A Brief History Of Ramen
You mean ramen didn’t spontaneously appear as a handheld mass of styrofoam, indestructible noodle bricks, and salty powder?! Indeed it did not. In fact, a few hundred years before instant ramen appeared on the scene, Ramen rose to fame in Asia as a go-to dish for blue collar workers. While most people typically think of ramen as Japanese in origin, this slurpable delicacy actually traces its roots back to China. Scholars debate the muddled circumstances of how these noodles wriggled their way from China to Japan, but they generally agree that Japanese consumption of ramen took off when a restaurant called Rai-Rai Ken in Tokyo opened its doors in 1910. Chinese cooks at Rai-Rai Ken popularized what they called “shina soba” – a Chinese take on the soba noodles dishes that already enjoyed massive popularity.
From there, Ramen gained notoriety as a quick, inexpensive option for Japan’s working class, though its meteoric rise was cut short by government regulations imposed on food carts and restaurants during WWII due to nation-wide food shortages. Fast forward to 1958, when Momofuku Ando stepped onto the scene with a groundbreaking invention – Nissin Chikin Ramen. Shelf-stable, filling, and able to cook in 3 minutes thanks to flash-fried noodles, Ando’s innovation quite literally kept the masses alive in the wake of the war. In 1971, he introduced Cup Noodles, which had the added benefit of being portable and able to brave harsh conditions thanks to its styrofoam packaging.
The eighties and nineties saw an unprecedented surge of popularity for ramen worldwide. In fact, instant ramen was voted Japan’s top invention of the 20th century in a 2000 poll.The frenzy for noodles grew to such an extent that there are now museums and celebrities – all created in the name of noods.
Recent years have witnessed a ramen rebrand – birthing a wealth of trendy (and pricey) noodle shops, especially in Japan and the United States. What has historically been an inexpensive option for college students and workers has transformed into a staple for foodies worldwide. And it’s not just the restaurant scene that has challenged the dried noods of the 20th Century. Fresh, organic on-the-go ramen has recently come onto the scene, matching the quick prep time and portability of traditional instant ramen while elevating the ingredients from fried to fresh.
As for the future of this well-loved noodle dish? Well, hold on to your hats (and your chopsticks). Aside from the fresh-faced upgrade that on-the-go noodles have undergone, ramen-thusiasts are taking leaps into unchartered territory, including glow-in-the-dark noodle bowls, beer ramen, and even using instant noodles for DIY home repair.