40 countries Belarus had the second highest percentage in the “other” category with a middling 30.9%.

Needless to say, drinking is a big part of Korean culture, and if Koreans are drinking it’s most definitely soju. It’s not too much of a surprise when a bottle of soju in Korea is pretty much the same price as its healthier counterpart, water. Its affordability is one of the reasons why soju, particularly Jinro soju, is the most popularly sold liquor in the world and it’s not even close.

How to Drink Soju: Serious Business
This is serious business

Despite what the numbers might make you think, it’s not just all hard-partying wildness. Drinking soju is intertwined with Korean culture, and how to drink soju is an important part of being a member of the community. Most of what I know came from a night spent drinking soju with my father-in-law, the night would have been considerably more daunting if we had been drinking water. One of the many mic drops of the night was when he told me that knowing how to drink soju is one of the most important aspects of being a Korean man. I don’t know if he was letting loose some underlying critiques of my tolerance or praising my pouring skills, but it’s true. Korean drinking culture is much more thoughtful and deeper than just swigging from the bottle – it has a set of rules that are deeply rooted in a culture with great emphasis on respect. Certain missteps can be seen as disrespectful and downright offensive, especially when drinking with older or more senior people (practically all of the rules are dependent on age).

Here are the general rules on how to drink soju:

  1. Receiving the drink – The older or most senior person will generally pour the first shot. Hold the shot glass with two hands when receiving drinks. If you are older feel free to use one hand when someone hands you a shot.How to Drink Soju: The Pour
  2. Pour the drink – No one should pour their own shot. Pour with two hands, especially to an older or more senior person.
  3. Shoot the first shot – Turn your head to the side away from others and shoot the shot while holding the glass with two hands. The two hands is more a sign of respect while the turning of the head is more to avoid flashing your teeth which can be seen as disrespect.
  4. Fill empty glasses – Ask the person if he or she would like to have another drink. Pour the drink with two hands, and if your glass is empty, he or she will offer to fill yours afterwards. Traditionally, one does not pour his or her own glass.
  5. Togetherness – Much like how someone should not be pouring their own shots it follows that nobody should be drinking alone. I haven’t seen this to be taken more as a sign of disrespect but more a chance to show solidarity. Taking shots with another builds a connection and a sense of companionship (at least that’s the hope), don’t let your friend take one alone and don’t deny him or her the chance to be a good friend to you.

Although the rules are dependent on the social context, they are pretty straightforward and can only take your soju experience to the next level. It’s also a cool way to impress your parents-in-law, boss, or even a stranger without really having to talk.

How to Drink Soju: Games

Soju’s relatively low alcohol content makes it a perfect vehicle for a prolonged night of drinking games – you won’t get full from it like beer and you won’t get hammered as quickly like vodka. There are countless Korean drinking games out there and our list doesn’t come close to touching even a percentage of the number of ways to enjoy soju with friends. Keeping that in mind, here is a list of some the most popular, including some of our favorites.

Flick the Cap

What You Need: a bottle of soju
Number of Players: 2+
Time Requirement: a couple minutes or so unless your friends are either Hercules or the Rock

“Flick the Cap” is the most popular and simple soju drinking game because all you need is a bottle of soju with the cap intact. The goal is to flick the end piece of the cap. To set this up, twist off the cap and find the end piece of the seal. You can either twist the end piece to make it more compact (make sure it doesn’t rip off the cap) or keep it the way it is. Then, each person takes turns flicking the end piece with the last person to flick it before flying off being the winner.  Everyone else must drink.

How to Drink Soju: Flick the Cap


What You Need: soju, beer, a shot glass, and a regular-sized glass (a glass shaker works best)
Number of Players: 2+
Time Requirement: anywhere from a second to several minutes depending on your pouring power level

Titanic is a perfect game to play while waiting for your Korean BBQ.  The goal of Titanic is simple – do not sink the shot glass. However, strategy is key! To set up, fill a glass about halfway with beer and then carefully set the shot glass in it so that it floats. Then go around the table with each person pouring as much or as little soju into the floating shot glass without letting it sink. The person who sinks the shot glass must finish the glass full of beer and soju (ideally in one go), this mixture is also known as somek (쏘맥).

