Ramyun, as wonderful as it is, has its limits. And sometimes, ramyun tries to get ahead of itself. Cham Pong noodle soup is a prime example.
Traditionally, cham pong is a mixed seafood dish. Like a spicy version of bouillabaisse, it’s a fisherman’s stew full of whatever seafood was handy. If I recall correctly, cham pong translates approximately to “random mixture” (and may or may not have similar etymology to chop suey). Usually, you’ll find some assortment of mussels, shrimp, squid, fish, and fish parts in it. When it’s done right, it’s the kind of food that young Korean American’s don’t really eat. It’s an old school Korean dish.
If I were to eat a bowl of the real thing, I would probably close my eyes a lot. Because, while it’s good, it can be intimidating. Usually, I eat the leftover broth when my parents order it at restaurants. The broth, and the thick noodles usually swimming in it, is just phenomenal. Spicy. Savory. Fishy-in-a-good-way.
So, I started making this instant Cham Pong, hoping that it would have some of that same magic. Most other ramyun have ikea-style heiroglyphics instructions on how to make the instant noodles. These don’t, which leaves an awkward blank space on the back of the package.
To the boiling water and noodles, I added the soup base and the vegetable packet. The veggie packet here was abnormally large. And unlike the rest of the packaging, it doesn’t seem to have any English on it. About the only thing I can translate on it is that it is for “Squid Cham Pong.” Interestingly, at no point at any place on any of the packaging does it say in English that it is squid flavored (although, cuttlefish is listed in the ingredients. it’s the 13th ingredient.).
Once cooked, the veggie packet certainly is interesting. The major and most noticeable component is Oh Deng, which is a processed and/or pressed fish product. When I was a child, my mom explained it to me as a hot dog but with fish. and formed into a cube. and then cut into slices.
The last time I was at the Korean grocery store, I saw a package of Oh Deng in the freezer section with the translation of “fish croquette,” which I thought was generous. and amusing.
The soup was very fishy. Overwhelming fishy. An ingredient in Korean cooking that I love when used right but hate when overused is melchi karu (anchovy powder). This cham pong tasted like it had just way too much of it
The noodles were a little on the thicker side and might have been good. But the broth was so fishy-in-a-bad-way, it didn’t really matter.
It’s not that this was terrible, by any means. But with so many other good instant noodles out there, it’s hard to imagine eating this more than once. But I think it’s because, with Cham Pong, you’re getting outside of the ramyen wheelhouse. Ramyen should just be ramyen: spicy, savory broth; slightly thick noodles; veggies that provide variety but don’t get in the way. When you try and instant-ify other noodle dishes, you must necessarily stray from that formula and then get into trouble.
It’s like box macaroni and cheese. There are a ton of different brands, many of which are excellent. But when you start straying into other noodle dishes, you get instant broccoli alfredo, which is gross and disappointing.