Well, it’s the holidays at the Szcz-Wali homestead, and that means only thing. No, not Chinese food and a movie! No, not embarrassing sweaters (though it is time for that). And no, not playing the Charlie Brown Christmas CD, we play that ALL the time!
Rather, it’s time for comfort food. And what could be more comfortable than Ramen noodles, the comfort food of choice for darn near everyone in the world? We resisted writing about instant noodles for a long time; too many varieties, too many styles, nothing new to learn, not really bizarre enough.
But, we use Ramen on the trail often. A quick package of the stuff, whipped up fast in a Jetboil, or prepared ahead of time and thrown into a thermos, can be a wonderful winter hiking lunch. Plus, two or three packages are light weight and high in salt and carbs. So, if we use it, and everybody eats it, why not look into the magnificent snack food that is INSTANT NOODLES!
We don’t need to tell you that Ramen comes in thousands of different shapes, textures and flavors. We also don’t need to tell you how, um, unhealthy it is. But it’s cheap (sometimes as little as 20 cents a packet), and if you really want to make a dinner out of it, chop up some veggies, thrown in some chicken or pork and you have yourself a nice noodle soup.
But, that’s not what we’re interested in. We decided to stop at our local Asian market, the one with the entire shopping aisle of mysterious and colorful instant noodles, and randomly pick out a few that struck our fancy.
First we found one that had no English on the package at all, just pretty flowers which drew Meena’s attention. It was in the Ramen aisle, so we crossed our fingers and hoped that it was actually Ramen.
Then we grabbed a couple colorful packages from the Sapporo Ichiban Company, one a hot and spicy chicken flavor and the other a package of chowmein.
But before we get to the tastings, a word about the greatest inventor in the history of snack food: Momofuku Ando. He was born Wu Pai-fu, in 1910 Taiwan when Taiwan was part of the Empire of Japan. He opened a textile firm by the age of 22, then a merchandising business, then he went to jail for tax
invasion evasion and had lost it all by the end of World War II.
During reconstruction, the U.S. sent Japan not noodles, but bread. Lots of bread. The Japanese Ministry of Health started a campaign to get Japanese people to eat bread, because at the time noodle companies were too small and unstable to feed the people.
Well, our man Momofuku was having none of that. Asking Japanese people to replace noodles with bread is like asking an American to replace French fries with tofu.
So, in 1958, at the age of 48, Momofuku flash fried 3 ounces of noodles, and set about feeding the world. His motto: Peace will come to the world when the people have enough to eat. Not bad words to live by, even if they do apply to Ramen noodles.
Momofuku made his real fortune though in 1971. That’s the year Cup Noodles was introduced and sold to America. Why was/is it so popular here? Momofuku noticed that Americans – what’s the polite way of saying this – are so lazy that they prefer just pouring hot water over their noodles instead of going through the trouble of boiling them.
At any rate, it didn’t take long after that for instant noodles to go world-wide, with different countries creating different delicacies out of the stuff. For those of you who like numbers to go with their serving of noodles, in 2010, 95 billion (billion, with a B) servings were eaten world-wide. Of that, 42 billion – almost 44 percent – were eaten in China. By comparison, we in the U.S. only ate 4 billion servings.
So, with the knowledge that we were taste testing three variations of the most insanely popular snack food in the world, we decided to bring in the experts, Aaron and Janelle. While we don’t have enough experience to state with any confidence that all kids love Ramen, we do know that at least these two nine-year-olds go crazy for the stuff. For weeks after mentioning the possibility of a Ramen taste test, they would ask every day (many, many times a day) when this was going to happen. Telling Aaron that there was a supermarket with a whole aisle of different instant noodles was like an out-of-body experience for him. His eyes would roll back in his head and saliva would form on his lips and he’d literally rub his belly and go “Mmmmmmm….”
So, how would our selections fare to the taste buds of the most discerning, particular and frankly honest food critics in the neighborhood?
Stop by next week, Thursday, Jan. 5, for Part II of Ramen = World Peace when the twins dig in for an epic taste testing. Also, we’ll take a look at Ramen marketing, and visit the Ramen museum. See you then!