How to Drink Soju: Titanic with Soju and Beer

Image Game

What You Need: soju
Number of Players: 4+
Time Requirement: a round lasts no more than a minute

A great icebreaker, Image Game is a game of impressions and superlatives. Someone starts by throwing out a superlative relevant to rest of the group. For example, “who is most likely to drink the most soju tonight?” At the count of 3, each person will point at who he or she thinks would drink the most soju. The person with the most fingers pointed at him or her has to drink.

How to Drink Soju: Image Game Scenario
Who is most likely to be the last one alive on a deserted island?

To make it more challenging, you can also block by forming an X with their arms instead of pointing to someone. If you received the most ‘points’ everyone that selected you needs to drink. If you do not receive the most ‘points’ you automatically need to drink.

Noonchi (눈치) Game

What You Need: soju
Number of Players: 4+ (the more the better)
Time Requirement: Usually less than a minute

To say someone has “noonchi” means that a person is quick to pick up on social cues and generally knows how to read a room, basically noonchi is social awareness. You can think of the Noonchi game like “jinx” on steroids…. with alcohol. It’s a counting game that tests your ability to scope out the vibes around you, and it’s also a game that allows you to change the current tone and atmosphere. Let’s say, for example, you and your buddies are out drinking and you notice the mood of the conversation has gone sour. You can steer the group completely off topic by hollering, “noonchi game, 1!”. This is when the game officially starts, and the folks around you have to declare the subsequent numbers one by one without colliding. If the next number, “2”, is shouted out by more than one person, those perpetrators must atone for their crime and drink a shot together. There is a possibility that your group has impeccable noonchi and is able to say each number in sequential order without saying any in unison. That means whoever is the person to say the final number in your group (e.g., a group of five people means the final number would be “5”) is the shot taker. This game can happen at any time, so be on your toes!

How to Drink Soju: Noonchi Game

Baskin Robbins 31

What You Need: soju
Number of Players: 3+
Time Requirement: less than a minute

Baskin Robbins 31 doesn’t involve any ice cream but is another fast-paced counting game that can quickly move your night along. To get the game started, someone starts by saying “Baskin Robbins 31” and counts sequentially starting from one and up to three. Each person then goes around in order counting up at least one number but a maximum of three. For example, if the game starts with someone saying “1, 2, 3”, then the next person can say just “4”, or “4, 5”, or even “4,5,6” – it’s up to that person to decide how many numbers (up to the next 3 digits) they want to say. The person that ends up on 31 loses and takes a drink.

How to Drink Soju: Baskin Robbins 31
Source: 10MAG

Modified Mafia

What You Need: soju and a deck of playing cards
Number of Players: 3+
Time Requirement: depends on the size and make up of the group, but definitely on the longer side (5 – 10 minutes).

Mafia is a game of deceit and persuasion and one of my all-time favorites. However, it requires several rounds and a large number of people to play, so it’s not really drinking-friendly. So what did we do? We simplified it of course to make it into a drinking game. To set it up, there should be an equal number of cards to the number of people playing with one of the cards designated as the “mafia.”  Everyone receives a random card and should not reveal his or her card to the other players. Instead, players should start defending themselves or start accusing others of being the mafia (e.g. he had a weird looking grin when he picked up the card). The game ends when majority singles out a player as the Mafia. If the majority is wrong, then the mafia prevails and everyone else drinks.

How to Drink Soju: Modified Mafia (Naruto)
5-Person Game and Joker is Mafia

On Its Way:

We are working to beef up this post with a more in depth dive in Korean drinking culture, more comprehensive instructions as to how to drink soju, and of course as many drinking games as we can responsibly participate in. If you have any personal favorites or are curious about Korean drinking culture in general let us know!

Wrapping It Up

Soju extends beyond just a drink. It helps establish a unique connection with relatives, friends, and even strangers. It allows us to communicate in ways that that can be enjoyable regardless of language or culture differences. Most importantly, it represents a communal opportunity to enjoy the presence of each other’s company that can be expressed through pouring each other drinks or even a night full of drinking games. Personally, there are few things better than to be surrounded by family and friends while enjoying a nice meal and sharing rounds of soju. It’s definitely the one tradition that my close friends and I never skip out on when we travel to see each other and definitely an inspiration behind the creation of Goghism.

