The Short History of Instant Noodles.

WHENEVER it was raining outside, my mind always went to instant noodles. A bowl of steaming comfort topped with egg and fried shallots, drenched in my favourite savoury soup. When I was a little girl, this meant Chicken Curry or Special Chicken flavour.

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Of course, later on, instant noodle brands came up with all kinds of flavours you could ever imagined. But, as always, nothing beats the classics.

It’s all about the signature taste that brings you back to reminisce the old days from the very first sip: to feast on memories, to slurp on nostalgia, to savour a feeling of going back in time.

***

THERE was a certain period in my life when my mother and I moved in to stay with my mother’s parents. Every evening, after the call for Maghrib prayer, my grandmother would prepare a bowl of instant noodles for my grandfather.

For Grandfather, it was always the Chicken Curry flavour—and he wanted the noodles to be extra soft. His should be topped with egg, fried shallots, boiled mustard greens, and sweet soy sauce, served inside a white Chinese bowl with a red chicken painted on it.

Grandfather always had his bowls of instant noodles exactly like that, every single evening, at the same time. He would be having it in front of the TV set in the living room—while watching the evening news or a soccer match.

Before bringing the spoon to his mouth, he always asked me the exact same question: “You want this? This is delicious. You want this?”

I would shook my head and looked at him as he savoured his instant noodles with gusto, slurping the savoury soup noisily. Sometimes, a splinter of boiled egg yolk were still stuck on his long white beard even long after he finished.

When in very rare occasions Grandmother made me a bowl of instant noodles, she would prepare it the way she prepared it for Grandfather. I didn’t like the mustard greens back then, but I liked the way the too-soft noodles made the soup seemed way thicker, the way they absorbed the full flavour from the seasonings.

No one could prepare the perfect instant noodles for Grandfather but Grandmother. My mother was a good cook, but even she couldn’t emulate Grandmother’s signature bowl of instant noodles. Grandmother also knew the way Grandfather liked his sweet hot tea; the precise thickness of tea and sugar, as well as the precise level of warmth when it should be served.

Grandmother prepared instant noodles for Grandfather every single evening, until one day she fell sick. She passed away a month later.

After Grandmother’s death, Grandfather still had his bowl of instant noodles every evening—the one prepared by my mother. He no longer asked me questions about whether I’d like to have the noodles or not, and I suddenly lost interest in watching him finishing his instant noodles. Maybe I was bored. Maybe I was simply growing up. Maybe the sight of Grandfather eating his instant noodles had stopped to excite me.

But I thought it was because something was missing:
the gusto.

A year after that, Grandfather passed away. As far as I could remember, I had never seen Grandfather served anything for Grandmother.

***

I AM always curious at the fact that a bowl of instant noodles can develop its own signature taste.

The noodles came in identical packagings, with identical seasonings, and identical instructions on how to prepare and serve them. Nonetheless, I have heard of people lining up in front of certain instant noodle street stalls because ‘the noodle here is so delicious‘.

I thought this would be something Grandfather would understand. Maybe he would line up in front of an instant noodle stall that served one with Grandmother’s style.

In Java, instant noodle stalls can be found almost in every corner of the street. Many stay open until the small hours. One should only look for street stalls carrying the word ‘INTERNET’.

A friend who visited from abroad pointed at those stalls one day, and asked me whether those were street-style internet cafes. I told him that it was a different kind of internet. This INTERNET stands for Indomie-Telur-Kornet (instant noodle, egg, and corned beef). It’s a bowl of comfort food for most Indonesians; as well as for clubbers who roamed the streets hungrily after partying hard, trying to prevent hangovers.

Another friend of mine would enthusiastically vouch for an instant noodle stall in another part of the town. It would take her 45 minutes to get there by car—an hour and a half if there was a traffic jam. But she would brave it all. She said this stall served the most delicious bowl of instant noodles she had ever tasted.

Probably it was the way they prepared the noodle.

