Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Instant Noodles in Japan

Japanese instant noodles put American instant noodles to shame.

I mean, seriously, Americans are getting gypped.

Having been born and raised in America, I can tell you that the quality of instant noodles in America has gone from decent to downright disgusting. I remember the days when there were actually a decent amount of vegetables and bits of chicken and egg in the noodle cups. Freeze-tried, but they were present none the less. When you poured the hot water in the cup, you could see the water getting cloudy with broth, and the dried veggies, egg and meat would rise to the top. You covered the cup with the lid, and when you uncovered it, the veggies and meat, now expanded with steamy hydration, looked more colorful and tastier than before. You actually looked forward to having a cup of noodles.

The last time I had a cup of instant noodles in the US, the noodles were bare. I mean, seriously, when you pealed back the lid from the cup, all you saw was the flat, moon-like surface of the freeze-dried noodle block covered with cheap, powdered broth. The broth on the surface was all for show, because when you filled the cup with hot water, it remained clear, foreshadowing just what a plain pile of mush you were about to eat. You cover the cup, wait for three minutes, hoping there would be some positive change, but deep down knowing, that change would never come. You uncovered the cup, and the noodles actually look worse than before. The noodles were brittle and flavorless, and you ask yourself what in the world you did to deserve them. At my house, my cousins would spice up instant cup noodles with Tapatio sauce and lime. I've gotta say, that made the ramen relatively better, but ultimately, the noodles still tasted like shit.

 Sometimes all you have is a sopa huevona with tapatio and lime

In America, cup noodles have earned the reputation of being poor college kid dorm food. Coupled with studies that say cup noodles aren't that good for you, and they become the last thing you want to be eating.

In Japan, I've noticed that, among foreigners, this extends to an actual authentic bowl of ramen. On more than one occasion, I've invited friends visiting Japan out to eat at a ramen restaurant, only to be met with balking reactions to the effect of "What? You can't be serious. I didn't come all the way to Japan to have something we can make that at home for $0.25." Many people I talked to actually thought that we were going to go out to a bowl of instant noodles.

This is so sad, because for one, there is a HUGE difference between instant noodles and an actual bowl of ramen, kind of like there's a huge difference between a box of macaroni and cheese and actual stuff your mother makes from scratch. Secondly, there is a HUGE difference between a cup of instant noodles you buy in Japan vs. the $0.30 shit you buy in the states.

I've already written a post on ramen in Japan; this post is going to focus on instant cup noodles.

First, A Little History
Instant ramen has earned a bad rap in America as unhealthy poor people food. This can't be helped, as Americans simply don't know they're being bamboozled. Few people know that there is actually good instant stuff out there, and few people actually know how instant noodles came about. This is the story of how instant noodles were born.

Instant noodles were invented by Momofuku Ando, founder of Nissin (said "nisshin").

He was actually of Taiwanese origin and his real name was Wu Baifu; he changed his name when he emigrated to Japan.

 I just came to find this out, but apparently, Momofuku Ando coined
the phrase "Mankind is noodle-kind." Funny, because that translates
more or less to the name of my most favorite ramen shop in the world!

Momofuku Ando said that his inspiration for coming up with a quick and easy way to make a bowl of noodles came from seeing people lining up at ramen stalls in Osaka after the war. Food shortages were rampant, and he wanted to find a way to make food easily accessible to the masses.

 Momofuku Ando's hut, recreated at the Nisshin Instant Ramen Museum

 A replica of the kitchen where Momofuku Ando first experimented with noodles

Experimenting in a shabby little hut, he discovered he could flash-fry noodles, and then create an instant bowl of ramen by pouring boiling water over them; "Chikin Ramen," the very first instant noodle product was born!

Momofuku Ando said that when he went to the United States, he saw that people were breaking up his noodles, putting them in Styrofoam cups and then pouring water into them; this is where he got his inspiration to actually start packaging noodles this way, and the very first cup noodles were inveted in 1971. Today, instant noodles can be found in many shapes and forms all over the world.

 The Instant Ramen Museum in Ikeda

An entire museum dedicated to Momofuku Ando and his creation has been opened in Ikeda City, Osaka, Japan, where visitors can visit a replica of the hut where Momofuku Ando invented instant noodles, feast their eyes on the many varieties of instant noodles that the Nissin company has made, see the history of instant noodles, and even look at the mechanics of how a cup of noodles works. Visitors even have a chance to make their own custom made cup noodles and/or a pack of the original "Chikin Ramen" noodles! (You must reserve in advance for the "Chikin Ramen" noodle making experience.)

Cross-section of a cup of noodles

Did you know that the bottom part of a cup of instant noodles is hollow?

This isn't to try and gyp customers; this hollow space serves a purpose. First, the boiling water collects there, heating the noodles. Second, noodles expand, and they need a place to go; without this space, your noodles would spill over your cup. A cup of instant noodles was especially designed in order to cook your noodles, keep the soup hot, in a cup that won't burn your hands, so that you can enjoy the noodles, right out of the cup. Boy, that Momofuku Ando guy was sure something!

Mr. Momofuku Ando got to see his own museum

My Instant Noodle Adventure
So for this post, I actually went out, bought, prepared and ate various kinds of instant noodles, but not all; that's impossible. I only had a few, just to give my readers an idea of the many varieties of noodles that one can get here in Japan. Any convenience store will have at least a small array of instant noodles to choose from.

So let's begin!

 So like, Nissin was going on this "noodles around the world" spree.
Here we have the Germany cup; apparently they eat lots of mushrooms there.

 These noodles were rather tasty. Definitely something different.

 Okinawan-style noodles!

 Complete with special soup!

 Apparently, these are supposed to be instant "Soki Soba" noodles.
"Soki soba" is Okinawa's own ramen-style dish.

 3 minutes after adding the boiling water, you add the soup and mix.

 These noodles were thicker than your normal instant ramen noodles.
Definitely a tasty treat.

This is Nissin's "Indonesia" cup; "Gulai Ayam Melayu"

 This cup also has its own special soup base.

 You add the soup base 3 minutes after adding the boiling water.

 Very tasty.

And from Thailand, Tom Yam Goong!

Comes with special Tom Yum Paste to add after the noodles have boiled.

 These noodles are spicy. Gave me a bit of a cough.
It's one of my favorites, though, and I have it whenever I can.

Nissin's Tan Tan cup.

Tan Tan noodles usually come with cooked ground beef.
Nissin didn't fail to deliver.

Spicy, but tolerable. Can be a bit more.

This was only a fraction of the noodles available. There are tons more.

I hope you enjoyed this post!