'Healthier' instant noodles take off in Singapore

Taiwanese sun-and air-dried instant noodle brands are popping up here and Singaporeans can expect even more brands in the future

Following the hugely successful launch of the KiKi brand of noodles in Singapore last year, it was only a matter of time before food distributors started bringing in similar sun-or air-dried instant noodles from Taiwan.

There are now at least four new brands readily available here: Jinbo Selection, Little Couples, A-Sha and Mom's Dry Noodle. And the word is that more brands are coming soon.

Like KiKi, all these brands tout the "healthier instant noodle" concept, where the noodles are sun-or air-dried. Traditionally, instant noodles are deep-fried.

These noodles are served dry and tossed with a variety of savoury sauces, as opposed to the common instant noodle soup. And the noodles generally stay springy for a longer time, instead of turning soggy quickly.

Other than A-Sha noodles, which are air-dried, the other brands feature sun-dried noodles.

In Taiwan, there are so many brands and flavours available that supermarket store shelves are filled with them. It is common for tourists to buy them as souvenirs.

Even though Singaporeans were introduced to these noodles only in the past year, the response to them has been healthy.

When KiKi noodles debuted last August, they made a splash, with the first shipment of 2,000 packs selling out in just six days. Only two flavours were available then - aromatic scallion and Sichuan pepper.

Since then, about 45,000 packs have been sold, with two more flavours - young vinegar and aged vinegar hot noodles - added.

Ms Sally Tsai, 49, who runs KiKi Fine Goods Singapore - the local partner of Taiwanese restaurant chain KiKi, which produces the noodles - tells The Sunday Times that there are plans to bring in more flavours soon. Other flavours that KiKi produces include beef and mapo tofu.

While KiKi may have been the first to enter Singapore, the originator of this type of noodles is usually credited to established Taiwanese brand A-Sha, which was introduced to the Singapore market a few weeks ago.

Hailing from Tainan in the south of Taiwan, the noodles - produced by a 40-year-old factory using a 100-year-old family recipe - have consistently topped instant noodle lists online.

Ms Gay Buen, 40, managing director of Redwagon Holdings, which distributes the A-Sha brand here, says she felt compelled to bring the noodles to Singapore after tasting them for the first time in Taiwan last year.

She says: "I just loved them. I found the texture of the noodles vastly superior to that of the usual noodles found in Singapore.

"Right now, we offer only two of A-Sha's flavours. In Taiwan, there are 52. As more people become familiar with the brand here, there will definitely be plans to bring in other flavours."

Mr Lin Junda, 36, director of Leting Trading, which distributes Little Couples' Q Noodles here, says the brand's noodles became so popular that he soon realised his original plan of placing them only in speciality vegetarian grocery stores would not be enough.

Now, the noodles are available across various e-commerce platforms, such as Qoo10 and Lazada, as well as in heartland grocery stores.

Besides the taste and health aspects, another reason Taiwanese sun-dried noodles have become so trendy is social media.

It is not uncommon for people to take pictures of their noodles - along with unique toppings and garnishes - and share them on Instagram.

Just type in the hashtag #kikinoodles and you get 1,700 posts featuring KiKi noodles topped with everything from luncheon meat and prawns to fatty pork belly and sous vide egg.

Celebrity endorsements help too.

KiKi is endorsed by Taiwanese actress Shu Qi, while Mom's Dry Noodle is promoted by pop star A-lin in Taiwan. As for Jinbo Selection's Soul Spicy Noodles, the recipe was developed by Malaysian Mandopop singer Gary Chaw's Taiwanese influencer wife, Wu Sou-ling.

Noodle fan Annabel Lim, 30, loves eating Taiwanese sun-dried instant noodles because they "do not taste that instant".

The marketing manager has tried all the flavours of KiKi noodles available here and is willing to try other brands too.

"These types of noodles don't have that plastic texture and taste that I get with other instant noodles. They taste like real noodles from a noodle store.

"Some people eat fast food, but these noodles are my go-to supper after a long day at work."

Her only complaint is that they do not come cheap. A bag of five KiKi noodle packs costs $13.70, while the other brands average $11 for a bag of five packs.

She says: "They're yummy, but I cannot have them every day. That would be too expensive."


Oodles of goodness?

MOM'S DRY NOODLE

$10.90 for four packs

The Spicy And Sour flavour comes with three sauce packets: chilli oil, soya sauce and black vinegar. I put in about four-fifths of each packet and the mix worked out well. The noodles were savoury and tart, with a hint of sweetness.

JINBO SELECTION

$15.90 for four packs

The Soul Spicy Noodles come with instructions on how to choose the level of spiciness - put in one-third of the chilli paste for mild, half for medium and the entire packet for very spicy.

For me, the medium spicy level had kick and was good enough - anything more and the heat overwhelms the entire bowl.

KIKI

$13.70 for five packs

Fans of mee kia, or thin egg noodles, would enjoy KiKi's offerings because its noodles are similar.

The aged vinegar hot noodles flavour is as advertised - there is a strong, tangy punch and the heat kicks in fast. Prepare a bowl of soup or glass of water to help douse the fire.

A-SHA

$10.90 for five packs

This is touted as the first brand in Taiwan to introduce "healthier" dried instant noodles. The noodles are springier than most of the other brands sampled.

The A-Sha Mandarin Noodles Original flavour, however, should be eaten soon after cooking. I left a bowl out for five minutes after mixing in the sauce and the noodles clumped together into a ball.

LITTLE COUPLES' Q NOODLES

$10.90 for four packs

The instructions on the back of the bean paste noodle flavour packet say you should cook the noodles for four to five minutes, but it should be closer to seven.

When I cooked them for four minutes, the noodles were still hard, but at seven, they were perfect and had bounce.

The bean paste flavour was too heavy for my colleague, but for me, it was tasty and the sauce coated every strand of the noodles nicely.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 22, 2018, with the headline 'Healthier' instant noodles take off in Singapore. Subscribe