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When in Yokohama: Visit the Cup Noodle Museum (Really, Do!)

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.

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A Postcard from Yokohama, Japan

Yokahama? Yes, Yokahama. I didn’t know much about it either but when planning this trip I discovered that not only is it Japan’s second largest city, it is also only half an hour on the express train from Tokyo (I know, I find that crazy). It is also the home of the Cup Noodle Museum and the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum.

I had to go there.

A few things about Yokahama: it was the first part of Japan that was opened up as a port to the rest of the world, so it has been more heavily influenced by outside cultures than other areas. It was the first to have ice cream, 150 years ago, and has a whole range of fusion food which has spread throughout Japanese food culture. It also has Japan’s largest Chinatown (surprisingly one of only three), with 600 restaurants.

Cup Noodle Museum, Yokohama

Cup Noodle Museum, Yokohama

I started with the Cup Noodle Museum. I didn’t know what to expect but I was surprised to arrive at a building which was designed so beautifully that it could be a modern art gallery (by the director of Uniqlo, I believe).

The museum details the path to discovering instant noodles, starting with the Chikin (sic) Ramen in 1958 to now, many years and thousands of products later. Cup Noodle is a serious business in Japan, they are actually very delicious (Pot Noodle has given instant noodles in the UK a bad rep). Everyone eats them here and it is common to add lots of fresh bits and pieces like seafood, meat, egg etc to liven them up. I do this at home occasionally, it is (was) a guilty pleasure. Not so much now that I know I am in such fine company.

As part of the tour I made my own instant chicken ramen from scratch, the noodles, the seasoning, frying them to dry them etc. So much fun. We got to design our own package, mine is a disgrace, I think you will agree. I think I will recruit my 3 year old niece next time, she would do a much better job.

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This is a Cup Noodle CANDLE!

Moving on from there, and I was starving by now as I had been making food but not actually eating any, I went to the The Café at Hotel New Grand, the home of Spaghetti Napoletan, a fusion spaghetti born out of requests from western visitors for pasta with tomatoes. Originally it was made with udon and tomato puree, but now they use spaghetti. The spaghetti is not quite al dente as we would expect, as it is allowed to sit for a minimum of 6 hours after boiling to recreate that udon effect. It was actually a very good sauce, fresh & fruity. This dish is hugely popular in Japan.

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On from there through Chinatown, which has 4 large Chinese gates leading into it. The Japanese love pandas and bears and there are pandas EVERYWHERE. Lots of dim sum too.

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I finished up at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum which is an illustration of dedication to a cause, obsession and deliciousness. Mr Iwaoka, who founded the museum, travelled Japan for 3 years and tasted over 1000 different ramens. He chose what he considered to be the best and invited them to be part of the Ramen Museum.

It is set out like a part of Tokyo in 1958 (the year Chikin (sic) Ramen was invented) and 9 shops serve their ramen. The shops change regularly although some are there for longer. The one I visited, and it was so hard to choose, was Komurasakai. It is so good and so well respected that it is there on a 20 year lease serving a sublime Tonkotsu style ramen called kamamoto, that is loaded with garlic chips. The broth is rich but not greasy, somehow seeming quite light. Char siu pork is served on top along with other bits and pieces.

All ramen shops at the museum serve small portions for 550 yen (about £4) as well as normal larger portions. At 300 yen to get in (just over £2), it is well worth the trip. If I had time, I would go back to try them all over a couple of days.

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So Yokohama, well worth a trip from Tokyo. Do it.