Best Thai Instant Noodles: Mama Noodles and Beyond

Best Thai Instant Noodles: Mama Noodles and Beyond
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Admittedly I’ve never been fussed for Thai instant noodles in the past, where they were always a forced option on long-haul bus layovers as the best choice between crisps and other unhealthy snacks. Otherwise my instant noodle obsession came with wider travels in China and Japan, where I’d always be excited for late-night munchies of instant noodles when back in the hotel room. Because, ultimately, instant noodles (at least cup noodles) will always offer a cheap and simple option for travel and munching on the go.

But these days instant noodles in Thailand are kind of exciting with new and inspired flavours hitting the shelves of Thai 7-11s and convenience stores almost on a weekly basis. And while I feel I should be promoting the local Thai brands and flavours (I will share them as well) I am more excited these days by new brands and new flavours, rather the rather stale variety of traditional Mama Noodles.

An Exciting New World of Instant Noodles in Thailand

So instant noodles in Thailand have developed rather rapidly over the past few years, often following viral trends such as the Samyang fire noodle challenge, as local instant noodle brands like to piggyback on the various food trends in both Thailand and Asia markets (salted egg anyone?). There has also been an increase in dry saucy cup noodles where the water is emptied before stirring in the flavourings. Ever heard of self-heating instant noodles?

Personally, as a wannabe instant noodle aficionado, I do find myself swayed more by my own love for both Asian food and reminiscings of past travels, with a handful of more recent instant noodle obsessions including Japanese tonkotsu ramen, Sichuan mala noodles, and anything with curry or cheese (or both). The more heat the better.

These days there is also a wider range of not only Thai instant noodle brands, but international brands joining them on the shelves. Of course instant noodles do vary from shop to shop, I’ve found British Pot Noodles for example in Villa Supermarket etc. so here I’m sticking to the significant brands of instant noodles in Thailand found in the popular convenience stores and 7-11s in Thailand.

Traditional Thai Instant Noodles (Old School Noods)

These are the old-school instant noodle brands as well as those that follow similar branding and traditional Thai flavours. Brands and flavours such as MAMA and Tum Yum ‘Hot and Sour’ Shrimp have been around for 50-odd years now and are the staples of instant noodles in Thailand.

MAMA Noodles

Since 1972 MAMA Noodles have been synonymous with instant noodles in Thailand, so much so that the word “mama” is pretty much in terms of any instant noodles. Easily the biggest instant noodle brand in Thailand (over 6mil sold per day with 50%+ market share) Mama Noodles are well ahead of their main rivals ‘Wai Wai’ who have been competing since both their introductions way back in 1972 (I’m not sure which came first).

Some of the more common/iconic flavours are Shrimp Tom Yum and Shrimp Tom Yum Creamy (above), as well as Moo Saap and… there’s a load. However they are known for being more inventive and international when it comes to introducing new flavours including classic Thai favourites with Green Curry flavour and one for the cheese lovers MAMA Spicy Cheese. It’s not the worst.

Wai Wai (Quick) Instant Noodles

Since 1972… “Wai Wai Oriental Style Instant Noodles” are probably best known for their somewhat iconic instant noodle packets, although these days they also have many cup noodles to eat-on-the-go or Wai Wai Quick as they have been rebranded. Not so different to Mama Noodles, they come in a thick plastic cup, with flavouring packets and a folded plastic fork for munching.

Wai Wai again is similar to Mama with flavours like Tom Yum (hot and sour) instant noodles and it’s really a coin toss between the 2 brands, although Mama does tend to be the big brand favourite locally. The one flavour that does stand out and probably the most common Wai Wai Cup Noodle is Tom Klong in a dark blue cup.

Fun Fact, Wai Wai are probably better known as the leading instant noodle brand (alongside Maggi) in Nepal where they’ve had significant operations since 1984.

Serda Halal Instant Noodles

I originally expected Serda Instant Noodles, with the Arabic lettering and Halal branding, to be from maybe a South/Southeast Asian Muslim country (i.e. Malaysia). But really they are just Wai Wai noodles rebranded for Halal and the Muslim populations in Thailand. Therefore they’re more commonly found in the southern provinces of Thailand and are otherwise scarce (at best) elsewhere in Thailand. Anyway, they are more or less Halal versions of the favourite Wai Wai flavours (Tom Yum and Tom Klong etc.).

