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Buldak Carbonara Ramen Is TikTok’s Latest Food Obsession



What kind of gift could make a little girl cry tears of joy at her very pink birthday party? A puppy? A Stanley cup? A ticket to Disney World?

In a 33-second video posted on TikTok earlier this month, the source of elation is a bright pink pack of buldak carbonara ramen. As of Friday, the video has garnered more than 57.7 million views and 43,000 comments, including “She’s so real for this,” and “That was a fair reaction, buldak carbonara noodles are so good.”

Around the world, millions have been charmed by the product from Samyang Food, on shelves since 2017 but only recently the object of viral fascination. (In January, search queries on Google for “buldak carbonara” quintupled compared with the same period of the previous year, when search interest first began to rise.)

This year it seems to have reached the attention of the food obsessed — including the rapper Cardi B and the TikTok food critic Keith Lee — all of them enamored with the heat-tinged instant noodles and often going to great lengths to get their hands on them. In her own video, Cardi B describes how she drove — well, her driver did — 30 minutes to find the noodles.

It’s a testament to the noodles’ popularity that even celebrities have a hard time tracking them down. Though buldak carbonara ramen is sold at major U.S. retailers, including Amazon, Walmart and Carrs-Safeway, as well as Korean grocery stores, the internet is filled with reports about the elusive noodles.

Why the obsession? In a sea of ramen options, Samyang Food’s buldak carbonara ramen possesses the ease and appeal of boxed macaroni and cheese, albeit one spiked with invigorating heat and a glossy, electric orange veneer absent in the final presentation of instant noodle competitors.

Atop this blank canvas, people add chopped scallions, toasted sesame seeds, soft-boiled eggs, a handful of shredded cheese or a dash of milk for extra creaminess — because, why not?

Eric Ehler, the chef at Outta Sight Pizza in San Francisco, believes that part of buldak carbonara’s lightning in a bottle moment comes from making a widely popular dish, spaghetti carbonara, more accessible.

“This is a version of carbonara that you can recreate,” Mr. Ehler said. “Not everyone is going to have guanciale or Pecorino Romano at home — but they will probably have a green shaker of Parmesan cheese, some mayonnaise or peanut butter to doctor up the dish.”

“Buldak,” which translates to “fire chicken” in Korean, refers to a kind of barbecue chicken dish that packs intense heat. Kim Jung-soo, the chief executive of the Samyang Roundsquare conglomerate, told The Wall Street Journal in January that she discovered inspiration for the insanely popular instant ramen flavor at a fried-rice restaurant in Seoul renowned for its fiery flavor.

Ms. Kim and Samyang’s food-development team spent months researching before landing on the company’s original buldak flavor, which debuted in 2012, introducing a level of spice previously unseen in the instant ramen market. At 4,404 units on the Scoville scale — roughly the heat level of jalapeño peppers, though the perceived heat is arguably much greater — the arrival of such a product was music to the ears of a generation already enamored with Takis and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

“We expect the spicy trend to continue and open the doors to new variations of spicy,” said Ms. Kim told The Wall Street Journal. In 2023, Samyang Foods Company announced that cumulative sales of its ramen surpassed 5 billion units with a total revenue reaching 3 trillion won ($2.3 billion). The company’s current market cap value is estimated at around $1.46 billion and doesn’t show signs of slowing down.

The carbonara spinoff has been welcomed by a cozy corner of the internet for a multitude of reasons. But the main driver of its success is simple: “It looks so good on camera,” said Cassie Yeung, a content creator who discovered Buldak carbonara, like everyone else, while scrolling through her “For You” page on TikTok.

“You can almost smell and taste the dish. It makes you hungry, it makes you crave it and you want to go recreate it yourself,” said Ms. Yeung, whose own buldak carbonara video has earned nearly 700,000 likes on TikTok. (One comment: “Just went down a Buldak ramen rabbit hole and now I need to find them ASAP.”)

Ms. Yeung said that some of her best performing videos on social platforms have centered on instant noodles, possibly because they are so accessible.

“Not everything has to be the most sophisticated plated dish,” she said. “Some of the best dishes are the ones that you throw together with little to no effort.”

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