Momofuku Ando : Creator of Instant Noodles

Jan 07, 2009
*Special to asia!
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At age 48, Bill Gates had been the richest man in the world for a decade, Albert Einstein had won the Nobel Prize for Physics and Napoleon had conquered Europe and spent two years of forced exile on the island of St Helena. For Momofuku Ando, his career was just about to begin.

Ando, who died at 96 on January 5, spent the first half of his life as a failure and an ex-convict. He then spent the second half as a tremendous success. A Chinese born in Taiwan who took on a Japanese name, Ando, a small wiry man fond of oversized sunglasses, was revered throughout Japan. His passing was recorded in the front pages of virtually all Japanese newspapers. Even outside of his adopted country, Ando was considered one of the most influential persons of the 20th century.

What changed Ando’s fortune — and the lives of literally billions — was instant noodles, which he perfected in his small, dilapidated kitchen in Osaka. Ando, born Wu Pei Fu or Wu Mo Fu (hence his Japanese name), grew up eating a sort of prototype instant noodle in Taiwan. The taste of the noodle, and its ease of serving, was constantly on his mind even after he moved to Japan, first to get a degree, then to stay permanently as an ex-colonial turned citizen. After a series of business failures, cumulating in his spending a few months in jail following the collapse of his finance company, Ando became obsessed with producing a sort of easy food for the hungry millions in post-war Japan. After numerous trials and taking hints from his wife, the first instant noodles — chicken soup ramen — was introduced to the world on August 25, 1958 at 35 yen a pack. It was an instant hit, hailed by women as the food that freed them from the kitchen.

His success spawned many rivals, but Ando was always one step ahead of competitors. In 1972 he introduced Cup Noodles, the ultimate convenience food — it could be consumed anywhere hot water was available. All one had to do was pour boiling water into the cup and wait two minutes.

By 2005, instant noodles had become arguably the most popular food product in the world — 85.7 packs and cups were consumed in that year, 13 for each man, woman and child on Earth. It is available in more than 100 countries. Ando predicted consumption will hit 100 billion by 2009, "a year ahead of my expectations."

Ando founded Nissan Foods, a US$3 billion a year giant. He continued to work there until he was 95. Despite his fame, he never forgot — or let people forget — he was Chinese.

At the beginning of each year he would give the Nissan staff Chinese couplets as the guideline for the year. As per tradition, he issued his annual motto on January 4, the first day of work of the New Year.

It was "man creates business, fate makes it a success". After a 30-minute speech, he sat down and ate with his staff. The meal was, of course, instant noodles, something he consumed every day starting from 1958. The next day he fell ill and died soon after in hospital, a fitting end for a man who devoted his life to eating. He was survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.


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lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.


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