Korean BBQ Essentials: Best Soju in America [2019]

PSA: Please read responsibly.

After 32 hours of research, testing, and getting buzzed we have concluded that West 32 Soju is the best soju brand available in stores today. Although the competition was fierce, in the end we couldn’t resist West 32 Soju’s combination of a clean, crisp finish with natural ingredients. For a refreshing and relatively healthier, West 32 Soju is the way to go. 

P.S. As an added plus, their packaging is on point.

Editor's Pick:

Slightly edging out Chamisul Fresh for editor’s pick, West 32 Soju pushes the limits with its alcohol content (20%) while retaining a clean and refreshing finish. It’s not as sweet and mild as Chamisul Fresh, but definitely has the smoothest finish out of the group as the taste dissipates more quickly, feeling more crisp as opposed to syrupy. Despite its relatively higher alcohol content, I was surprised by how easy it was to drink as it didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks such as Saan. West 32 Soju is also unique in that it is made in the US and boasts all natural, gluten free, and GMO free ingredients. As such, it is on the pricier end, but on the bright side you might feel a little less guilty.

Runner Up:

Weighing in at a sleek alcohol % of 17.8, Chamisul Fresh, a rice and barley blend, is the lightweight of the group and was our pick for best soju.  It has very little aroma even after some intense sniffing (full disclosure, may have gotten some up my nose).  While the variations were slight amongst some of the other sojus (in particular Chum Churum), its relatively lighter taste once it hits your lips to the mild finish after its consumption made it a close competition with West 32 Soju.

Other soju tested

In close competition with West 32 Soju and Chamisul Fresh (and my wife’s favorite), Chum Churum weighs in at an alcohol % of 18 and is made from rice.  Chum Churum was slightly sweeter than Chamisul Fresh but had a stronger bite to it.  While having a stronger bite may not necessarily be a bad thing to some, it wasn’t as enjoyable to sip on compared to Chamisul Fresh and had a more bitter finish.

As the older, bad-ass brother of Chamisul Fresh, Chamisul Classic comes in at a hefty 20.1% (second highest) and a stronger tone.  It is slightly sweeter than Chamisul Fresh dispelling the rumors that older brothers are mean.  However, in terms of taste, it hit me like a ton of bricks similar to Saan soju. So in terms of having a bigger, bolder (or bitter) taste, Chamisul Classic outweighs most of the other options besides Saan.  Nevertheless, it definitely burns a bit more than the rest.

No wonder this was named “mountain.” Saan had the strongest, most bitter taste, and a rough finish.  If there was any hint of sweetness to it, it was masked by its strong flavor.  In addition, it had a particularly unpleasant smell compared to the other sojus.  After the test, my wife told me it reminded her of a mild form of formaldehyde, so I naturally had to agree with her.

To its defense, Saan is definitely a heavy weight, a man’s man, with the highest alcohol content at 21%.  It is also made from sweet potato instead of your typical rice or barley that the other sojus are derived from.  So in a different reality, if you like sweet potato and want to start yelling and laughing louder… well you have your champion!

Charm Soju is your definite middleweight when you can’t decide on whether to go light or heavy.  Taste wise, it is much stronger than Chamisul Fresh and Chum Churum but was not as vodka-like compared to the other two Chamisul Classic and Saan.

While it did have the strongest smell it was also the sweetest out of the five and without a bad, burning finish.  Charm contains 19.3% alcohol and is made from rice.

Holy mother of soju what did I get myself into drinking this one. Andong Soju, distilled from pure rice, contains 35% alcohol nearly double the amount in other brands tested. It is common practice for mainstream soju to be diluted and infused with sweeteners to give it a light and easy taste, but Andong Soju is old school and utilizes traditional soju making techniques that result in a strong, clean taste with little to no artificial ingredients. It still has that slight sweetness in the beginning, but this will end on more of a sake note. The vodka like finish that is pretty prevalent with the rest of the pack is surprisingly absent as well. Andong Soju is a surprisingly nice change and has a much deeper tone than one would expect from soju; however, keep that in mind and don’t make the mistake of treating Andong the same as all of the other sojus… unless you’re up for a challenge.

