In mid-October, I (Merge) had a ½-day in Yokohama, Japan as I waited to board the MS Westerdam that afternoon. Not one to let grass grow under my feet, I decided to visit the CupNoodles Museum. I mean, how could I pass it up? A 5-floor museum about the history of instant ramen noodles, a Japanese pantry staple. So off I went.
A short taxi ride from my hotel got me to the front door, and I must admit, I was a little surprised to see how many people were there. It may have been because it was a Sunday morning, but the place was absolutely packed, not just with tourists, but with local families. Grandparents, parents, kids – the place was hopping, and there were plenty of staff to keep the crowd moving and things under control. I wanted to do three things while I was there – wander the museum of course, but also make my own signature cup of noodles, and join in a hands-on class to make chicken ramen. Unfortunately, all the chicken ramen classes for the day were sold out, but I was able to do the other two.
My slot for making my own signature CupNoodles wasn’t for another hour, so I made my way through the museum first. In case you didn’t know, Momofuku Ando (1910-2007) is the inventor of instant noodles, and the first section of the museum showcased his continuous and iterative process to produce instant noodles that were convenient and delicious. As the museum exhibits explain – “In a little shed behind his home in the town of Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, Momfuku started work on an invention for quickly making ramen at home by just adding hot water. He worked alone, sleeping only four hours a night, and without a day off for an entire year. Chicken Ramen, the product of many trial and error experiments, was dubbed “magic ramen”, and became an instant popular sensation.” In the museum, you can see a replica of his workshed and equipment. Chicken Ramen was released in 1958, CupNoodles in 1971, and Space Ramen (freeze-dried specifically for astronauts in space) in 2005. The Instant Noodles History Cube is a room that displays how the single chicken ramen product grew into a global food culture. Starting with the single package in 1958, over 3,000 product packages are displayed in this room! Other rooms in the museum illustrate Ando’s life story, and his creative thinking process that he called the “six creative thinking boxes”. There is also a theatre that runs an explanatory film every 30 minutes. Unfortunately, the film was only in Japanese, so I gave it a pass.
Finally, the time to make my own signature CupNoodles arrived. I made my way to the 3rd floor where the CupNoodles and Chicken Ramen public factories are located. One of the many staff who were keeping the lines moving, directed me to the first station. The CupNoodles factory in the museum is really a small-scale version of the assembly-line process that exists in the actual factory. The only difference was that this version had three extra steps at the beginning. Here were the steps I was to follow, explained to me in wall displays and by the friendly staff.
- Purchase a cup from the vending machine (400 JPY)
- Sanitize hands
- Sit down at one of the many tables and use the vast supply of coloured markers to design a unique cup. I coloured mine in bright colours, and added “Merge’s creation” and a kitty-kat face!
Once I’d done these three, I was directed to one of the two assembly lines that were mini-replicas of the actual factory.
- Place the cup over the noodles (rather than the noodles in the cup, a technique to maintain texture and freshness)
- Add soup flavour and toppings – I chose garlic flakes, green beans, corn and shrimp. Hey, don’t judge me, it’s delicious!
- Seal the lid on the cup
- Shrink-wrap the cup
- Use the air-pump to blow air into the package
Voila! My very own signature CupNoodles.
Carefully carrying my precious cargo, I made my way back to the hotel. A very productive (and majorly fun!) morning indeed.