By Karen Zheng
Instant ramen noodles, the cheap, tasty food of choice for cash-poor university students the world over, are honoured along with their creator in the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum in Ikeda City, Osaka.
Those who enjoy the cheapness of instant ramen will be pleased that admission to the museum is free for everyone. Visitors learn that Momofuku Ando was born in 1910 in Manchuria, and became a Japanese citizen just after WWII, at which time there was a shortage of food in Japan. Believing that “Peace will come to the world when the people have enough to eat,” Mr. Ando decided to develop noodles that were economical and easy to cook. He founded Nissin Food Products Co. Ltd., giving the world prepackaged Chikin Ramen (spelling later corrected) in 1958 and Cup Noodle in 1971.
The museum’s Exhibition Hall traces the development of instant ramen, starting with a reproduction of Mr. Ando’s backyard shed where he experimented with cooking methods. Ramen-manufacturing machines and plastic reproductions of toppings are displayed along with TV screens showing commercials for Chikin Ramen and Cup Noodle throughout the years. Here and there are doors or drawers for visitors to open, revealing artifacts such as a reproduction of the first Cup Noodle vending machine. A walk through the Instant Noodles Tunnel shows all the varieties of Nissin’s noodle products in order of the year in which they first went on sale. Visitors can challenge themselves with computer quizzes about the history of instant ramen, or watch images of its invention and manufacturing process in the CUPNOODLES Drama Theater.
The exciting My CUPNOODLES Factory gives visitors the opportunity to create their unique variation of instant ramen. Participants buy a Styrofoam cup for 300 yen, decorate it as they like, and turn the crank of the Noodle Shooter machine to fill the cup with dried noodles. Participants choose to have staff members add one of four broth flavours, and up to four of twelve toppings including cheese, corn, and kimchi. Staff members then seal and shrink-wrap the cup, and the final step is to package the new treat in an air-cushioned carry bag. ( Visitors who will be taking the cup on an airplane are asked not to pump air into the bag as pressure changes while in flight could crush the noodles.)
The Chicken Ramen Factory takes the experience a step further by allowing participants to make their own instant noodles from scratch in a 90-minute session costing 500 yen for adults and 300 yen for elementary school students. Reservations are necessary and, unfortunately, are not accepted for individual visitors. Anyone not participating in the Chicken Ramen Factory may watch through the glass walls.
A wide array of Cup Noodles, including some regional variations not otherwise available in Osaka, is on sale in the Tasting Room vending machines which also provide chopsticks and hot water. Since hundreds of visitors become noodle factory chefs on any given day at the museum, they are not permitted to eat their creations in the Tasting Room, which seats about forty people and looks out on the museum’s garden.
Bilingual placards are posted throughout My CUPNOODLES Factory, but the Chicken Ramen Factory is conducted entirely in Japanese. For a refundable deposit of 2,000 yen, visitors may rent English or Chinese audio guides which explain the exhibits and translate the CUPNOODLES Drama Theater show. English and Chinese pamphlets are also available.
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