A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Project X Cup Noodle

Momofuku Ando died today. He was the founder of Nissin Foods, makers of Top Ramen "Oodles of Noodles." He was 96.

Ando didn't invent ramen--just the process for turning traditional noodles into an instant product which could be prepared at home. Every noodle in the world--spaghetti, kluski, reshteh, ramen--seems to be descended from the ur-noodle of China. The word "ramen" itself is a corruption of the Chinese "lo mein."

Noodle shops became popular in Japan after World War II, a period of intense food shortages there. Ramen was something people went out to eat, lining up in front of the noodle shops for their portions. Enter Momofuku Ando in 1958. He developed a process for flash-frying noodles in palm oil. The resulting block cooked in boiling water in three minutes. A seasoning packet was included, to be added before serving. Ando started Nissin Foods to market this product, called Top Ramen, and was president until his death today. Top Ramen revolutionized the Japanese food industry.

Top Ramen came to the U.S. in 1970. It's wildly popular, and, despite competition, still by far the most popular brand of instant ramen in the U.S. and in the world. It's also the most popular brand in my house. There was a point, not too many years ago, when I could've thrown out everything in my cupboards but the bowls and spoons, and noone would've noticed. Both my boys were happily existing on nothing much more than cereal and ramen.

Chicken ramen was the original flavor. Momofuku Ando supposedly ate a bowl of it every day of his life since inventing it in 1958. It's a favorite of my sons, too. Since I'm a vegetarian, I prefer Oriental Flavor. I've been eating it myself all week since I'm a bit under the weather. I'm too sick to cook, too sick to go out and eat, have no appetite anyway, and noone is going to cook for me. It takes 3 minutes, goes down easily, and is hot and savory.

A meal of ramen costs twelve and a half cents, unless it's on sale, whereupon it costs even less. Made of white flour, hydrogenated oil, MSG, and sodium, it's not the healthiest food out there. But, hey. Momofuku Ando was still running a multinational company at age 96 on a diet of it. I think I'll stop making nasty inferences now.

Over the past summer, a manga comic was published about Ando and his invention. It's called "Project X Cup Noodle," and tells "the dramatic story of the struggles of the men behind its success." Authored by by Tadashi Katoh and Akira Imai, Project X Cup Noodle was one of the top ten manga of 2006. A history and a business lesson in a quick, easy-to-digest format, like the noodles themselves.


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