Instant noodles: The only bowl that unites the world

Instant noodles: The only bowl that unites the world

A world war, starvation and a failed businessman... this is the story of cup noodles

Instant noodles means instant happiness! Image Credit: Cats Coming/

Peel off the lid.

Pour boiling water into the cup.

Let sit for three minutes.

Stir well and serve.

When you spent long nights studying for a test, it was there for you. When you wanted something warm to slurp on as the weather outside grew cold, it was there for you. It was eaten at the top of Mount Everest; by astronauts in space, and even has a value similar to a currency in specific prisons.

It is the famed instant noodle. A quick to make, tasty and affordable comfort dish born after World War II (1938-1942) in Japan.

According to the World Instant Noodles Association (WINA), people from the world over consumed 116,560 instant noodle bowls across the globe as of May 11, 2021. China leads in consumption with over 40 billion servings annually, followed by Indonesia, Vietnam, India, and Japan.

While these statistics show the world's love for instant noodles, do you know who invented them?

Thank Momofuku Ando

Ando was a Japanese inventor and entrepreneur whose legacy continues through the instant noodle.

It took 48 years of my life for me to come up with the idea of instant noodles. Each and every event in the past is connected to the present by invisible threads. People can only be content when there is enough food. Mankind is noodlekind.

- Momofuku Ando

The story of the instant noodle holds more value to Japan than eating it. After all, it did save the country from starvation.

After the war, the surviving population of Japan had a new problem to worry about – food shortage. Then, Ando decided to save the country with a dish that could save millions. However, he was a failed businessman despite his resilience and determination.

To reinvent himself, Ando came up with the idea of instant noodles after he spotted long queues of people waiting out in the cold to get a hot, traditional bowl of ramen. In its proper form, ramen is made with wheat noodles cooked and served in a steaming soupy broth with a side of meat or tofu or even a sliced boiled egg placed on top.

The first flavour introduced was called ‘chikin noodles’ and was sold under Ando’s newly successful company Nissin Image Credit: Shutterstock

This wasn’t practical in the long run. So, Ando decided to use the one dish Japan loved and transform it into a modern yet speedy dish for the working class. The US had also supplied wheat flour to Japan, and the Japanese government encouraged people to use it for baking bread. Ando took advantage of this and decided to work in his hut.

It took a whole year before the 48-year-old finally emerged from his hut, holding a successful block of instant noodles. He drew inspiration from his wife, who had left a pan of tempura oil on the stove.

After dropping a few strands of noodles into the oil and flash frying them, he finally found an answer. Flash frying the noodles dehydrated them and left perforations that allowed them to be recooked.

An instant success

When Ando showcased it to the people of Japan, they praised him for his invention, and the world wanted a taste of it. So, the first flavour introduced was called ‘chikin noodles’ and was sold under Ando’s newly successful company Nissin.

It was six times more expensive than fresh noodles when it first started, before it came down to being an inexpensive yet fulfilling product. When introduced, each block of noodles came packed in cellophane with seasoning and oil, packed in separate sachets. In 1971, the packed noodles changed into a handy noodle cup. Unlike the packet, cup noodles were easier to make – pour hot water and cover the noodles with a lid for three whole minutes.

In 1971, the packed noodles changed into a handy noodle cup Image Credit: Shutterstock

Today, customers from the world over can choose from 16 flavours.

The eternal love for instant noodles

A pandemic staple Image Credit: Shutterstock
Richa Joseph, 25

When the pandemic struck two years ago, most may have resorted to becoming home chefs, but a few relied on the humble instant noodles. For 25-year-old Dubai-based Indian expatriate and Gulf News reader Richa Joseph, instant noodles never ran out of stock at home. “I don’t think there’s ever a kitchen without instant noodles. Honestly, it wasn’t consumed as much when I was at home. When I moved to India to pursue my higher education, we used to make instant noodles every other week. Sometimes even three times a week when we used to get hungry late at night. We didn’t have kitchens, so we would responsibly take care of the shared kettle. When I am lazy to cook, I choose the instant path… I make sure it never runs out of stock. It was my go-to dish especially during the pandemic, and I am so grateful for that.”

Ryan Sam, 23

For US-based Gulf News reader Ryan Sam, eating instant noodles is the perfect way to relax on the weekend. “I think instant noodles brings in a feeling of comfort no matter what mood. It is easy to make, which is the main reason why I like eating it. On some weekends, when I don’t want to go out, I make instant noodles, turn the laptop on to a movie and have a hearty meal. I don’t know what I would do if it weren’t for instant noodles. Although it does taste different in different countries.”

Briji Jose, 24

“I used to love the UAE version of instant noodles. When I went to India, things changed. I was introduced to a noodle packet called wai wai, and I never looked back. The best part of it was, it tastes good when cooked, but it tastes even better when you eat it raw with seasoning or reserve a few raw noodle strands to crush and place it on top. I think the invention of instant noodles changed the way we eat over time, especially because most might consume it more regularly than others. Of course, concerns about it being processed are there, but if it is consumed in moderation it’s okay. I love it and wouldn’t think twice about making and eating it,” said 24-year Briji Jose, an Indian expatriate based in Abu Dhabi.

Each bowl of ramen noodles has a different meaning for everyone but brings the same satisfaction. Ando claimed that the secret of his long life was eating his ‘chikin’ ramen almost every day until the day he died.

Since Asia seems to be at the forefront of consuming instant noodles, each country has their version of instant noodles. For example, India has ‘Maggi’, Korea has ‘Samyang’, Indonesia has ‘Indomie’, and Japan has ‘Top Ramen’ and ‘Cup Noodles’.

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