Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Japan's top-of-the-line instant noodles

One of the joys that the Japanese have given the world are instant noodles. Most folks in a certain age range remember when Top Raman first came out and swept America, bringing the taste of Asian noodles to any kitchen or office in a convenient, affordable form. In the home market of Japan, the subsequent years saw intense competition unfold among the big food companies competing for the Japanese consumers' instant-noodle budget. Today, it has gotten to the point where some instant-noodle products are approaching restaurant quality (and restaurant price).

The photo below shows "Nisshin Rao," made by food giant Nisshin and bought here in the U.S. at a Japanese grocery store. (The name "Rao" means "Ramen King.") This baby is the Cadillac of instant noodles. Instead of freeze-dried noodles, these are sealed in a semi-moist state in an individual pouch. In fact, the two types of soup (one powder, one liquid), seasoning (including real green onion), soy sauce, and red ginger are all in their own separate packets.

Note the crescent-shaped foil that covers about 1/3 of the bowl. That's a strainer for draining out the hot water that you add in the beginning to loosen the noodles before pouring in "fresh" hot water and then adding the soup and seasoning mixes.

This is probably just a marketing gimmick -- no one here could taste the difference between strained and unstrained noodles, i.e., adding the soup mixes without changing the water. But it's a gimmick that is clever on at least two levels: it creates for the product an image of being of such high quality that the noodles must be strained, lest the delicate taste be affected. (On the other hand, is the straining necessary because some processing-related substance on the noodles needs to be washed away before eating?! Yikes!)

In addition, when you are going through this complicated process to prepare instant noodles, suddenly you don't feel like you're preparing instant noodles; you feel as if you are ... cooking!

Of course, we at Mellow Monk believe in, ahem, healthy eating, but every once in a while you have to indulge, no?

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