Friday, 19 October 2018

The World's First Instant Noodles: Chicken Ramen's 60th anniversary

August was the 60th anniversary of the world's first ever-instant noodles: Chicken Ramen produced by Nissin Food Products Co. in Japan. The word "instant" in Japanese is sokuseki (即席) - also meaning impromptu or improvised - so if we add the character for noodles (men=麺) we get sokuseki-men (instant noodles). Today, they apparently sell 100 billion (1000 oku =億) packs a year in over 80 countries, with China being the big market at just under 40 billion a year.

The anniversary packs (pictured) carried a picture of and a thank-you to Mr Ando who invented (hatsumei =発明) the noodles together with the little yellow chick character mark (Hiyoko-chan) who has a whole store dedicated to it (and noodles) in Tokyo Character Street. Actually, NHKs traditional morning drama (known as asa-dora) which broadcasts at 8:15 each day without fail is currently a semi-fictionalised account about Mr Ando and his wife (with more focus on the latter apparently) called Manpuku (full stomach!). Back to the present day, in recent years, as consumers have become more health conscious, half-calorie and low salt products have become popular. Supermarkets generally have one whole aisle dedicated to cup (カップ)and packet (ふくろ) noodles and convenience stores are also crammed full of the stuff (with hot water on tap for those who want to eat on the go).

Ramen (Chinese style noodles) - whether instant or freshly prepared - is typically eaten with various toppings. Chicken Ramen suggests eating with a shirotama (literally "white-ball") egg on top and the packet contains exact instructions about how to do this. The official homepage contains step-by-step instructions, including a video! My own attempt is pictured below:
My local ramen store menu
At your local ramen shop, more conventional toppings typically include sliced pork (chāshū), boiled egg (yude-tamago), bean-sprouts (moyashi), kimchee (kimuchi), sliced bamboo shoots (menma), spring onion (negi), corn, and butter. But before you decide on toppings you have to decide the type of broth you want: generally soy-sauce (shōyu), miso, or salt (shio). My personal favourite, though, is pork-bone (ton-kotsu) which reflects the time I spent in Fukuoka where it is immensely popular (one of my fondest memories of Hakata is eating bowls of ton-kotsu ramen at the street stalls or yatai after a night out). Certainly, ramen (as with most food in Japan) is strongly regionalised and different regions (chimei =地名) will have local varieties and toppings. Luckily, it will be possible to taste many of these without leaving Tokyo from October 25th at the Tokyo Ramen Show which boasts 18 different varieties from all over Japan (including Fukuoka!) - plus a host of talk-show events and live bands. Just go careful on those calories...