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

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Snohomish County seeks input on spending American Rescue Plan dollars

In-person events across the county will help guide more than $80 million in federal recovery money.

Mandy Jeffcott and Aaron King explore the area beneath a highway underpass while conducting a PIT count Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County homelessness rose to 10-year high, count shows

Data released Monday confirmed what advocates suspected: The local homeless population grew amid the pandemic.

Sam Bowles records the run off the water from a chalk drawing with friend and co-artist, Rhyanna Mercer, Tuesday afternoon in Everett, Washington on May 10, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Jackson High’s global TikTok star is chalk full of ideas

Sam Bowles, 18, uses vibrant videos and social media fame to raise awareness of autism.

Nonprofit offers free mental wellness event for local teens

The Saturday gathering at EvCC, sponsored by Leadership Launch, is for teens in eighth grade through college.

‘Prepper’ arrested in Everett after grenade, explosives found

The suspect was described as “anti-government,” police wrote. He remained in custody Monday.

State Rep. April Berg will resign from Everett School Board

The Mill Creek Democrat will step down June 1. Meanwhile, she filed Monday for re-election to the state House.

Juan Luna, left, and Jeff Austin tune up bicycles to be donated Tuesday afternoon at Sharing Wheels Community Bike Shop in Everett, Washington on May 10, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Afghanistan, Ukraine refugees get bikes, bus passes and rides

One nonprofit needs volunteers to repair 40 kids bikes for refugees. Another agency could use cash gift cards.

A woman was struck by a car while crossing HIghway 99 on Dec. 2, 2021. (Lynnwood Police Department)
Woman charged in Highway 99 death of Lynnwood pedestrian, 72

Prosecutors allege Tachelle Thomas was under the influence of THC when she hit and killed Fozieh Shirdelhefzabad, 72, in 2020.

Rainey Forzetting makes a kratom smoothie at her home in Lake Stevens, Washington on March 29, 2022. Blueberries, 6 grams Kratom, a triple berry mix, almond butter, pomegranate and oak milk make up her daily concoction. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Sold as elixir, kratom popularity surges in ‘Wild West’ of legality

Doctors warn kratom, an opioid alternative, is addictive and ripe for abuse. Yet it’s unregulated and sold at any smokeshop.

Most Read