The History of Instant Ramen
If you’ve ever needed a quick meal made fast, it’s likely you’ve reached for a package or container of instant ramen. What you might not have known was that there is an interesting history behind the simple food. The creation and distribution of instant ramen have, in many ways, changed the world. What we see today as a cheap, fast alternative to cooking a meal was once a welcome source of relief to a war-torn country.
Our story begins with Momofuku Ando, a man with dreams and ambitions. Like many dedicated citizens, he hoped he would one day do his part to make Japan a better place. His dreams had to be put on hold, however, after the destruction Japan experienced during World War II. Yet, with all the death and disappear around him, Ando had an idea that would continue to help his country survive any economic hardship. Even to this day, Ando’s creation would ensure that people could have access to safe, practical food no matter what was going on in their country.
Why Instant Ramen Was Created
Momofuku Ando saw the results of the war firsthand and had his livelihood destroyed before his very eyes. With no job, dwindling money, and a country of injured and upset citizens, there wasn’t much else that could go wrong. Food shortages were running rampant throughout the land, but many people seemed to flock to one staple comfort food in particular: ramen. Even though they had just survived such a horrible war, Ando was shocked to see people still lined up at makeshift ramen stalls to get a bowl of hot noodles.
After watching his country struggle, Ando knew he had to help. He had to do something in order to feed all the hungry citizens. Thus, his search for a nonperishable, economic, safe, healthy, tasty, and easily prepared food for saving those who had to live in postwar Japan begun. The country needed food, Ando wanted to help, and the world was ready for the change.
The Man Who Changed The World Of Ramen
Momofuku Ando was not an inventor, nor a scientist, nor familiar with the food industry in Japan at all. In fact, Ando found himself out of a job after WWII due to the fact that aerial bombings had decimated two office buildings and a factory he had built. Even after witnessing the starving citizens and desperate need for an increased production of food, it still took over a decade for Ando to decide to really do something to help.
Ando got work trying to preserve ramen noodles in one way or another. He suffered countless failures; most of the techniques he used properly dehydrated the noodles, but the moment they came into contact with water again they were unrecognizable as ramen. Thankfully, Ando didn’t stop after so many setbacks. He grew tired and frustrated at the impassable wall he had found in creating a food that would save the nation, but he promised he wouldn’t give up.
Though the story gets a bit hazy here as far as history books are concerned, it’s believed that one night, in a fit of frustration at never getting his dried noddles right, Ando threw a handful of ramen into some tempura oil his wife was using to prepare dinner. After retrieving the noodles that he assumed had been ruined, he found that the oil had actually dehydrated them! Not only that, but it had given the noodles a new texture that allowed them to recook even faster than before, which satisfied his need to find a preserved food that only took three minutes to cook!
Now that he had the product perfected, all Ando had to do was mass produce and sell it to his fellow countrymen. He packaged and released Chikin Ramen in 1958, and eagerly waited to see how people would react. At first, Japanese people saw his product as a luxury food. It originally costs even more than buying a fresh bowl of ramen at a local shop but also allowed for anyone to cook ramen in the comfort of their own home. In a very short amount of time, the public became taken with the food product, and plenty of other companies jumped in to start making instant ramen brands of their own.
Ando had done what he set out to do. He created a cheap, preservable portion of ramen that people throughout Japan could eat after any disaster. The last great innovation he added to his creation came after he took a trip to the United States to see how his products were fairing overseas. Ando was in the middle of demonstrating how to properly prepare instant ramen noodles when he noted several people using repurposed Styrofoam coffee cups to hold their ramen. As if lightning had struck twice, Ando set to work creating what is now known today as Cup Noodles.
Overall, Ando was truly an innovator who changed the world. During one of his last speeches at the Nissin factory in Osaka, Ando talked about how ramen might not have been an exact replica of the fresh ramen found in Japanese restaurants and stands, but that it was something that could feed the world. He might not have ended world hunger, but Momofuku Ando did his part to make a change for the better.
Instant Ramen Today
In modern times, people generally think of ramen as something that parents will cook for their children for a fast meal, or what college students spend their dwindling funds on in order to provide their bodies with sustenance. Many people genuinely love instant ramen and don’t see the consumption of such meals as a last resort. For those who can’t make their way to the land of the rising sun, instant ramen is as close as they can get to experience a true taste of Japan.
Unlike when it was first created, there are hundreds of different instant ramen packages, cups, and bowls to choose from! As the craze for fast ramen continues to grow worldwide, companies are coming up with new, exciting flavors to appease consumers. If you thought your country had a wide variety of flavors, you should see what Japanese companies are pumping out throughout Japan! Whether you like spicy, mild, chicken, beef, shrimp, vegetable, cheese, or any other flavors instant ramen has to offer, there’s a flavor out there for everyone!
Not only that, but instant noodles aren’t limited to just ramen. Many companies have expanded their products to include soba and udon as well! You can have delicious yakisoba – cooked noodles with different sauces and toppings – or hot bowls of udon just as easily as ramen. Not sure what the differences are between ramen, soba, or udon? Check out our article “Ramen vs. Soba vs. Udon” to learn all about these three varieties of Japanese noodles!
If you’d like to enjoy your own personal taste of Japanese instant ramen, sign up for your own Ramen Box today! One box; tons of Japanese flavor!