When you hear the word "ramen," what do you think of? If you are a Westerner, African or West Asian, chances are you think of dried noodles with some strange powder, served in a styrofoam cup. You pour boiling water into the cup, wait for three minutes, and serve. Instant ramen is also usually inexpensive, leading to the quote above where having to eat ramen on a daily basis is an implication that you're close to broke. Which companies and brands you see most often will depend on the country you're from:
- Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa: Maggi's Two-Minute Noodles (actually from India). These usually comes in bags and you're expected to use your own bowl. Clones like Cintan and Mamee are also prevalent in Malaysia. In fact, Maggi has had a Brand Name Takeover in Malaysia and Singapore, and any mentions of Maggi by default automatically means instant noodles. On the flip side, cup noodles from the likes of Nissin are considered more upmarket products and are more expensive despite the smaller servings.
- Some Australians (in particular recent uni students) prefer Indonesian brand Indomie's Mie Goreng.note Indomie also has a sizable following in Malaysia due to the number of Javanese immigrants and that because it's Halal, resonates with the Muslim population.
- United Kingdom: Unilever's Pot Noodles or Batchelors Super Noodles.
- The United States and Latin America: Maruchan's Instant Lunch, Nissin's Cup Noodles, and Top Ramen.note
- France: Mamee. note
- Canada: Mr. Noodles, Nong Shim, and Sapporo Ichiban. Nissin is also fairly common as well.
- In an example of Brand Name Takeover, "ichiban" is often used as a generic term in Canada to refer to any type of ramen. In the original Japanese, it means "number one". This is no longer the case in areas with large East Asian populations where ramen instead will refer to the fresher non-instant versions served in restaurants.
- Poland: Yum Yum, Vifon and Knorr Nudle - the last one has many unusual flavors for ramen, including Hungarian goulash and tomato soup, the latter being especially popular locally.
- Russia: Korea Yakult's Doshirak and local Rollton brand,note although recently Nong Shim started to make a dent. Chinese/Taiwanese brand "Master Kang" and Vietnamese "Choice", "Mivimex" and to the lesser extent "Mivina" (which is more popular in Ukraine) are the locally popular imports, as are the Japanese brands, which are seen as a more upscale product, often costing as much as a freshly made dish of ramen in the Japanese restaurant. Flavored instant mashed potatoes often take the place of instant noodles as the main cheap food product, to the point of being sold in cups similar to instant ramen.
- Germany: Maggi 5-Minuten-Terrine
- Indonesia, Nigeria and The Middle East (minus Israel): Indomie, favored for being fairly good and halal. In Egypt and the Levant (especially Jordan), Indomie just refers to any instant ramen.
- Israel: Osem's Mana Hama
- Philippines: Lucky Me, Nissin, Payless (no, not that footwear company, though both brands do exist side by side in the Philippines without any apparent confusion; also a joint venture between local company Universal Robina Corporation and Japan's Nissin), and Quick Chow (Maggi being discontinued around the 2010s, though the brand remains for other food products)
We shall begin with dehydrated noodles, as this is more familiar to a westerner than fresh ramen. While "ramen" refers strictly to a specific type of Japanese noodle (often in soup), the term is also used to refer to any package of dehydrated noodles with seasonings for a single serving. On the other hand, recently many producers started to differentiate between various type of noodles, so one can encounter amusing combinations like "udon instant ramen".note
Instant noodles were invented by Andō Momofuku, a Taiwanese Hokkien man born to a merchant family that had done well during the Japanese occupation of the country. Andō had moved to Japan in 1933 and set himself up in business in Osaka; after the conclusion of World War II, he found himself in control of a fairly extensive commercial empire. Among his many commercial ventures was his business as a salt merchant, giving him knowledge of the food industry inside out. Once in 1947, at the height of the postwar poverty in Japan, he saw a long line to the ramen shop in Osaka, and thought that it'd be nice if the people wouldn't need to wait outside for hours to eat. He then went to experiment in his storage-shed-turned-a-lab in his backyard, and after 11 years of experiments finally found a solution: fry the freshly boiled ramen in palm oil until crisp to remove moisture, then pour concentrated chicken stock over, dry it off and sell. So in 1958 his first product, Nissin Chicken Ramen, was out. Later, he or one of his employees invented a styrofoam cup, and so Nissin Cup Ramen was born. Andō died in 2007, at the ripe old age of 96 (eating his invention everyday, mind you), but Nissin Food, his company, remains the largest player on the market up to this day.