Side note: this is one of the weaker lines of Andong Soju out there with some containing 45-50% alcohol. Cheers!

Why soju?

Soju is good for the soul.  If just for a second you can forget about its after effects, you realize that it can increase your Korean vocabulary exponentially as well as improve your singing, to the surprise of everyone at the noraebang (karaoke room).  While I am aware that most adult beverages may produce similar effects, soju takes it to another level.  Besides the symptoms of invincibility, its relatively low alcohol content makes it a perfect vehicle for drinking games – you won’t get full from it like beer and you won’t get hammered as quickly from it like vodka.  Most importantly, it is the classic complement to Korean BBQ. Nothing beats it when you’re grilling massive amounts of meat on a hot plate over fiery charcoal surrounded by good company.

Soju is made from some type of starch and water.  It contains approximately 20% alcohol and an 80% chance of having a headache the next morning.  It is best served chilled and typically served neat in a shot glass.  A bottle (360 mL) contains about the same amount as a can of soda, or about 10 shots, 8 when I’m pouring.  Prices range from $5-14 in the U.S, which I thought was pretty awesome until I went to Korea and found out that a bottle is cheaper than water… a blessing and a curse.

What is good soju?

Let’s not beat around the bush here, soju is not really consumed for its taste and is cheap for a reason.  While the content is weak enough to drink multiple shots (or bottles), and the taste is mild enough without a chaser, personally, it is a cross between rubbing alcohol and weak, cheap vodka.  However, the allure of soju keeps grappling me back in (or perhaps that’s just my semi-alcoholic side talking). Soju cuts through the richness from the Korean BBQ so that you can enjoy your meal longer.  Soju also sets the ambience for any situation.  It has a magical way of bringing people together, it breaks down language barriers, and cultivates meaningful and memorable relationships with your father-in-law.  Most importantly, soju connects you to a culture regardless of your own heritage and allows you to really appreciate the different nuances within.

So what is good soju?  There are some technical aspects that makes good soju – chilled with a smooth-er finish.  However, good soju really isn’t about the brand.  Good soju is about the people you drink with and the memories that you forget with it.

Survey results

ComponentSmell (Odorless - Gasoline) (1-10)Overall Taste (Spring water - Shot of 151) (1-10)Sweetness (Chalk - Pooh's Honey) (1-10)Smoothness (Sand paper - Baby's bottom) (1-10)
Chamisul Fresh (참이슬)2434
Chum Churum (처음처럼)2642
Chamisul Classic (참이슬)2841
Saan Soju (산)3821
Charm Soju (맛있는참)4753
West 32 Soju3525
Andong Soju5726

Why trust us?

After eating at Korean restaurants and singing in noraebangs across the country we chose soju brands that are especially common at these establishments. Anything marketed as Soju that comes in a bottle we’ll get. We’re going to leave out the lesser known Seju (세주) for now.

How we chose what to test?

After eating at Korean restaurants and singing in noraebangs across the country we chose soju brands that are especially common at these establishments. Anything marketed as Soju that comes in a bottle we’ll get. We’re going to leave out the lesser known Seju (세주) for now.

What to look forward to

As we encounter other brands of soju, we will continuously update our list.  We will be following up this soju post with other soju posts!  Included are soju etiquette (yes, it’s a thing), soju drinking games, and flavored soju.

Wrapping it up

This test has been interesting because I myself never actually took a second to compare the taste of the different brands of soju.  It is pretty clear that the weaker the alcohol content, the easier it is to drink. While each soju varied mildly in terms of nose, palate, and finish the slight nuances make it easier for me to choose the next time I am out and about.  Do I want to enjoy the night longer?  Go with Chamisul Fresh or Chum Churum.  Do I want to end up at noraebang as quickly as possible?  Go with Saan. If you’re looking for suggestions on what to pair your favorite soju with make sure to check out our bulgogi and kalbi posts. Soju is much more than just an alcoholic beverage, it is a culture of its own.  Most importantly, soju is clearly the drink of choice in Korean dramas, so it has to be cool right?