Whether it’s cramming for your last-minute essay or searching for a late-night TV snack, you’d be familiar with this mantra:
Peel off the top lid.
Add flavouring powder.
Pour boiling water into the cup.
Let it sit for three minutes.
Stir well and enjoy.
With a formula as simple as this, Momofuku Ando, a Taiwanese-Japanese inventor, introduced a revolutionary staple to the world known as instant noodles.
Believe it or not, it took him 48 years to come up with this idea.
So, what’s the story behind one of the greatest invention of the 20th century?
Where It All Started
After World War II, Japan was faced with intense food shortage. In an attempt to solve the nation’s hunger problem, the Japanese government imported wheat flour from the United States and encouraged locals to make bread.
To Ando’s bafflement, he didn’t quite understand why the same ingredients that made noodles — that was already part of their culture — were used to make bread instead.
It was at this moment that Ando decided to take matters in his own hands to create noodles made to last.
Experimentation of Ingredients
In a little shed behind Ando’s house in the town of Ikeda-city, Osaka Prefecture, he tried to figure out ways on how to preserve the noodles. To him, the noodle he was striving to create would be something that’s non-perishable, tasty, and at the same time, easy to cook.
Most people in Japan back then were already accustomed to the flavour-packed and chewy texture of ramen. It was a challenge that Ando had to keep in mind while formulating a secret recipe to the “magic ramen” he envisioned.
Being a tinkerer that he was, he threw several strands of noodles into a pot of hot tempura oil and realised that flash-frying was the solution he was looking for. Incidentally, it opened new doors to instant cooking.
This method of flash-frying boils away the water inside the noodles so rapidly that it leaves many tiny holes. The boiling water then rushes into those small pockets, cooking the noodles much quicker than regular ramen.
When the water has been boiled out, the noodles could last six months without the need for storage in the fridge.
The Evolution of Instant Noodles
First Invention: The Chicken Ramen (1958)
When Ando’s instant noodles came to the attention of the public in 1958, his first invention, the original Chikin Ramen, wasn’t only sensational. Still, it was also sold as a luxurious item — about six times more expensive than the traditional noodles.
Second Invention: Cup Noodles (1971)
Ando’s trip to America made him realised that managers in supermarkets were breaking up Chicken Ramen noodles into a cup, pouring in boiling water, and eating them with a fork.
After making a field-trip observation like that, Ando decided that moving past conceptions about how we consume food was the way to making instant ramen a global food. Alas, this birthed Cup Noodles as a comfort food we know.
A simple tinkering in his wife’s kitchen made Ando’s creation of the instant noodle a food that is loved by many all around the world.
Even more fascinating was his passion for instilling innovation in food. Ando did not stop at cup and packet noodles; he also turned his attention toward the invention of “Space Ram” — ramen that can be consumed in space.
What was his rationale?
“People have to eat no matter where they go, even outer space.”
Thank you for reading!