How a Man With a Passion to Stop Hunger Revolutionized How We Eat Ramen
If you visited Google today, you might have noticed the mighty search engine’s new Doodle honoring what would have been the 105th birthday of Momofuku Ando, the inventor of Cup Noodles.
For most of us — if we’re being honest here — life without top ramen would have been unmanageable. It began in childhood for me, when I would eagerly wait for my dad to return home on Fridays, tired after work, requesting that I make him a hot bowl of noodles. (I knew that meant kung fu movies later, too.) I’d scurry out our family room, across the hall and into the kitchen, having absorbed the three steps of instant noodle-making as if they had belonged in the Ten Commandments:
1. Peel off lid.
2. Fill cup up to line with water.
Easy enough for a kid, even better for a college student. Ramen was once the staple of my diet. As long as I remembered my thermos of hot water, I had a meal — because stuffed deep in my backpack everyday was a heaven-sent box of Cup Noodles. Many times I’d forget about the noodles and I would recline against a wall only to hear the glorious sound of ramen crunching. It was always a relief. But, that’s no coincidence — relief was exactly what Momofuku Ando had in mind when he first thought up the instant wonder.
How the Idea Got Stirred Up
According to Google, a 48-year-old Ando created the instant food not with the goal of getting rich, but with the intention of helping his fellow countrymen:
“Ando, a lifelong entrepreneur who started his first business at age 22, found the inspiration to his greatest success while walking through the streets of post-World War II Japan: People were waiting for hours in long lines, just for a comforting bowl of ramen. Realizing hunger was the most pressing issue facing Japan, he felt a desire to help the people of his country.”
In 1958, Momofuku launched his first ramen product, Chikin Ramen. Although it tasted great, It sold mediocrely because Japan was still suffering from the devastating effects of World War II and Momofuku was not able to sell his product for much cheaper.
However, in 1971, Japan’s economy began to recoup, allowing Momofuku to make his product, which he now simply called Cup Noodles, for much cheaper. The results were amazing. Business boomed, and in a few years, even Americans were chomping down ramen noodles. According to the World Instant Noodles Association, over 105 billion servings were in demand in 2013.
Momofuku’s (Not So Instant) Legacy
“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.” – Momofuku Ando
By the time Momofuku founded Nissin (the company that manufactures Cup Noodles), he had already moved to a foreign country (he was originally from Taiwan and immigrated to Japan), started two companies, been thrown in jail (for tax evasion) and survived World War II — and all by the tender age of 48.
Fun Fact: According to the Liberty Times, Momofuku evaded paying taxes by giving out scholarships to college students — something perfectly legal today — in Japan and the United States.
According to the Japan Times, when asked why he chose noodles over other foods, Momofuku’s reply was no less than epic:
“Peace will come to the world when the people have enough noodles to eat.” -Momofuku Ando
And perhaps he was right — I can’t recall ever entertaining a single harmful thought while slurping down ramen, even if it was at 3 a.m. in the school library. That hot, so-familiar-it’s-almost-like-family polystyrene container always managed to provide a special kind of comfort.
Momofuku helped the needy in tremendous ways, not only for those in Japan, but for the hungry across the globe. I think we can all agree that instant ramen was genius on multiple levels: for the economy boost it provided Japan, for feeding the poor and starving around the world, and even for the simple satisfaction it provides those craving a quick, warm and tasty meal.
Well, I know what I’ll be having for supper tonight. “Peel off lid, fill cup with water, microwave …” Here’s to you, Momofuku!
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