If You Knew Ramen Like I Know Ramen

Jan 07, 2009
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Around 300 AD the Chinese made wheat flour noodles. They never patented the idea and the humble noodle travelled east to Korea and Japan with the spread of trade and Buddhism.

By 600 AD, buckwheat noodles had become a Japanese staple. The humble noodle also travelled west, though by all accounts, at a more measured pace. In 1138 however, an Arab traveler by the name of Idrisi chronicled the triyah, a noodle-like dish he had sampled in Sicily. Spaghetti as we know it in its modern incarnation was first produced in Napoli, Italy in 1700. During the Qing Dynasty, “yimian noodles were deep-fried to allow them to be stored for long periods and then prepared quickly.” [1];this was likely motivated by the need to create a portable food source to sustain the vast Manchu armies as they quelled rebellions and consolidated the empire. The idea was sound, but it was a few hundred years before the instant noodle would be re-incarnated, steaming yet again in the wake of empire-building.

In 1958, a man by the name of Momofuku Ando (see other story), recognised and capitalised on the need for a cheap and convenient (read: portable, easy to prepare) staple food, and introduced the first, truly instant noodle: Chikin Ramen (chicken ramen). Ando’s noodles were first “boiled with flavouring, deep-fried with palm oil to remove moisture, and dried into a noodle cake”. The slogan: “Just add hot water and wait three minutes” so impressed the Japanese public that the product was nicknamed miracle ramen. And so it was that in post World War II Japan (which was later to build an industrial-manufacturing empire the likes of which the world had never seen), inexpensive and easily prepared ramen became an indelible niche carved into the national cuisine. inexpensive and easily prepared ramen carved an indelible niche into the national cuisine. Ando’s company, Nissin Food Products Co. Ltd. of Japan became one of the most recognised names for instant noodles around the world, going on to grace Times Square of New York City.

Meanwhile, the humble pre-flavoured miracle ramen evolved. The first big change came when the package of pre-flavoured noodles was replaced by a combination of instant noodles and a pouch of powdered soup. Simple change; big consequences. This allowed for the manufacture of instant noodles that reflected regional differences in tastes and flavours, as well as the addition of dried vegetables and other ingredients to the soup base. In 1971 Nissin introduced the Cup Noodle, where the noodle was sold in a pre-packaged Styrofoam container. This milestone ushered in an era of unprecedented mass consumption of convenience, supporting the sprouting of and popularity of automated vending machines that dispensed hot water, as well as other instant products such as instant coffee and desserts in similar containers.

From then on, instant noodles spread around the world, produced by different companies that reflected the varied tastes of the consumer. One of my favourites is an Indonesian instant noodle that is prepared dry, with four different foil packets containing: a sweet, dark soy sauce, oil with traces of fried shallots, powdered seasoning and spicy chilli. Tom yam flavoured instant noodles from Thailand and laksa flavoured instant noodles from Singapore are high on the list too. I remember buying instant noodles in Taiwan where the noodles were packaged in two large styrofoam bowls. One bowl was for the noodles that were prepared dry; the other was for a piping hot soup base that came with a small packet of real minced meat. I found that in Korea, the instant noodle packets are much larger, and the noodles inside correspondingly thicker and of better quality. Of course, one does not eat Korean instant noodles without a foil packet of kimchi. I have bought instant noodles at Wal-Mart in the US; they are cheap but of lacklustre quality. What is interesting though is that there is an Oriental flavour available. Now what exactly would that be? But if there is one story that seals the case for the pervasive popularity of the humble instant noodle, it is the fact that you can order a bowl of it, topped with a few strands of vegetables and an egg, at Everest Base Camp in Nepal, 5,300m above sea level, for the equivalent of US$2.





[1]Source: www.wikipedia.org. A history of instant noodles.


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