When it comes to creating inventions that have transformed the world, Japan ranks as high as any country and in the words of Alphaville (this reference will only mean anything if you are a fan of 80s music), everything is Big in Japan
From martial arts to video games, electronics and transport, this island in the East-Asian Pacific has repeatedly produced innovations that have swept the world.
But if you ask someone from Japan what their country’s greatest gift to the world was you might be surprised at the answer.
If you want to know what’s big in Japan, forget about karaoke, camera phones and QR codes, move over bullet trains, emojis and rollerball pens.
Topping a survey of what the Japanese consider to be their greatest invention was the humble instant noodle.
The inventor Momofuku Ando is so revered there is a museum in Osaka that commemorates his life and his famous invention.
In 1950s Japan the country was still suffering from post-war food shortages with the Government importing US wheat in the belief that bread was the most economical way to feed the nation.
Momofuku was convinced noodles were a better option provided mass production and ease of preparation could be arranged.
Inspired by a belief that “peace will come to a world where people have enough to eat” he spent many months working 20 hour days, alone in his shed. He discovered that if fresh noodles were flash fried as soon as they were made it dried them out and they could then be packaged as individual blocks with an extended shelf life and used when required by boiling in a pan.
His first instant noodle – chikin ramen – went on sale in 1958 and was initially a luxury food item, sold at six times the price of fresh noodles. But that was only half the story.
On a trip to America, Momofuku noticed that workers were breaking up their instant noodles, putting them into a cup and then pouring on boiling water for an instant meal – effectively cutting out the middle pan.
After more painstaking research by Momofuku, the first cup noodle went on sale in 1971, simply peel back the lid, add water and eat direct – with fork or chopsticks.
The following year Japan’s state TV broadcast ten hours of continuous footage of a police stand-off which culminated in special forces storming a lodge to rescue a hostage being held by terrorists. The viewing public was engrossed by what was Japan’s first live, marathon broadcast. This included repeated shots of police and army personnel eating cup noodles during the siege.
It was the greatest advertising any product could have and sales of the cup noodle rocketed at home and abroad.
Momofuku died aged 96 in 2007, he put his longevity down to playing golf regularly and eating instant noodles everyday. His legacy lives on with 100billion servings of instant noodles sold around the world every year.
For an authentic taste of food from the far east, fresh or instant noodles form the perfect accompaniment to the extensive oriental food made by SK including chicken katsu, crispy chilli beef and sticky ribs.