Thursday, January 11, 2007

Oodles of Noodles

Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen noodles has died at age 96.

The Momofuku Noodle Bar says momofuku means lucky peach. The noodle bar, which is excellent, was recommended restaurant number 101 in New York Magazine restaurant critic Adam Platt's list "The Platt 101." If you don't like the amazing Berkshire pork featured in a number of the soups, you may not enjoy the place. There is one vegetarian offering.

Like the Times' Lawrence Downes, I had no idea there was one guy who invented instant ramen noodles. "Lucky Peach" be damned, it's obvious now where the noodle bar got its name. Nissin Foods, the company that makes the original ramen invented by Momofuku Ando, has a wacky website with a grainy photo of the man. The site says:
Founded in 1948 Mr. Momofuku Ando began the company from a humble family operation. Faced with sparse food sources after World War II, Mr. Ando realized that a quality, convenient ramen product would help to feed the masses. His goal was to create a ramen that could be eaten anywhere, anytime. In 1958, Nissin introduced "Chicken Ramen", the first instant ramen. Ironically, it was considered a luxury item since Japanese grocery stores, sold fresh Japanese noodles (Udon) at one-sixth the cost of Mr. Ando's new food concept.

Mr. Ando was convinced that his revolutionary new method of preparation would sell. It was as follows: remove the ramen from its package and place it in a bowl. Add boiling water, cover, and wait three minutes. The conservative Japanese food industry, however, rejected the product as a novelty with no future.

They had never been so wrong. Chicken Ramen sold beyond even Mr. Ando's wildest expectations. Before you could say "instant", over ten companies were rushing to put their versions out on the market. By end of 1958, grocery shelves were crowded with this new addition for the Japanese kitchen. From this point on, Nissin Foods began its long list of successful and innovative ramen products. Today, Japanese consumers eat approximately 45 portions of ramen, bags and cups combined, each year. In addition, U.S. consumers are estimated to eat 9 portions of ramen each year.
If you're looking for a healthy new snack, try ramen noodles "raw" -- eat them as you would potato chips. "Since the noodles are already cooked, it is totally safe to eat this way," says the Nissin website.

The Detriot Free Press reports that Ando had chicken ramen the day before he died. I've had Mr. Ando's brand of instant ramen noodles two nights in a row. Fortunately, my local bodega carries Nissin Top Ramen in a variety of flavors, to match my changing moods. Who knew that (Picante Beef) ramen noodles would be the perfect accompaniment to my mother's Swedish meatballs?

I asked the guys at my favorite wine shop what to pair with ramen noodles. They didn't flinch. "Something white. Anything stronger than Sancerre would be too powerful. Try a Muscadet." So I did. Delicious!

The next night I tried the Spicy Chile Chicken noodles with some leftover Thanksgiving turkey I had in the freezer. Superb.

For more about Momofuku, read Business Week's story.

For another inspirational college student-friendly food story, read about Minnesota's own Rose Totino. Her New York Times obituary (1994) hesitates to call her the inventor of frozen pizza, but surely she was one of the first innovators. And then there's Jeno Paulucci: no one disputes that he invented the pizza roll.

The 88-year-old Jeno is still working, according to an Associated Press article from a couple weeks ago. “I should’ve kept the pizza roll. It’s something that’ll damn near live forever,” he told the AP. He sold the Jeno's Pizza Rolls business to General Mills in 1985, but he's still creating new entrees.

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