Two German guys are trying to eat their way through all sorts of "Asian style" noodles, and they are blogging their taste reviews (German site). I've tried some of the ones they've blogged so far though...and they are pretty bad.
Yes there is "good" and "bad" instant ramen! Good instant ramen does not smell oily or rancid, and has a good tasting soup stock. The best instant ramen has freezedried noodles that are slightly transculent. Nevertherless... it's a handy quick snack food, and yes it's pretty bad for you...(the soup usually has a lot of animal fat in it and is very high in sodium) but heck...I crave instant ramen sometimes. Not real ramen, which is made from fresh noodles and real soup stock, and (as was depicted so wonderfully in the movie Tampopo) be a a true gourmet experience. Instant ramen is artificial and fast and just delicious. Like potato chips though, it does tend to leave you with a slightly queasy feeling afterwards. It's probably due to the high salt content of the soup.
According to Instant Ramen's Home Page (the official site of the Japan Convenience Food Industry Association) instant ramen was born in 1958. The first flavor was chicken, and it was sold with the slogan "Just add hot water and wait 2 minutes".
Nowadays of course ramen has spread all around the world. It's become one of those cheap foods that students try to live on (therefore leading to general malnutrition). I do like ramen straight up sometimes, but usually I add some vegetables and an egg. Easy vegetables to add are roughly cut up green onions, pre-washed spinach, arugula, watercress, even lettuce. It has to be something that will cook fast or barely needs cooking at all, 'cause what's the point of spending time making instant ramen? If I have some around, I'll add a slice of kamaboko (fish cake), some cold roast pork, canned corn, or even a couple of slices of Lyoner sausage (which is sort of easier to get a hold of here.)
The picture shows a bowl of "real" ramen, Sapporo style, with light colored soup (flavored with salt, not soy sauce or miso), corn, roast pork, spinach, and chopped leek, plus a real Hokkaido touch - a pat of butter. Yummy. If you want to try to emulate this with instant, try to get a hold of "Sapporo Ichiban Shio Ramen", usually available at Japanese or Asian food stores.