About how long they boil it. About whether they stir it or not. About having it really soft or really chewy. About whether they put the seasonings into the pan or into the bowl. The kind of eggs they use. The amount of chilli they put in. On whether they sprinkle fried shallots or not. The brand of the corned beef. On whether they boil the corned beef or serve it right away from the can. On whether they put in green vegetables or not. On whether they grate the cheese before or after the noodle is ready. On whether they add some salt or chicken stocks.

Or maybe, ‘delicious’  has nothing much to do with the taste itself. Maybe it has more to do with memories.

***

WE moved out from my grandparent’s house into a rented one when I was 10. The house itself was really small. The kitchen was oddly located right in front of the bathroom. But it had a huge backyard.

Seeing it, as a little girl, I imagined a huge swimming pool; but my mother realistically decided to grow peanuts.

I didn’t know why she chose peanuts, but after spending a few hours under the sun in the backyard for a few months, she managed to grow 10-12 rows of peanuts there. I didn’t get my swimming pool, but my mother bought me a huge plastic bucket. On sunny days, she would fill it with cold water. I would soak myself happily; wearing my swimsuit and playing with a yellow rubber duck, while my mother worked on her peanuts.

During harvest time, we always had more than we could consume, and my swimming bucket would be filled with peanuts. My mother would boil several batches of peanuts for hours; I could smell them from the street. We would eat some of them, but ended up giving away most of them to our neighbours. My mother also made peanut cookies and peanut butter, but we kept those for ourselves.

When there were simply too much peanuts to handle, my mother would leave the peanut-filled swimming bucket outside our fence, so anyone could grab some.

However, peanuts were meant for sunny days. For rainy days, we had instant noodles.

My mother always scolded me for forgetting my umbrella—or for losing it. On some wet afternoons, when it rained heavily and I came home with a soaked uniform, my mother would scold me for not having my umbrella, while—at the same time—preparing a bucket of warm water for a bath. Then she would send me to the bathroom and reminded me to wash my hair so I wouldn’t catch a cold.

When I finished, my mother would have prepared my ‘rainy day’ meal on the dining table: a plate of warm rice with a bowl of steaming hot instant noodles; and some eggs—fried with margarin and sweet soy sauce. A glass of sweet hot tea would have been ready on the side. At this stage, my mother would have stopped scolding me about the umbrella. She would tell me the stories of her days; or ask me to tell some stories of my days.

My mother could cook anything from rendang to gulai, from gudeg to siomay, and they were always delicious. But nothing reminded me more of the comfort of coming home than the signature smell of her simple rainy day meal.

A warm plate of rice, a steaming hot instant noodle, egg fried with margarin and sweet soy sauce, and sweet hot tea. That was the best set of meal one could ever have after a long, tiring, and challenging day away from home. It was the smell I came home to—the taste of warmth I came to long for.

For the sake of living a healthier lifestyle, in the past few years, I had drastically reduced my frequency of consuming instant noodles.

However, every time I came home from a long traveling journey, I still treated myself to a bowl of Chicken Curry or Special Chicken, and fried myself an egg in margarin—drizzled with sweet soy sauce.

Because if coming home had a taste, to me, it would taste just like that.

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131 thoughts on “The Short History of Instant Noodles.

  1. <3!!!! This is beautiful. It's a raining day right now and all I can think about is "Ramens." As I read this I thought about how food always brings up such powerful and tangible memories of family, especially grandparents. And I haven't yet figured out why.

    1. a friend once told me that we always found home-cooked meal ‘delicious’ because it was the first taste known by our taste buds 😀 and we compared any other meals with that signature one.

      1. Sounds very true but I don’t think it tells the whole story. The story of why, after my grandmother died, I cried over the last bit of apple sauce that had been frozen in the fridge, and when that was gone I never ate apple sauce again, to this day. And many other examples like that!

