Ramen history served up in bite-sized pieces


By Phil Amara and Oliver Chin, illustrated by Juan Calle (San Francisco: Immedium Publishers, 2017, 40 pp., hardcover)

If you enjoy eating ramen, this colorfully illustrated book might provide tasty reading. This book is the first in “The Asian Hall of Fame” series, which will highlight discoveries originating in Asia.

A small red panda named Dao magically time travels to Japan with two children to teach them the history of ramen noodles, which were brought to Japan by the Chinese in the 1880s. The trio sees a street vendor selling ramen from a pushcart in ancient, rural Yokohama. Next, Dao takes the children to Tokyo in 1910. They see how industrialized the big city is. A man named Momofuku Ando was born that year. In the future Ando will become an important figure in the ramen world.

A third visit to Japan during World War II helps the children understand how food rationing and restaurant closures were signs of devastation in Japan. Then the U.S. sent tons of wheat to Asia. Japan could now bake more bread and make ramen more economical. Ramen replaced soba (buckwheat) noodles in popularity.

Fast forward to 1958 when Ando created a pre-seasoned ramen that was quick-fried and dried in a wavy shape. His “chikin” ramen was a hit. His next creation was Cup O’ Noodles in 1971. Boil water and it’s ready in three minutes. Fast food!

Ramen trivia:
• A ramen museum opened in 1990. Different ramen toppings are there for sampling.
• In 2005, a Japanese astronaut ate ramen on the space shuttle Discovery.
• China buys eight times more instant ramen than Japan every year.
• One hundred billion packages of instant ramen noodles sold annually average 13 servings per person worldwide. “If those packages were stacked end to end, the line would stretch back and forth from the moon 13 times.”
Today, ramen shops specializing in handmade fresh ramen with secret sauces are opening in many countries. “The key is the broth.” The rich and savory flavor of the broth makes children and adults want to eat it. “Umami” is the Japanese word for rich, savory, and delicious. It is the fifth taste after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.
I’m hungry for a big bowl of homemade ramen right now. Ikimasho! (Let’s go!)

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