Most of us have, at some point, found ourselves sucking down some instant noodles. The cheap, tasty and endlessly versatile snacks offer a quick fix for those nights you don’t have the cash to flash, nor the time and patience to prepare something from scratch. So if you’re in Ikeda, Japan, head down to the Cupnoodles Museum to find out the full story .
The first recipe to ever be released came in post-war Japan when the country was experiencing a severe shortage in food and citizens were eating bread from wheat flour provided by the United States. Japanese-Taiwanese inventor Momofuku Ando found it bizarre that residents weren’t being encouraged to eat noodles, the staple of the Japanese diet.
It was the day after Japan surrendered in 1945 that Ando walked through the war-torn remains of Osaka and saw residents queueing outside a makeshift ramen stall. The meal was quick, cheap, warming and filling – and here, the idea was planted. Ando ended a career as a bank manager and started his mission to remedy the country’s hunger problem, locking himself away in a shack in 1957 to invent and fine-tune a recipe for noodles that could be cooked with nothing more than hot water.
His determination eventually paid off on August 25th, 1958 – it may have taken him more than a year to perfect his method, but this was the day on which he mastered the formula for the chicken ramen instant noodles that we all know and love today.
Instant noodles may now be a cheap convenience, but they were initially sold as a luxury item, retailing at around six times the price of regular soba and udon noodles. Ando is a cultural icon in Japan, with two museums dedicated to his life and work: the first in Yokohama, an hour outside Tokyo. The second in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, where Ando founded Nissin Foods.
The Cupnoodles Museum is every bit as surreal as it sounds. As you arrive, a statue of Ando, reified in gold, clutching a packet of his beloved instant noodles greets you. When inside, head through the Instant Noodles Tunnel (with the iridescent packages of instant noodles and cup noodles sold across the world), hang out in an exact replica of the shack he locked himself away in to work on his invention and check out Space Ramen, the freeze-dried snack made specifically for Soichi Noguchi in 2005. Hop upstairs to the Chicken Ramen Factory and make your own package from scratch, then create your own packaging and flavours in the My Cupnoodles Factory.
There’s also the Cupnoodles Drama Theatre, where an animated account of his first ever business meeting with an American investor plays out. Here we see the development of instant noodles into cup noodles, inspired by Ando’s travels to China where he saw locals slurping their noodles from a paper cup, as well as by an LA businessmen who trialled meals by breaking them up with a fork into a paper cup as opposed to using chopsticks. By 1971, Cupnoodles were the finished product and ready to go global.