Sunday, January 07, 2007

A Sad Day for College Eaters

"Inventor of Instant Noodles Passes Away at 96"

Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen noodles and founder and chairman of Nissin Foods passed away on January 5, 2007 of a heart attack. Born in Taiwan, a Japanese territory at that time, he moved to Japan when his parents died when he was young. He had a varied career over the first half of his life, and even served two years in jail for tax evasion. It was in 1958, when he was 48 years old that he perfected a flash frying method of drying noodles so they could be quickly re-hydrated and eaten. He had spent many years inventing food products after the food lines he saw in Japan post WWII.

Chikin (Chicken) Ramen was the first of the instant noodle products released and originally it was an expensive, luxury product that cost six times as much as normal, slow cook noodles. Soon production methods dropped the price and we ended up with the inexpensive food eaten by nearly every college student and struggling bachelor the world over.

These days we're familiar with these noodles under a variety of names like Top Ramen (ramen means "noodle" in Japanese), Oodles of Noodles, and Cup-a-Soup. It was back in 1971 when Nissin first released the cup of noodles products. There were tons of advertisements on TV and I begged my mom to get some. Many years later when I was in my late teens and I was first living on my own I would stock up on the noodles when I saw sales of 10 or 12 packages for $1. Then later, in college and afterwards when I could afford to eat differently, I still kept a few dozen packages around for quick snacks for me and my friends. It was one of the few easy to prepare foods I could make in my dorm room, and was great for those midnight munchies and study breaks.

In 2004 it is estimated that 70 billion servings of instant noodles were sold and in 2005 85.7 billion were sold. Just a few days ago I read that a recent research survey of the Japanese public felt that the invention of instant noodles was the most important invention of the last century.

In July 2005 they released Space Ram, instant noodles that can be cooked and eaten in space, so that the Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi could be insured that he would be able to have some tasty noodles to slurp while in micro-gravity. This was something important to him because he says he has always been a ramen fan. The noodles were designed to fit his mouth, and made in some of his favorite flavor combinations; miso, curry, tonkotsu (pork), and soy sauce. He is said to have commented that "They came out just like they do on Earth. It was very relaxing to be able to eat a good ramen in space." I can honestly say that more than anything else in this world I would love to join Noguchi in some of those noodles while looking down on our brilliant blue planet.

If you're ever in Osaka stop by the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum for a great little educational tour on instant noodles and the importance they have played in Japan, Asia, and the world over the last fifty years. You can also make noodle dough by hand, use a machine to make it into noodles, deep fry them, pick various soups and toppings, and have it packaged for your very own personalized cup of noodles in one of 5460 possible flavor combinations.

So everyone please raise a cup of noodles to the late Momofuku Ando, as he looks down on us happily slurping away.

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