The Japanese love a museum. They especially love a food museum, and are particularly devoted to and proud of instant noodles, ramen and cup noodle, which were invented in Japan in 1958. This convenience food, which was introduced to the world by Momofuku Ando when he discovered that frying fresh (Chinese) noodles extruded the water and preserved them, is a national favourite, and it has spread throughout the world.
Nissin, the company that Momofuku founded, is still one of the leading producers today (and really, they are so much better than Pot Noodle, which was one of the companies to copy them). Now, instant noodles are eaten in the billions, being convenient and cheap, and very quick to prepare. In 2005, 86 billion servings of instant noodles were eaten around the world (according to The Economist).
The first ramen, chicken ramen, was on sale in the shops at 6 times the price of fresh udon. This is in firm contrast to today, where the prices are surely in reverse. The cup noodle followed in 1971, and then finally, in 2005 Momofuku developed space ramen for astronauts (when he was 95 years old – what a character!).
There are two Nissin noodle museums in Japan, the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum in Osaka and the Cup Noodle Museum in Yokohama. Their mission is to inspire people to be creative, particularly in the face of adversity (their 6 rules are: discover something completely new, find hints in all sorts of places, nurture an idea, look at things from every angle, don’t just go with the status quo & finally, never give up). When you hear Momofuku’s background, this makes perfect sense.
Momofuku had a meandering path to success, an earlier business had gone bust, and failure to keep on top of his taxes landed him in jail. His response? “I came to understand that all of my failure — all of my shame — was like muscle added to my body.” He persevered and became one of the worlds most successful and creative business men.
I went to the Cup Noodle Museum in Yokohama, how could I resist it? Yokohama is Japan’s second largest city and only half an hour by train from Tokyo. It is a very clean modern city built around a large port, rebuilt entirely after the Great Earthquake of 1923, only to be destroyed again by over thirty air raids during World War II. A busy port city, and one of the few parts of Japan directly exposed to western culture in the mid 20th century, Yokohama is responsible for the Japanese pasta fusion dishes that they are so fond of.
The Cup Noodle Museum is enormous, looking more like an art gallery than a temple to convenience food. Spread out over several floors, starting with over 3,000 (different) instant noodle packages, there is a recreation of the shed where Momofuku developed his ramen, his story presented beautifully (and the comparisons to an art gallery continue – it really is impressive). The highlight for me, was towards the end, where you have an opportunity (if you book it) to make your own instant ramen in the Chicken Ramen Factory.
The Chicken Ramen Factory is only conducted through Japanese (English instructions are available, and you must book in advance) but I had a native to translate for me. We made our own noodles, from scratch, flavoured & shaped them, saw them being deep fried (we weren’t allowed do that bit – there are lots of kids at these classes), and then we decorated our own packages. Given it was near Valentine’s Day, ours were deep fried in a heart shape. Which was very cute. All the while, with a bandana with a chicken on it and an apron.Fun.
Next to the Chicken Ramen Factory is the My Cup Noodles Factory, where you can make your own cup noodle. As the ultimate joiner and enthusiast, I couldn’t resist and made a prawn, kimchi and pork cup noodle, decorated with a simplistic odd looking cat (it is the only thing I can draw, and the Japanese kids surrounding were amused at my lack of skill).
Exit by the gift shop, as always, but the gift shop here is really special. I left with a cup noodle candle (really), different types of cup noodle to try later in my hotel, and cup noodle shaped cakes. Which is a little ridiculous, but I did say I was an enthusiast, right?
The Cup Noodle Museum? Bonkers, brilliant, inspiring and fun. Go there.