Yum Yum Noodles

Yum Yum Noodles, aka as YumYum or even YY for short (although this one is a tad confusing given the Wai Wai Brand above). Anyway, Yum Yum have again been competing in the Thai instant noodles market since way back in 1972 when local Wan Thai Foods partnered with the Japanese food giant Ajinomoto Co. which is best known for food seasonings and MSG (Monosodium Glutamate). They do sound like a perfect pairing.

Yum Yum (like Mama and Wai Wai) again sticks to the usual staples with their authentic Thai series Tom Yum, Tom Yum Creamy, Spicy Seafood and Green Curry. But they also have a not overly inspiring Asian Cuisine Series which includes “beef”, “chicken”, “vegetable” “seafood” and “shrimp” flavour noodles. They really don’t sound exciting, but maybe aimed more at those seeking simple/subtle/bland flavours of instant cup noodles.

FF Fashion Food Instant Noodles

They don’t seem to be much in the instant noodle game given they do only have one bowl on the shelves for as long as I can remember (although there are more on their website), and it’s the same Tom Yum Noodles as mama or Wai Wai etc. But they are the only ones with a big plastic bowl and a straight-up plastic fork (no folding) so you’re eating a proper bowl of noodles. But at twice the price.

Instead, they are more in the noodle bowl game, a cheap set of plastic noodle utensils, with the added incentive of some tasty Tom Yum instant noodles. And for any the more discerning instant noodler, and the travelling noodle aficionados these do come in handy in hotels with the potential for adventures into the packet shelves of Thai instant noodles.

Double Dragon Instant Vermicelli

Double Dragon are (apparently) a famous brand of bean vermicelli noodles (woon sen glass noodles) commonly used in Thai cooking. Looking at new markets, or as they say to “Serve a lifestyle for new generation” they diversified into the instant noodle market so you “Never get bored just having Instant Bean Vermicelli Double Dragon Brand at home”.

I was actually randomly drawn to these recently when I saw they did Thai boat noodle flavours (Kuay Teow Rua) which are famously flavoured by pig’s blood. So I had to try them (no pig’s blood included. Otherwise they are smaller pots, given the thinness of glass noodles, using recyclable card cups which is always good.

Next-Gen Instant Noodles (Asia-Inspired Noods)

These are the exciting new instant noodle brands and flavours found on the shelves of most 7-11s and convenience stores in Thailand. Many are international brands and follow wider food trends in Asia, but they are also specific to Thailand and are made for the Thai instant noodles market.

OK Oriental Kitchen (MAMA)

These are like Mama’s contemporary range of instant noodles, rebranding from their safe and simple Mama Noodles with traditional Thai flavours (bar Spicy Cheese), with new and exciting packaging and flavours. They were also introduced at around the same time as big international brands grew in the Thai market (like Samyang from Korea) and Oriental Kitchen included similar but more affordable international flavours.

The first and most popular Oriental Kitchen instant noodles as well as Mama’s first dry saucy noodle (I think) was Hot Korean Flavour which is similar(ish) to the Samyang Buldac noodles which were huge at the time. They then followed other popular crazes like Salted Egg flavour and I’m sure there are many more to come (both are also great noodles). Then there are MAMA Oriental Style packets which also follow iconic Asian flavours such as Korean Kimchi and Indonesian Mee Goreng.

Little Cook Instant Noodles

Little Cook (Chef) This is the first overseas investment made by the Namchow Group in Taiwan. Primarily a peddler of rice snacks and rice crackers, instant noodles are like a side hustle for them in Thailand, with some really appealing pots on the shelves. The pots are also stumpy fat boys (instant noodle bowls) rather than your traditional cups which I prefer simply because you can fit a better fork.

As an international brand, they don’t really compete with local Thai flavours and it is more Japanese and Korean-inspired pots including a collaboration with Sukishi which is one of Thailand’s largest KBBQ (Korean Barbecue) chains. Tbh, if I was new to instant noodles in Thailand, I would probably be drawn to these first. At least it was hard to walk past the Sukishi BBQ Spicy Cheese. Big, chewy, and fiery hot. They’re really good.

