Whether you’re a parent of small children, a college student or a professional on a tight budget – you know that Ramen has always been the most convenient source of sustenance.
Because ramen has become such a major staple in virtually every country, it begs the question of why such a simple dish became such a huge hit. Where and when did the obsession begin?
How did anyone think that dried noodles and hot water could change the world the way that it has?
The history of ramen is one that’s fraught with controversy, happenstance, luck and Solt.
Yes, Solt, not Salt, NYU professor George Solt that is. He’s a historian who’s delved deeper into the ramen bowl than just about anyone else. He’s not a chef by any means, as he himself admitted at a university lecture, but he does know a thing or two about ramen.
The first thing he’ll tell you is that ramen didn’t actually come from Japan – it came from China.
The method for actually making the noodles uses a method featuring kansui, a mixture of baking soda and water which gives the noodle its chewiness and yellow color. That, combined with meat broth, shows that ramen did not originate in Japan by any means – it shows that its roots are Chinese.
It’s widely believed that ramen was a Chinese spin on the Japanese soba noodle dish. Ramen became increasingly popular in Japan because of its proliferation among blue collar workers who didn’t have too much money. Because ramen was so cheap and filling, they quickly fell in love with it.
The first iteration was called shina soba, and the dish caught on in the 1930’s when the Japanese Empire invaded China. The first ramen shop, was actually called Nankin Senryo which translated as hominem for “occupation.” The dish quickly became a favorite of young radicals.
Ramen’s proliferation was quickly halted by World War II. Because of food shortages and famine, the government had to place extremely tight restrictions on crucial food supplies like wheat and grain.
It got so bad that restaurants and merchants were expected to give up their wares at a loss, and anyone caught selling food – including ramen – was liable to be thrown in jail. This forced wheat and flour into the black market, enabling many to pursue ramen in the shadows.
When the war finally ended and the Japanese Empire abated, free market forces once again reined the direction of this staple food. And, in 1958, a game-changer was born – instant ramen.
Ramen’s appeal to middle-class women with small children, workers moving to newly-enmergent cities and, of course, young students is what made the dish a naturalized commodity. While it wasn’t cheap to begin with, many other instant ramen producers soon popped up and drastically undercut their competitors because the dish was so cheap to produce.
As Japan’s economy flourished, so did its most iconic carb source.
Today, ramen exists as an easy alternative to just about everything and can be served in a variety of ways. Ramen soup inspired instant noodles with sauce rather than broth, and all of it can be found now for just cents on the dollar.
Because ramen became so cheap, it is now at the forefront of world humanitarian efforts and the campaign to end world hunger.
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