I published this essay on this blog a few years ago. Today, I am republishing the revised version of this essay, edited by Jen Campbell.

Whenever it’s raining outside, my mind always goes to a bowl of instant noodles. A steaming plate of comfort topped with egg and fried shallots, drenched in my favorite savory soup, such as Chicken Curry or Special Chicken flavor, which I loved as a little girl.

Of course, these days various instant noodle brands have come up with all kinds of flavors I never could have imagined. But, like with most things, nothing beats the classics.

I guess it’s all about how the signature taste transports you back to the old days from the very first sip: to feast on memories; to slurp a piece of nostalgia; to savor a feeling of going back in time.

***

There was a period in my life when Mother and I moved in with my mother’s parents. Every evening, after the call for Maghrib prayer, Grandmother would disappear into the kitchen and prepare a bowl of instant noodles for Grandfather.

Grandfather always opted for the Chicken Curry flavor—and he wanted the noodles to be extra soft instead of al dente. His should be topped with egg, fried shallots, boiled choy sum (Chinese flowering cabbage), and a tablespoon of sweet soy sauce, all served—steaming—inside a white Chinese bowl with a red rooster 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 in the living room, while watching the evening news or a soccer match. Before bringing the spoon to his mouth, whenever I was around, he always asked the exact same question: “You want this? This is delicious. You want this?”

I would shake my head and watch him in amusement as he savored his instant noodles with gusto, slurping the soup noisily. Seeing him made me believe that here, right in front of me, sat an old man who was having the best meal of his life. Sometimes, long after Grandfather finished his meal, a splinter of boiled egg yolk sat stuck in his white beard.

When (on 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 bitter choy sum back then, but I liked the way the too-soft noodles made the soup seem way thicker, the way they absorbed the full flavor from the seasonings.

Grandmother continued to prepare a bowl of 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—only now, they were prepared by my mother. She took great care to emulate Grandmother’s noodles.

Grandfather would have his meal as usual, but he no longer asked me whether I’d like to have the noodles, too, and I suddenly lost interest in watching him finish his dinner. 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 then I realised it was because something was missing: his gusto.

I guess no one could prepare the perfect instant noodles for Grandfather but Grandmother.

My mother was a good cook, but even she couldn’t precisely copy Grandmother’s signature dish. Grandmother also knew the way Grandfather liked his sweet hot tea: the precise thickness of tea and sugar, as well as the exact level of warmth when it should be served.

A year after that, Grandfather passed away. And then no one in that house ate instant noodles anymore.

***

I am always fascinated by the fact that a bowl of instant noodles can develop its own taste. These noodles come in identical packaging, with identical seasonings, and identical instructions on how to prepare and serve them. Nevertheless, I have heard of people lining up in front of certain instant noodle street stalls, who are all selling the same brand, because ‘the noodle here is so delicious’.

I thought this would be something Grandfather would understand. Perhaps, in another life, Grandmother would have her own stall, and Grandfather would visit every day.

In Indonesia, especially in the big cities on Java island, instant noodle stalls can be found on almost every street corner. Many stay open until the small hours. One need only look for street stall signs proclaiming 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 (a brand of instant noodle, egg, and corned beef). It’s a bowl of comfort food for most Indonesians—especially for clubbers who roam the streets hungrily at 3 am after partying and drinking hard, trying to prevent hangovers before heading home and sleeping through the morning.

A local 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 in her life.

Perhaps it was the way they prepared the noodle.

Or how long they boiled it.

Or whether they stirred the noodle or not.

Perhaps it’s due to when they added the seasoning.

Or the kind of eggs they used.

The amount of fresh bird eye chili they put in.

Whether they sprinkled fried shallots, or not.

It could be the brand of the corned beef and whether they served it from the can.

Whether they put in some leafy greens.

Whether they grated cheddar cheese.

Whether they added a sprinkle of salt or chicken stock.

Or maybe ‘delicious’ has nothing 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 ten. The house itself was really small. The kitchen was oddly located; it was right in front of the bathroom. But the house had a huge backyard.

Seeing it, as a little girl, I imagined us having a huge swimming pool. But my mother sensibly decided to use the space to grow peanuts.

I don’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 of them. I might not have got my swimming pool, but 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, playing with a yellow rubber duck, while Mother worked on her peanuts.

During harvest time, we always had more nuts than we could consume, and my swimming bucket would be filled with them. You could say we were swimming in peanuts. 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 neighbors. She also made peanut cookies and peanut butter, but we kept those for ourselves.

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

Peanuts were meant for sunny days.

For rainy days, we had instant noodles.

Mother always scolded me for forgetting my umbrella—or for losing it. On some wet afternoons, when it rained heavily and I came home from school with a soaked uniform, my mother would tut at 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, reminding me to wash my hair so I wouldn’t catch a cold.

By the time I finished bathing, Mother would have prepared my ‘rainy day’ meal on the dining table: a plate of warm pandan white rice with a bowl of steaming hot instant noodles; and some eggs—fried in margarine and sweet soy sauce. A glass of sweet hot tea would be ready on the side. At this stage, my mother would stop scolding me about the umbrella. She would tell me the stories of her day; or ask me to tell some stories of my day.

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 bowl of steaming hot instant noodle, egg fried in margarine and sweet soy sauce, that glass of sweet hot tea.

It is the smell I come home to—the taste of warmth I’ve come to long for.

***

After Mother’s passing, for the sake of living a healthier lifestyle, in the past few years, I have drastically reduced the frequency I consume instant noodles.

However, every time I come home from a long traveling journey, I still treat myself to a bowl of Chicken Curry or Special Chicken, and fry myself an egg in margarine—drizzled generously with sweet soy sauce.

For this reason, when I found an Asian supermarket in my first few weeks after moving to Amsterdam, I shrieked in ecstasy at founding the exact instant noodle brand of my country; my grandparents; my childhood; my memories.

Every few weeks now I treat myself to a packet of Chicken Curry instant noodle (finding the most bizarre excuses to validate this ‘treat’)—preparing it in a too-clean kitchen that still feels foreign to me, a kitchen that now smells of cheap margarine, fried egg, and caramelized soy sauce.

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

hanny

137 Responses

  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!

  25. Hi every one we are reliable grower and supplier of Moringa Seed,Leafs,powder,Oil and other products at competitive price.

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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

  42. Mbak Hanny, tulisan ini yang bertahun-tahun lalu membuatku ingin bisa menghasilkan tulisan yang bisa meneduhkan sepeti ini. Terimkasih ya mbak, it means a lot to me.

If you made it this, far, please say 'hi'. It really means a lot to me! :)

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