How to make a tasty dinner with a packet of instant noodles

After surviving on instant noodles throughout his student years, Ho Jiak owner and chef Junda Khoo knows all the tricks to elevate this pantry staple. 

Maggi Goreng
Two-minute noodles reimagined, Malaysian style. Image: Alana Dimou.


Let’s be honest. Instant noodles have long had a bad rap. Often high in salt and fat, nutritionists grumble that they may also lack protein, fibre, and essential nutrients. But as every famished student knows, they’re easy to prepare, quick to cook and always delicious. It’s no wonder they’re a favourite with kids or simply anyone who needs dinner or a snack, fast.

Junda Khoo, whose Ho Jiak restaurants in Sydney have won multiple awards for their innovative take on Malaysian cuisine, is a huge instant noodle fan. When he and his brother moved to Australia from Kuala Lumpur to finish high school in the early 2000s, he admits they ate little else. 

A last-minute crammer, Khoo often reached for the noodles when he needed a snack but didn’t have time or energy to cook. “When it was 1am or 2am, and I was hungry [I’d think], what's in the pantry? There would always be instant noodles. That's why we ate so much of them,” he says.

Back then, Khoo didn’t know how to cook, but he wanted to recreate the food of home or at least make something good to eat. He was inspired by observing his amah (grandmother) in the kitchen whenever she visited him in Australia, and by his regular TV diet of daytime cooking shows.

Junda Khoo
Chef Junda Khoo. Image: Katje Ford. 

As his skills developed, he started employing a range of hacks to zhuzh ordinary instant noodles. Instead of making soup, he might fry the noodles or add egg, meat or fish, vegetables and other flavours to the basic mix to keep things interesting. Sometimes, he would cook the noodles in milk to create a rich, creamy stock to “balance out the spiciness”.

His pantry also expanded to include flavour-boosting basics such as garlic oil, prawn oil and onion oil—the essentials Khoo says “give punch to your cooking”.

With his student days now long behind him, the successful entrepreneur and father of three says instant noodles are still—and always will be—a firm favourite. They even appear on Ho Jiak’s menus—served with prawns, duck egg floss, and fried egg. At home, he sometimes elevates them with luxe ingredients like lobster tails. Noodles are still a breakfast staple in the Khoo family, too.

Khoo believes no one should feel bad about eating instant noodles, especially if they’re a student. “It’s okay to live on instant noodles. It’s just a stage of life,” he says.


The below is an edited extract from Ho Jiak: A Taste of Malaysia by Junda Khoo, published by Hardie Grant Books. You can pick up a copy in stores nationally for $55.00. Photography by Alana Dimou.


炒美极面
Maggi Goreng

Prep time: 2 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Serves: 2

In Malaysia, a mamak is a food stall run by Muslim Indians. The stalls are everywhere. Many of them are hangouts open late at night and early in the morning. Growing up, my parents rarely took me to mamak stalls, but as a teenager skipping school I would go to cyber cafes and play video games and then to a mamak to hang out.

Every kid would have their go-to meal, and mine was Maggi goreng with a teh o ais limau (iced lemon tea). The instructions on a packet of Maggi instant noodles make a curry noodle soup, but mamak stalls turn them into a wok-fried dry version. 

This particular dish has so many memories for me. First, of when I was a dumb teenager skipping school, and second, of uni days when we’d open the fridge and, finding nothing, knew that if we had chilli, onion and instant noodles, we could always make Maggi goreng. Even now, after twenty years living in Sydney, I still regularly cook this at home.

Ingredients 

  • 3 × 79 g (23/4 oz) packets Maggi 2 Minute Noodles Kari (curry)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 4 whole bird’s eye chillies
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1/2 bunch choy sum

Method

  1. Blanch the instant noodles in boiling water for about 1 minute until half-cooked, then drain and set aside—you want the noodles to be still al dente after frying.
  2. Heat the oil in a frying pan to smoking point. Add the onion and whole chillies and sauté until fragrant. Break the eggs into the pan and scramble vigorously until fully cooked and firm, then add the garlic and choy sum and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
  3. Add the drained noodles, give it all a stir, then sprinkle two sachets of the packet seasoning over the noodles, mixing in well. Stir-fry until the noodles are slightly charred then serve.

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