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I keep seeing more and more of these Asian-style bowls on the market. They're typically noodles or rice with some sort of flavoring - almost instant ramen. We haven't reviewed many of these shelf-stable, non-refrigerated meals because of the sodium levels: it's been tough to find any with less than 800 milligrams of sodium, let alone under our customary maximum of about 650 milligrams per serving.
There are a few, however. A few months ago we reviewed Rice Ramen Noodle Soups from Tom Yum, which are of the add-water-and-wait-3-minutes variety, and there were also Annie Chun's shelf-stable curry bowls, made with pre-cooked rice.
Today's meals include pre-cooked noodles, and the package assures us that the meals are "ready in 3 minutes!" This is literally the case: you open the package and remove the lid from the bowl, then open the package contining the noodles and place them in the bowl. Next you empty a little packet containing dried red bell pepper and green onion onto the noodles and squeeze the sauce over it all. Add 2 Tablespoons of water, and place in the microwave "loosely covered" with the provided lid.
The actual cooking time in the microwave): just 90 seconds.
The package indicated that the Roasted Peanut Noodle Bowl is mild (1 pepper), while the Spicy Mongolian Noodle Bowl receives 3 peppers. We didn't want to ruin our palate by eating the spicier dish first, so we started with the Roasted Peanut Noodle Bowl (460 calories, 470mg sodium, 6 grams fiber).
After microwaving we sprinkled the (included) roasted, chopped peanuts over the dish and passed it around the table for everyone's take on the scent. "Is that the bowl?" one panelist asked. It's a fair question: they were referring to the faint tinge of melting plastic this meal has along with a stronger scent of chili.
"If this is the mild, I'm scared of the spicy," another panelist said after taking a bite. The noodles are fairly mushy and the whole rather sticky, but what really stands out is the spice. There's no afterburn here - it's just burn, burn, burn right away. There's the vaguest hint of soy sauce and red pepper with a bit of brown sugar stickiness, but the red chili flavor overwhelms everything else. I suppose that if you like really spicy food you might like this one, but the panel wouldn't recommend it.
We approached the Spicy Mongolian Noodle Bowl (430 calories, 610mg sodium, 5g fiber) with caution. Its scent is also a little odd, having a metallic tinge that put us in mind of sodium substitutes, but the sauce itself is reminiscent of a traditional plum sauce - a little sweet plum paste with the soy sauce and ginger. It's only moderately spicy - not nearly as spicy as the Roasted Peanut Bowl - with a mild afterburn. Also better are the noodles, for no reason we could discern: they appear to be the same as in the Roasted Peanut Bowl but these come out just a little past al dente.
There's really not much else to talk about with these bowls other than the noodles and the sauce, because that's basically all they are. Yes, both bowls included perhaps a scant Tablespoon of dried red bell pepper and green onion, but don't fool yourself that a few bits of reconstituted vegetable makes these anything close to a true meal. If you really like noodles like these, choose the Spicy Mongolian, but at least have a piece of fruit with it if you have it for lunch.
Review posted: January 18, 2019