          1. Thanks for the hug! I think a story collection like this from different authors would be amazing. Maybe I’ll do just that. We can call it “Instant noodles for the soul” hehehe

  2. I like to put frozen peas carrots and corn on my instant noodles. But my rainy day fix is a bowl of sinigang (sour soup made with sampaloc) with rice on the side and sprinkled with memory

  3. Reading this post reminds me of my Daddy. We also had so many great moments with instant noodles. After he passed away, the only way I could do to keep remembering him is by eating instant noodle (indomie cakalang is the best!), though the taste will never be the same because it’s not made by him.

    “Or maybe, ‘delicious’ has nothing much to do with the taste itself. Maybe it has more to do with memories.” This quote kicks my stomach.

  4. I also reduced instant noodles drastically. My comfort food now is steamed rice + eggs sunny side up + abon + fried shallot + sweet soy sauce. Also named as the food in the time of paycheck crisis 🙂

  5. hahah, gak ada anak kecil di indonesia yang menolak mie instant..dan salah satu makanan khas indonesia yang bisa menjajah afrika dan arab..INDOMIE

  6. i used t eat instant noodles in gymnasium, i was living in dormitories and did this to save money. nowadays I do sometimes grab a pot noodle or instant noodle just to have a nostalgic taste memories.
    we used to eat them with plain mayonnaise though. but think should try like this, or at least in similar way.

    1. aaaaw. what a reminder of how far you’ve come! isn’t it great when it becomes more of an option, instead of a must? 😀 plain mayonnaise! have never tried that! but would like to know how it would taste with mayo! 😀

      1. I still eat it like that lol
        Everyone seems to have their own way of making noodles.
        We all have our own unique personalities. It makes world such more interesting place to be

  7. Instant noodle sure brings back memories of my childhood when my grandma always scold me to never drink the soup, but it’s way too delicious to listen he her hehe.

  8. Such a well-written post! Really enjoyed reading it. I feel nostalgic now; there was a time during my teenage years when I would make myself a bowl of instant noodles every morning! 😃

  9. I didn’t realize that a bowl of instant noodles could have such an impact on someone’s life. As a culinarian myself, I never really thought of instant noodles to be “real” food. I thought of it to be a lazy way out. Thank you for sharing. I think I will go play with ramen now.

    1. maybe you’re right! it is a lazy way out! and sometimes that’s exactly what we want: to lazy around :’)) *gnam* 😀 happy ramen-playing! ^o^

  10. Delicious! And so fitting: although I’m in France right now, with a friend whose brother now lives in Thailand, we’re having a noodle soup too.
    Reading you made me smell those mouth-watering flavors and travel to Indonesia with you; a place still on my travel wish list…
    Bon appétit!

    1. let me know if you happen to visit this part of the world! I can make you instant noodles! 😛

  11. Noodles are my life!(figuratively) i must have eaten hundreds of them (not even joking!) I can be gluttonous when it comes to them. I am legit salivating rn and it amuses me how you’ve related such beautiful memories with such as mundane thing as noodles!

    1. 😀 mundane things are beautiful! I love mundane things 😛 they are comforting and familiar 😀

  12. a lot of us know that instant noodles are not good to consume regularly in the long run. but still, just like cigarettes, drugs and alcohol, instant noodles are somewhat addictive. and how come instant noodles in the warung, using the same packaging as ours at home, may taste different and even better still remains a mystery, in my point of view. there’s no exact answer to that question cause no one actually really knows it. besides, i remember consuming indomie after clubbing those days back in college and it was part of great memories of good old days. you carry out an ordinary / daily thing (for indonesians) out of the blue that seldom other indonesians really discuss it deeply. a very interesting post

    1. I remembered attacking a bowl of Internet at 3 am after finally managed to get out of Java Jazz’s parking lot :)) sooooo good! those MSG though… >.< thanks for dropping by and sharing your memories!

  13. I loved this. I like you grew up on these noodles. Like your grandfather, my grandma would make these instant noodles a certain way that always fulfilled the hunger that my brother and I had. When she passed away, I would make the noodles like she had in my past, but it never tasted the same.