Cup Noodles (Nissin)

For anyone new to Nissin and Cup Noodles, they are literally the inventors of instant noodles from way back in 1958 Japan (Momofuku Ando). Nissin went on to invent the first instant noodles in cups (Cup Noodles) in 1971, and have since dominated the Japanese instant (ramen) noodle industry for the past 50-years.

Nissin have been in Thailand since 1994 but it wasn’t until more recently when they began to compete on the shelves of 7-11s and other convenience stores. They do again follow the traditional Thai flavours (Cup Noodle list here) such as Tom Yum etc. but there is an unlikely exception with what are my go-to noodles with Sichuan Mala cup noodles. Otherwise ‘Nissin Boy’ would be the more exciting instant noodle brand on the shelves.

Nissin Boy Instant Noodles (Nissin Premium)

Also known as Demae Itcho or Demae Ramen in Japan, “Nissin Boy” instant noodles was introduced alongside Nissin’s Cup Noodles as an alternative sold in packets. It started as a simple pack of soy and sesame oil noodles but quickly gained a huge international following (especially in Hong Kong) partly due to its rather cute “Demae Boy” branding. He is rather adorable.

These days both Nissin brands compete in the cup noodle shelves, and the same goes for Thailand where they introduced new flavours exclusive to the Thai market (and export out of it). Again these follow the usual Asian trends like their Korean-style Hot Chilli Chicken (of the global Samyang fire noodle craze) with dry saucy noodles that are chewy, fiery hot and half the price.

Kaset Instant Vermicelli

Kaset is another of Thailand’s instant bean vermicelli noodle brands (similar to Double Dragon above). But I’m putting them in the New-Gen noodle category because the branding is bright and inviting and they have their own brand mascot similar to Nissin Boy (Demae Ramen) only female and Fung-Fing (Thailand’s equivalent to Kawaii or cute). Although they do follow local and traditional Thai tastes.

Kaset Instant Noodles also tick another staple of Thai cuisine off the list with Yum Salads (similar to Yum Woon Sen) with their Seafood Salad instant noodles. These noodles are also “dry saucy” noodles, and, if I actually liked bean vermicelli noodles, they would be great (again it’s small stumpy pots). But I’d forever go for noodles that are chunkier, chewier and have a bit more bite.

Cooking Town by 7-11

Given they’re likely the most common sales outlet for instant noodles in Thailand, it only makes sense for 7-11 to have their own brand of noods. Hence Cooking Town (formerly known as 7-11 Select). An exciting selection of dry stir-in bowl noodles with new and inspired flavours. It is also great to see the introduction of lesser-found flavours including ‘Laab’ which would be my go-to bowl of Cooking Town Noodles.

Hot Cup Noodles (Self-Heating)

Hot Cup Self-Heating Instant Noodles “No Boiling/ No Microwave /Only water”. I have a kettle at home, 7-11s have free boiling water taps… and I’m not sure why I’d need these. Camping maybe. But admittedly they are rather fascinating, using a simple exothermic (CaO + H2O) chemical reaction to self-heat the noodles. First, add water to the bag of Calcium Oxide in the bigger bowl. Then add water to the noodles as always. Set the noodle bowl on top and the magic begins.

So, given the actual size of the noodles compared to the packaging, it feels almost like a waste. They’re really quite small. Just one simple flavour packet as well. But they do taste great (at least the Boat Noodles do), and, despite the obvious novelty value and added expense in Hot Cup Self-Heating noodles, I really want to try their Mala noodles. Maybe I’ll make a video next time.

Where to Buy Instant Noodles in Thailand?

You’re never far from instant noodles in Thailand, where they’re found at pretty much every shop, convenience store, and supermarket in the country. However some places are better than others to find them, and convenience stores like 7-11, FamilyMart, and Lawsons will have hot water dispensers so you can make your noodles in-store and then pay at the counter. Then there are other bigger supermarkets like Tesco/Lotus and Big C. For a wider selection of international instant noodles maybe try Villa, Foodland, or Tops Supermarket.


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