try their hand at making instant noodles at the chicken
In a recent questionnaire
on typical foods of the 20th century conducted by Tokyo-based JMA
Research Institute, instant ramen noodles ranked first, far surpassing
hamburgers and other pre-packed foods. In an effort to further familiarize
people with instant ramen and to extensively explore the noodle
culture that originated 2,000 years ago in China, The Momofuku Ando
Instant Ramen Museum was opened on Nov. 21 in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture.
So far, it has attracted
up to 1,500 visitors a day. "I hope young people, especially elementary
school children, will learn about venture spirit and think and invent
on their own," says Momofuku Ando, 89, founder and chairman of the
instant ramen giant Nissin Food Products, at a recent news conference.
"If you try very hard for five years, anybody can achieve something."
Embodying his views,
the museum houses a reproduction of the laboratory where the "father
of ramen," as Ando is known, succeeded in inventing Chicken Ramen,
the world's first Chinese-style instant noodles, in 1958. He was
48. From concept to production took three years.
The noodle, which requires
only hot water and a three-minute wait, was dubbed "magic ramen"
and became an instant hit. Utensils he used while he was laboring
to create it are on display in the lab on the first floor. "The
idea was turned down by the academic circles. So I worked alone
from dawn to midnight every day to discover an effective way to
quickly dry noodles, while keeping quality."
After considerable trial
and error, he found out that, like tempura, deep-frying boiled noodles
in very hot oil can remove water from them. Before they are eaten,
numerous small holes on the surface allow the added hot water to
quickly penetrate and return the noodles to their original condition.
Also on display are various memorabilia illustrating the history
of the revolutionary food.
On the second floor,
visitors are treated to a workshop in which they can actually make
Chicken Ramen - they knead and spread dough using a rolling pin
and a rolling machine. The dough is then cut into fine strips, steamed,
mixed with soup and finally deep-fried. The activity plus the finished
ramen is free for elementary school children and younger, and costs
300 yen for high school students and older.
'I'd appreciate if
visitors were interested in how I recovered after I lost everything,"
says Ando. When the credit bank in which he was the managing director
went bankrupt, he, extremely distressed, remembered a scene during
difficult postwar times - a long line of hungry people patiently
waiting for a bowl of ramen at a shop behind JR Osaka Station.
"I realized at the time
how important eating is for us. We can't live in peace without sufficient
food. So I decided to start a business to produce safe, tasty and
inexpensive food like mother's cooking, especially something that
would quickly and easily sate hunger."
His decision at the
time led to Nissin's 300 billion yen in annual sales now. Another
innovation came in 1971 - use of polystyrene containers that enabled
Nissin to sell noodles as a complete package.
"In 1966, when we were
promoting our products in the United States, I saw American buyers
sampling them using a paper cup and a fork. I thought, 'that's it!'
" says Ando. With their convenient container, 6.6 million Cup Noodles
are produced a day in Japan.
In 1992, the third invention
occurred - the creation of long-life fresh noodles including Rao
ramen, Spa-O spaghetti and Gonbuto udon. Meanwhile, frozen noodles
for the microwave oven are the company's "fourth generation" products.
According to its annual
report, Nissin has established an international network including
25 factories in eight countries. About 40 billion instant ramen
a year sell in over 100 countries, securing a share of over 40 percent
of this competitive market. Products sold in each country are designed
to meet the tastes of local people. In the United States, for example,
the length of noodles is shorter than in Japan. In Brazil, 75 percent
of products are soup-type. Masala-flavored products sell well in
India. The factory in The Netherlands tries to meet the demand of
each country across Europe.
In spring 1998, the
media reported that polystyrene containers used for cup-type noodles
may release environmental hormones and the reports affected the
company sales. "These containers' safety has been proven by the
Health and Welfare Ministry, the Environmental Agency and at a JAS
public hearing," says Nissin President Koki Ando.
"There are various standards
and ideas about safety, but we need to set up proper and fair safety
guidelines. I'm afraid people these days subjectively think that
what they believe and feel is good. Such a trend reflects distrust
in science. Safety should be proven by scientific studies."
The museum is open
from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily except on Tuesdays and from Dec. 28
to Jan. 5. Admission is free. Reservations are necessary for the
ramen-making workshop (available from Wednesday to Sunday) a week
in advance or earlier. It is seven minutes' walk south of Hankyu
Ikeda Station. Tel: 0727-52-0825.