    1. Aaaawww. Isn’t it amazing how people can leave their signature taste on your taste buds?

  14. On a scale of one to hungry…this post made a hell of a rumble in my tummy..but it’s amazing the stories that hide behind the meals,the laughter.. The sadness…impressive article

  15. This was an awesome post! It made me think of Proust’s In Search Of Lost Time, and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For The Time Being. This is some very nice nonfiction. More please😀🍚🍜☕

    1. OMG! You’re too nice!!! I hope Proust didn’t get mad about that :’D I have never read Ozeki, though! Will try to find her work! Thanks again for being so kind! *hugs*

  16. I grew up loving Maggi Assam Laksa instant noodles! To this day, I will “hunt” for this specific flavor in Asian grocery stores in the US or get them on internet stores. I do not eat it often but it’s my comfort food. I might even sing the jingle when boiling the water – “Maggi noodles fast to cook – good to eat … ” 🙂

  17. Just had some ramen yesterday! I actually don’t usually eat them anymore, but for me….. I love extra fresh lime in my noddles 💕

  18. I enjoyed reading this. You captured how instant noodles were not only part of your culture, but a remembrance of family. How you spoke of your late grandfather caused me to think about my late grandparents. My grandfather could only have my grannies biscuits. Once she passed he no longer ate them. She made them from scratch with a care that only her hand could impart to those delicate mounds of baked heaven. You wrote eloquently about your culture and family and I thank you for allowing me to reminisce about how flavors of home can bring memories back to the surface.

    1. I always feel a certain warmth when observing old couples :’) I sometimes wonder, how would I love once I reached their age. Thanks so much for sharing your memories! :’)

  19. 🙂

    Instant noodle is a luxury dinner for my family long time ago, Not because health reason something similar but because the price “600 rupiah per pack” is much more expensive than our garden vegie -which is free-

    I remember to choose the breakfast between instant noodle and sunny side egg. I can’t choose both because if I do, then mother will have a hard time to find me tomorrow breakfast.

    Masya Allah, remembering this thing make me remember that my mother and my father strive each day just to keep us alive and happy.

    1. Wow! This is such an interesting point of view! I guess you are right. When it is a ‘cheap’ option for some people (esp. in the cities), for some it could actually be a luxury food! I remembered one time when I was visiting a local’s shack in Muna island and they served me moringa leaves soup mixed with instant noodles. Moringa leaves are available everywhere around the village, and they can just pluck them out for free. They said usually they just have the moringa leaves and boil it with water and a bit of salt. But because there were guests (me + my friend), they decided to add the instant noodles to make this moringa soup ‘more special’! It touched my heart.

  20. This is a wonderful post. Almost everyone has memories related to instant noodles. When I first made instead noodles my parents wouldn’t stop praising me…. Only it wasn’t barely edible.
    But now I experiment with instant noodles. I like reducing it and then adding friend onions and tomatoes. It works. You can also add bits of semi-fried egg.

  21. instant noodles used to be my go to food during my high school and college days, when I was never worried about those extra carbs, darn I am getting old 🙁

  22. A compelling way to describe instant noodle. I feel the warmness of the noodle and your family😊 I’m currently craving of noodle in the middle of the night 😂

  23. I have strong memories from the cook’s perspective of the story…the joy of serving steaming broth to my little boy and the slurp of noodles as he chattered about his day…

    Love this post! Thank you!

  24. Beautifull story – I sooo want to travel now to all of the places you described… sigh… How do you feel about that instant noodles – or rather instant noodle-look-alikes – have become a thing recently. For some weeks, healthy elaborate, just-as instant noodle recipes have been waving through the net (see for example https://leckerbiss.com/2016/04/12/how-to-show-up-at-work-with-the-most-colourful-lunch-ever/). Does it compare at all or is it just too efficiently fit into the modern life style?? Best!

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  26. I am so going to make me a bowl of noodles this morning, I will be sure to look out for internet when I visit Indonesia. I love your story. Perfect.

  27. I like instant noodles. They can often save a lunch or dinner…or even late in the night they make you happy if you are hungry.

