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The Godfather of Ramen: Hans Lienesch

After over 100 reviews done since the launch of our website, we figured that it would be a good time to write an article about the world of instant ramen. And it would be fitting for the subject of our first article to be the Godfather of Ramen himself, Hans Lienesch of TheRamenRater.com.

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably a fan of instant noodles and there’s a high likelihood that you’ve already a regular visitor to Han’s website. Recently, our team at the Ramen Noodlist reached out to him for this article and he graciously accommodated us with his time.

 

Humble Beginnings

The long journey to being the authority for all manner of instant noodles started for Hans at about the age of 8. As a treat, his mom would prepare instant noodles in her own special way. Eschewing the standard preparation instructions on the package, she would under-cook the noodles and then fry them with an egg. It was a simple reward for helping his mom out with the household chores.

Hans Lienesch in kindergarten

 

Beautiful view from Han’s childhood home of the bay at sunset

 

When that brand (the name of which is now hazy with the passage of time) was discontinued, his father took them on a trip to Seattle to visit a large Japanese grocery store. In addition to picking up a replacement in the form of the classic Nissin Chikin Ramen, Hans got his first introduction to the world of instant noodles. He recalls,

“I saw lots of different varieties [of noodles] from exotic countries as well and was immediately fascinated.”

Thus the seed for The Ramen Rater was planted in his mind.

 

The Ramen Rater 1.0

Fast forward to 2002. With the revival of the Internet from the ashes of the first dotcom crash, Hans developed an interest in web design and thought that it would be a fun side-project to review instant noodles.

With the web design skills that he learnt on his own, he created the first version of TheRamenRater.com and started cooking, photographing, tasting and documenting his noodles.

The Ramen Rater 1.0

 

The Ramen Rater 1.0 managed to hit about 50 reviews before he got side-tracked with the non-noodley side of life. Interestingly, he also reviewed hot sauces between 2003 and 2008 as The Sauce Rater.

 

Love Found & The Ramen Rater Re-Born

The website was on hiatus for about 8 years till love paved the way for its revival. Hans had met the love of his life, Christine, and they decided to move to a town near Seattle in 2010. The town had a thriving International District within walking distance and with that came a wide variety of instant noodles from around the world.

Hans’ interest was piqued once again and he started making daily runs to the International District to pick up new samples for review. Today, the site features a database of over 2,500 reviews and impressively, its own line of instant noodles.

What Hans has achieved with TheRamenRater is definitely impressive. What is even more impressive is that he has done this despite a visual disability.

He explains,

I’m legally blind so I don’t drive and have trouble with daylight unless I wear shades.

When I do reviews, I usually do most of my photo editing early in the morning – usually starting around 4 am. Around noon I’ll start cooking.

I have a pretty big monitor [that] I use and the camera I have is [mounted] on a stand pointing down with auto-focus which really helps as sometimes focus isn’t something I can tell very accurately.

It also affects typos on the site which unfortunately I miss all the time.”

 

Family First

Having three children (Miles, Miriam and Andy), juggling life as a stay-at-home dad and being an authority on ramen requires disciplined scheduling for Hans. His day as The Ramen Rater typically starts at 5am so that he can get everything done before he devotes all his attention to being a loving father for the family.

It takes a while to do all the scanning, translation, photo editing, etcetera. Before Miles it was easy. Then I had to work out the timing of when to do what after as I’m a stay at home dad.

Now with Miri it’s get up at 5am and possibly earlier to get everything ready before my most rewarding gig as always, parent. “

 

The Lienesch family

 

The latest addition to the family, Miri

Ramen Motivation

When asked about what motivates him to keep running The Ramen Rater, Hans points out that the inquisitive kid in him never grew up.

I really like trying something new every day and creating a review. My motto is that a day where something isn’t created is a wasted day.”

Also, Hans notes out that there’s always innovation and new varieties coming to [the instant noodle] market” and while “the American consumer seems to like consuming the familiar and the known”, he feels a sense of joy introducing them to new things and flavors.

