During my university days near the end of the month when money was tight, I would buy instant noodles for some cheap meals to make my budget go a bit longer. I didn’t really think about the origin of instant noodles until I moved to Osaka, Japan. Momofuku Ando invented the technique to fry-dry noodles, add flavoring and dried vegetables and meat and most important, put all in a sealed styrofoam cup perfect for warming up the noodle soup.
His background is interesting. He is Taiwanese and grew up in Japanese-occupied Taiwan. He attended Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. Life was tough after World War II in both Taiwan and Japan. Momofuku saw people waiting in long lines for hot noodle soup. There was plenty of flour around after WWII from the American occupation forces and that led to Momofuku experimenting in his modest home. He perfected instant noodles, first coming out with them in 1958. Eventually after some stop and starts and a bankruptcy, he hit the right formula as head of Nissin Foods. He turned the company into an international company with over $100 million dollars in profits, and factories all over the world, including Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
He built a museum in Ikeda, a suburb of Osaka where he died in 2007 at the age of 96. We took the tour and made our own instant noodles. You can decorate the cups, choose your flavoring and four ingredients. I chose “seafood” flavoring and added shrimp, green onions, edamame and kim-chi.
Quite a legacy he left as the inventor of instant noodles. The number of companies and types of instant soup-style cups has proliferated. They are not the most healthy food to eat, being high in sodium, but on a cold day or while traveling, a convenient, hot cup of noodles really hits the spot!
Living in Asia I’ve learned how to eat noodle soup with chopsticks. It is proper etiquette to slurp noodles, as it is acceptable and expected of eating companions. Scientists showed that the increased air intake of slurping enhances the flavor of the noodles. We went for the real noodle, called ramen, which is technically, a wheat-based noodle in a pork or beef broth. Americans call instant noodles ramen and the two terms have become synonymous.
We have a famous ramen chain restaurant called Ippudo near our house. They specialize in the tonkatsu ramen, which is from Kyushu, the most southern of the main four Japanese islands and is pork-based. They are one of my favorite meals in winter.