After World War II, there was a food shortage in Japan, and the government fretted that the country's noodle factories couldn't produce enough product to feed the population. Wheat flour supplied by the United States, however, was plentiful and the Japanese Ministry of Health advised the population to eat bread instead. To a Taiwanese-Japanese man by the name of Momofuku Ando, this made no sense. The Japanese people were far more accustomed to noodles than bread, and Momofuku began to consider the idea of producing noodles himself.
Momofuku — for whom New York chef David Chang named his original groundbreaking restaurant and the brand that grew from it — owned a small salt company in Ikeda, in Japan's Osaka Prefecture, and here he conducted experiments using simple tools in an attempt to make noodles that could be quickly cooked.
At least, that’s the story Ando tells. Many feel that Ando embellished his legend to play up the altruistic aspects of the tale, but whatever the truth may be, on Aug. 25, 1958, he finally released the world’s first instant noodles, which he called “Chikin Ramen” — later changing the first word to its more conventional spelling. In 1971, he started selling the noodles overseas. After seeing how Americans ate noodles by breaking them in half, putting them in a cup, and pouring hot water over them before eating them with a fork, he came up with the idea of Cup Noodles, packaging his product in polystyrene containers that could double as noodle bowls.
Today, the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum commemorates these achievements in the city where ramen noodles were born. The interactive museum educates children and adults alike with educational exhibits teaching the history of the company as well giving information about instant noodles and Momofuku Ando himself. There is also the CupNoodles Drama Theater, the Chicken Ramen Factory, and the My CupNoodles Factory.
At the Chicken Ramen factory, participants can make their own ramen noodles from scratch and learn how the world’s first instant noodles were made from the beginning. At the My CupNoodles factory, you can pick your favorite soup from four options and add four toppings from a choice of 12 ingredients. You can then put it all in a cup that you design, which you get to take home to enjoy.
More than just a food museum, the institution aims to encourage children to pursue their ideas the way that Momofuku Ando pursued his thoughts on the post-war food shortage. “We want children who come to this museum to know that the games they play contain ideas for new discoveries, and that all children have the potential to make these discoveries,” states the museum website.
The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum offers free admission to children of high school age or younger; adults pay ¥500 (about $4.50). English-language audio sets for visitors are available. If you can’t make it out to Japan any time soon, however, you can click here to read 10 things you didn’t know about ramen.