When discussing potential never-been-made-before instant noodle flavors, Hans’ spirit of adventure becomes evident.

“My first thought would be pizza although I’ve had 3 pizza flavored ones… Never seen a ketchup or dill pickle flavored one. Had a western BBQ flavored prototype which wasn’t bad but never made it to market.

There are so many Japanese peculiar flavor combos so I don’t know if one has been made, but perhaps a rabbit stew? Frog legs? Duck tongue?

I know it’s gross but I remember years ago a controversial Chinese instant made with dog in it. I tried to get some but whenever I asked, people got mad. Like I said I like to try new things. If people eat something, generally it’s because they like it, so I’m guessing there was a good reason for its existence.”

Running The Ramen Rater brings with it some challenges as well. One of the biggest challenges he describes is dealing with the comments that invariably come with his instant ramen rankings. As with any discussions of lists of the best (of anything from movies, sports to politics), the loudest voices are almost always the angry voices from fans who are upset that their favorite was not ranked higher.

Hans experienced this first-hand in 2013 when he published his top ten list for the year. For the first time, Taiwan was not ranked in the top ten for that year. What made things worse was that coincidentally at about the same time, he also published a bottom ten list and Taiwan had the ignominy of being featured twice. There was national outrage in Taiwan as the story was covered extensively in the local media (example here).

He also received unsavory comments on his website that racially and personally targeted him. He asked him how he dealt with that mini-crisis in the South China Sea.

“Well, I decided to exercise what I like to call ‘noodle diplomacy’. The sheer amount of comments and hits my site was getting told me one thing: These people have a passion for their noodles.

I did up a video to the people of Taiwan asking for samples of their favorites. I asked companies to send samples and do Meet The Manufacturer spotlight series.

Long story short, Taiwan has been on my top ten annual for 3 years now and I have been doing an annual Taiwanese top ten. Many still disagree with my rankings, but fair is fair and I think many appreciate the lists.”

Hans also notes that instances of vitriol actually make him appreciate his real fans more. He points out that fans actually take the effort to speak up and defend him when so called “Internet Warriors” post rude or personal attacks. It’s moments like these that motivate him to keep on working hard to create content for his fans.

The Godfather of Ramen: Hans Lienesch

 

The Future

Being famous for his annual top noodles list (headed right now by Prima Taste Wholegrain Laksa Lamian), Hans recently published the 2,500th review on his website. We asked him how he felt about hitting this milestone.

“Hitting my 2,500th reviews was pretty special. The one I picked was my own instant noodle that should be showing up around the world soon, The Ramen Rater Select Supreme Creamy Tom Yum Noodle.

Of course (and I’ve stated this numerous times) it will never be in a top ten list as that would just be ridiculous. However, I can happily say it’s my favorite all around.”

If you’re interested in reading more about his own line of noodles, please click here. With regard to the future, Hans shared with us his plans for The Ramen Rater in 2018.

“I’m hoping in 2018 the Ramen Rater Select will be widely available which would be great. Of course, my main goal is to continue reviewing instant noodles; that’s the main mission of the site and myself – to try something new every day.

So far it’s not hard to do as I have a couple hampers sitting next to me, brimming over with instant noodles. I’d like to try more European and African varieties as well as South American varieties. These all seem to be the hardest ones to come by.

More travel is always a goal as well.”

From the photos and description, it sure looks like Hans has put in a lot of thought and effort into The Ramen Rater Select Supreme Creamy Tom Yum Noodle. Our team here at the Ramen Noodlist will definitely keen to try it out in 2018. We will post updates about it as we learn more.

With that, we come to the end of our feature on The Ramen Rater. We would like to thank Hans for being generous with his time in doing this interview. We send Hans and his family much love and warmth.

We hope that you have enjoyed reading this article. We will try to make this a regular feature for our website. If you have any feedback or ideas on what we should cover next, please drop us a message.

Have a wonderful Sunday!

Obligatory photo of Otis the family pug

 

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