A staple in almost every student’s pantry, the instant noodle is what often gets us through our hunger pangs. Whether you’ve had a long day of classes or just don’t have an affinity for cooking, this packaged two-minute meal is a saviour indeed. But have you ever thought about the history behind this crowd favourite? Legend has it the instant noodle was created to tackle the food crisis in Japan after the Second World War. Made with basic ingredients like wheat, flour, salt and palm oil, these noodles were originally made by flash-frying (cooking at a high temperature) the noodles in order to store them for longer.
The mastermind behind this creation was a Japanese man named Momofuku Ando. After losing a job he had been working in for many years, he decided to take up the responsibility of filling the hungry mouths of the world. Inspiration struck him while walking through Osaka, his hometown, and looking at the damage caused by years of constant war and turmoil. On his walk, he passed a few people waiting in line to get a bowl of ramen. His realisation of the comfort that a warm bowl of noodle soup imparts led him to a lifelong mission to end world hunger. He believed that noodles could truly end famine, a pressing issue during his time.
After many years of wondering how he could solve this problem, he eventually found a way. Keeping in mind certain elements that he wanted in his product, he decided that the taste, price, storage, quality and cooking time were all factors that were not to be compromised on, and he held onto this decision until the very end.
Momofuku spent a long time trying to find the right way to preserve the noodles, and the texture of the rehydrated noodles in particular proved to be a huge task. One day, he made a breakthrough in that process by adding cooked noodles to hot tempura oil left on the stove by his wife. He then realised that frying dehydrated the noodles allowed them to cook a lot more quickly. This process of flash-frying gave the noodles the wavy texture we know today and made them easier to re-cook by adding boiling water. This was his eureka moment and thus, the birth of the instant noodle.
For many years after its inception, the instant noodle was still considered a novelty as it was a lot more expensive than regular ramen and was sold at a higher price than fresh noodles. It sold by the name of “Chikin Ramen” and was bought only by the people who could afford this luxury. Slowly, things took a turn for the better and the instant noodle gained the popularity and price we know today.
So, next time you’re slurping on a bowl of piping hot instant noodles, keep in mind the history that is signified by that bowl.