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Used His Noodle

Momofuku Ando

Okan Arabacioglu

By Erin Sullivan | Posted 12/26/2007

Imagine a world in which ramen, that simple and salty noodle soup most of us can get for 35 cents a package at any supermarket or convenience store in America, had to be purchased on the black market. That's the world Momofuku Ando lived in--and the one that inspired him to find a way to get soup to the people.

Just after the end of World War II, Taiwan-born Ando was living in Japan and he saw people standing in line at a black-market stall where fresh ramen--Japanese noodle soup--was being made. Food shortages were plaguing the country, and Ando decided to create an easy-to-prepare noodle soup that could be eaten anytime, anywhere, without need for scarce fresh ingredients.

Ando, whose expertise was in running clothing companies, formed the Nissin Food Products company in 1948. According to the Nissin web site, Ando's corporate philosophy for the company was "peace will come to the world when the people have enough to eat." A decade later, in 1958, Nissin introduced its first ramen product--instant chicken ramen, the world's first instant-noodle product, made by boiling ramen noodles with flavorings, then deep-frying them with palm oil to dry them out.

Ando's dehydrated noodle soup wasn't cheap, at first; Japanese grocery stores sold their ramen at one-sixth of the cost of Ando's revolutionary but pricey instant concoction, so Nissin's ramen was initially sold as a luxury item. (It's now roughly as cheap in Japan as it is here.) Despite that, people bought the product, and other companies soon followed in Ando's footsteps, marketing their own versions of instant ramen products. In 1964, Ando formed the Instant Foods Industry Association, to set standards for the newly budding trade.

It wasn't until the 1970s, though, that Ando's ideas became truly mainstream--that's when Nissin Foods introduced Cup o' Noodles, a cheaply produced, inexpensively priced chicken-flavored noodle soup packaged in a Styrofoam cup. The product was wildly popular overseas and introduced the instant-soup revolution to the United States.

In 1999, Ando opened the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum in Japan, and in 2005 he retired as chair of Nissin Foods. He died of a heart attack Jan. 5, but he lived long enough to see his company introduce a specially designed instant ramen called Space Ram for astronauts. In July 2005, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi took the instant ramen product with him on a mission aboard the U.S. space shuttle Discovery. Ando was quoted as saying, "I'm happy I've realized my dream that noodles can go into space."

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