He’s on top of ramen

EDMONDS — Some food critics go for haute cuisine.

Hans Lienesch goes for the instant kind — and a very particular one at that.

The unemployed Edmonds transplant has carved out an online niche as a prolific sampler of packaged Asian noodles, the kind you cook by adding boiling water a

nd little else.

Online, Lienesch is known as the Ramen Rater. By this week, he’d reviewed 407 varieties of packaged noodles from nearly every country in east Asia.

His culinary pedigree?

“I like to eat,” the 36-year-old said this we

ek, patting his belly.

Many people know about ramen noodles from the Top Ramen brand made by Japan’s Nissin Foods.

The same goes for Lienesch. As a kid growing up in Anacortes in the 1980s, he tried another kind of noodle made by Nissin called Roasted Ramen that he liked better than Top Ramen. Then it disappeared from store shelves.

That sent his family on a quest to the Uwajimaya supermarket in Seattle. There, he found an exact equivalent of his beloved Roasted Ramen — and a whole spectrum of instant noodles he never knew existed.

“I started a website in 2002 to keep track of what I tried, see if I liked it or not,” Lienesch said.

A diet forced him to take a break from the often high-sodium, high-fat noodles. He turned to reviewing hot sauces. When he reached about 250 hot sauce reviews, he grew bored and stopped.

Eventually, he kicked the diet and, about a year ago, started reviewing ramen again in earnest.

Helping feed the habit was his recent move to a stretch of Highway 99 in Edmonds dotted with restaurants, groceries and other businesses from around the globe. You might call it the Highway of Babel.

Cheap rents, not the neighborhood’s promise for exotic ramen variations, however, were what drew Lienesch there.

“It ended up being a super lucky spot,” he said.

These days, most people in the Puget Sound area need not venture far to find a full-fledged supermarket catering to Asian palates with entire aisles dedicated to instant noodles.

Uwajimaya, headquartered in Seattle, has four retail stores in the Northwest and traces its roots to a business that Yawatahama, Japan, native Fujimatsu Moriguchi began in Tacoma in 1928.

H Mart, an Asian supermarket chain that started in Queens, N.Y., in 1982, has a Lynnwood branch near the Alderwood mall.

A short walk from Lienesch’s apartment is 99 Ranch Market, another Asian supermarket chain, which began in Southern California in 1984.

On Tuesday, the Ramen Rater stalked an aisle at 99 Ranch that rivaled a fireworks stand for its explosion of color. Rows of bright packages advertised noodle flavors as diverse as kimchi, Chinese soy bean and tom yum soup. Most cost a buck or less.

“I’ve shopped this place pretty well,” Lienesch said. “I don’t just review the stuff that looks like it’s going to be good.”

Even with so many offerings, Lienesch said it’s getting tricky to find untested packages. This turned out to be a lucky day, though, when Lienesch stumbled on something new: prawn-flavored noodles from Malaysia. He excitedly called it an “uber score.”

Back at the apartment that Lienesch shares with his fiancee, Christine, and pugs Daisy and Otis, he broke into true Ramen Rater form.

It’s something Lienesch goes about with a complete lack of pretension. He’s never been to Asia. Neither he nor his fiancee have any ties to the region. He sheepishly admits that he doesn’t use chopsticks.

“It’s really embarrassing, too,” he said.

His review technique started by taking photos of the unopened, unrated package on his computer desk. Then he tore open the wrapping to snap more shots of the spice and sauce packets inside.

“I like to take pictures before, after and during,” he said.

He next shuffled over to the stovetop for a few minutes of heavy boiling during which he pulled out the tangled mass with a fork to inspect it through his dark-framed glasses.

When the noodles looked ready, he poured them back into the spice bowl and did another photoshoot of the steamy, chili-flecked soup. Within the hour, these and other pictures would appear online on the Ramen Rater blog.

Finally, the time had come to dig in — with a fork — and with a chaser of Mello Yello soft drink from a 2-liter bottle.

“It’s not bad,” he said. “It’s got a little bit of spiciness to it, a little bit of shrimp-pastiness, a little bit of lemon.”

The average review — no surprise — falls in the middle of his 1-to-5 scale.

Tuesday’s noodles rated a 3.25. To his online review No. 405, Lienesch attached a Malaysian-language commercial he found on YouTube from the company that made the noodles. (Also, to keep things interesting, he appended an unrelated YouTube video about a UFO sighting in Canada.)

The site, www.ramen rater.com, has received as many as 6,700 visitors in a day, he said. It carries no advertising. Lienesch said he wouldn’t mind having a sponsor, though he also likes the independence.

He’s active on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Sometimes, people get offended by his reviews. He doesn’t see why.

“I’m, like, sometimes it’s just my mood,” he said. “It’s just my opinion. It’s not something set in holy stone or anything.”

He keeps a Top 10 list, headed up by a package of Indonesian curly noodles that he awarded five stars. He’s given out zero stars before, to a brand that to him tasted like “rat-dropping stew.”

It turns out that the Chinese lettering on the ornate, colorful packaging advertised “fat intestine” flavor.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Looking east toward the U.S. 2 trestle as cars begin to backup on Thursday, March 1, 2018 in Everett, Wa. The aging westbound span needs replacing and local politicians are looking to federal dollars to get the replacement started. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
U.S. 2 trestle rebuild part of Senate transportation package

Time is short to get the $17.8 billion plan passed. Its link to climate change bills adds intrigue.

Eric Adler, the mystery man who is on Twitter as @EdmondsScanner (E. Wong)
Revealed: The mystery man behind the @EdmondsScanner tweets

He’s a 50-year-old mail carrier who dusted off his English degree to curate 6,000 tales on Twitter.

Man identified in fatal Mill Creek crash

Ian Jensen, 32, died after a multi-vehicle accident Saturday on 35th Avenue SE.

Package funding U.S. 2 trestle, Monroe bypass on the move

A $17.8 billion plan dealing with highways, ferries and transit has cleared the state Senate transportation panel.

Explosion shatters Everett apartment complex windows

Police were called to the Monte Cristo apartment complex, 2929 Hoyt Ave., Tuesday night.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
Things are heating up in Olympia — and not just the weather

Here’s what’s happening on Day 94 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

Jesse L. Hartman (Everett Police Department)
Suspect in fatal Everett shooting captured at U.S. border

Jesse Hartman was arrested in California as he tried to re-enter the country from Mexico.

(Getty Images)
How to get vaccinated in Snohomish County

Availability of doses is always changing, so keep checking back.

“We are still trying to figure out what to do with him,” said Everett Police Department property crimes Det. Adam Gage, who transports the statue back to a room using a rolling chair on Tuesday, April 13, 2021 in Everett, Washington.The Batman statue was recovered after it was stolen from an Everett comic book store last year.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Batman returns! Stolen Funko statue is in police custody

The supersized bobblehead was taken from Everett Comics in an October “smash-and-grab.”

Most Read