  28. I love noodles! I so wish I had the techniques described in your story to develop the perfect flavor at home. I always try to mimic my favorite places but can never succeed to the degree that they have. This made me want some noodles.

  29. It such a beautiful memories. I also like to have a bowl of instant noodle in rainy day. But, I don’t know why, I think some people could make instant noodle tastier than other people. Like it taste different when we have a bowl of instant noodle that we make and instant noodle that made in the stall. And right now, I’m just wondering how delicious is your grandma’s instant noodle. I really want to try it. 😃

  30. Something so small such as a bowl of noodles would have so much history and emotion behind it! I love noodles! Great post! 🙂 I liked it!

  31. This was a very interesting read. I expected something very humorous from the title, but instead I was greeted by a heartfelt and well told story. Memories such as these can be small, but mean something so much greater. Definitely something we should hold close to our hearts.

  32. I loved reading this. I grew up in a small town in Utah. We often had milk toast for breakfast. Everyone baked there own bread back then. This was before plastic bags and after four or five days the bread was getting stale. My mother baked bread usually once a week. The stale bread was toasted in the oven. Thickly sliced. And placed in a large bowl of scalded milk with butter and salt. Then quickly spooned into a bowl before it got to salty. I feel the same way about how good that was. Your wrighting paints a beautiful and interesting picture. I’m new to blogging and I have a lot to learn. Flip. From Flipslife.com

  33. This is nice, i just felt the warmness of how food can bring anyone closer to home. I lost my mother a few years ago, she’s a good cook, I know every recipe she has done, and yes, I believe it’s the way they held our food that made a difference to the taste. That is true love.

  34. Your story is a very beautiful written story. I must say that it made me think in my parents and my family. I am from Venezuela, live en Florida and now in Sydney visiting my son after a very delicate surgery. Here I have had the opportunity to try different noodle dishes. All of them very delicious. I really enjoyed your description to the point that I saw your grandfather, his beard and you when ten year old. Thanks very much for these lines

  35. I thought you were giving us the true HISTORY of the instant noodle. An Alton Brown type history of it’s invention, how it got popular in USA etc.

  36. Wow! I amazing post… I think some foods are closer to our heart because of memories rather than the taste… I can never forget the tangy n savory porridge my grandma would make for me n my cousins when I used to visit her in vacations.. I have pestered my mom to replicate it a lot of time n when I started cooking myself I tried it too…but to no avail… speaking of instant noodles though, I remember my hostel days when me n my roomie, both with zero cooking experience would survive on instant noodles for days , just because the great taste n simplicity of cooking them.. aah! mouth watering :p… Thanks for bringing back the memories!

  37. Special chicken instant noodles are my go to comfort food whenever i’m homesick <3 I'll drain the soup in a bowl, add a perfect sunny side up and hot dogs just like my mom did.

  38. Your style of writing is graceful and interesting to read. I’ll be your new frequent reader 🙂

    I love many kinds of instant noodles, from Indonesian to Japanese and Korean. They are just magically practical and yummy. But I don’t eat them too often, because you know, instant food has its price on health. So, to make it “healthy” I always put veggies in my bowl, either soy sprout, spinach or pak choy and of course a soft-boiled egg. Yum!

  39. Instant noodles are virtually a staple in this part of the world. My mum taught me to always have instant noodles in the cupboard in case of emergencies but we ate them whenever we wanted, especially during late nights. And Indomie! oh my … I actually panicked when there was an Indomie food scandal many years ago as I feared the end of my favourite dry noodles. Now it’s Ibumie. My love for instant noodle will never see an end. Lovely story that brought back many memories for me. Thanks!

  40. As a fan of instant noodles, I enjoyed this post so much! It was a huge part of my early 20s, enough that it was my main pregnancy craving when I carried my daughter. I crave instant noodles every so often, but like you for health’s sake I try not to eat them and go for real cooked noodles. Thank you for sharing your memories!

  41. This is a beautiful blog and I hope to continue being a firm supporter in your writings.
    Best of luck,
    Quinn Hollows from theperceptiveteen.WordPress.com

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