There are dozens of companies creating literally hundreds of different sorts, with at least one representative from every Oriental country. Step into an Asian (or even a general) supermarket, and you will see an entire aisle devoted to these noodles, usually spanning both sides. Dehydrated noodles exists for Indonesian mi goreng, Vietnamese pho, Japanese udon and yakisoba, Thai tom yum and pad Thai, Korean jjajang, Chinese wor wonton, and so forth. There are even dehydrated versions of Western noodle dishes such as carbonara and spaghetti from the likes of Nissin, Lucky Me and many other Asian food companies, some of which are marketed towards children who are perhaps begging their parents to serve them spaghetti in a whim. Udon is an odd case in that the noodles do not dehydrate properly, so they are normally shipped undehydrated and stored refrigerated, separate from the other types of ramen, or simply vacuum-packed, though in this case it's better to check the expiration date carefully — they have somewhat shorter shelf life. Nevertheless, preparation techniques are the same as their dehydrated kin.
But the familiar styrofoam cups are not a given: they are characteristically Japanese and in foreign markets managed to get a hold mainly in US, so in other countries cup ramen would most probably be imported. The cheaper varieties will most commonly come in bags, which are meant to be prepared at home; but some more upscale types will come in plastic/cardboard bowls or buckets, which are meant to be prepared at school or at work. Most will cook in the same way as the familiar cup noodles (immerse the noodles in boiling water for 3-5 minutes, then uncover), though you should expect to see separate packets for the soup powder, as well as the occasional packets for chili powder, hot sauce, oil, soy sauce, fried garlic, vegetables, vinegar, etc., in addition to the brick of noodles. Some (mostly various versions of the ubiquitous fried noodles, such as mi goreng or yakisoba) require you to soak the noodles, drain, and then season them. Some brands require no preparation at all—you'd eat the dehydrated noodles as they are (actually most could be, as they're all ready to eat, rehydration just makes them more palatable). The approach depends both on the manufacturer and the type of dish.
What all dehydrated noodles have in common, however, no matter what country they're from, is that they're symbolic of poverty — or, at least, not exactly stable life. Which is somewhat ironic, given that initially instant ramen was seen as an upscale product, and cost significantly more than the real stuff: the original asking price of the Nissin Chikin Ramen was 36 yen per portion, while the common ramen stall in Osaka would sell you the large bowl of the fresh stuff for something like 15 yen in 1958. Things changed since, though,note and now whether it's the starving university student, people living alone flooded in debt, or folks who have fallen on hard times, whenever you see someone in fiction pouring boiling water into a brick of rock-hard noodles, you can tell they're hungry for money as well as food. Quite Truth in Television, as instant noodles are quite cheap and can be prepared quickly. The somewhat more nutritionally conscious might put in some veggies and an egg, although most brands nowadays, especially Nissin, also pack dehydrated eggs, veggies, and meat along with the noodles and the seasoning.
Meanwhile, the classic fresh noodle ramen has remained a staple of Japanese street food, food stalls, and small restaurants. While ramen in all forms has generally been low-priced fast food, since 2010 there has been a surge in interest for higher-quality professionally prepared ramen both in Japan and elsewhere (especially in the US), with a handful of high-end restaurants specializing in the dish, in much the same way macaroni and cheese (which in the US is similarly seen as a poverty food, especially in its pre-packaged form) became a focus of 'quality comfort food' restaurants in the US around the same time. There has been a flurry of online activity regarding it as well, with video tutorials and recipes showing up for those interested in making it themselves.
However, for most people, the familiar instant noodles remain the image they have when discussing ramen.
In either form, it is very likely to be Trademark Favorite Food for characters in media like manga. Interestingly, in manga and related media nowadays, there is a tendency to depict ramen as Trademark Favorite Food for even rich and high class people, or at least as some kind of delicacy to them.
Dehydrated noodles as seen in media
- Part of Haruhi's "commoner food" in Ouran High School Host Club.
- The heroes in Cowboy Bebop always find themselves eating dried noodles of various types due to their constant lack of money. It becomes a Running Gag. This being the future, the cups have a little steam-making device built into them.
- Lucky Star has a few scenes with instant ramen, discussing the tendency to forget about it while it's cooling.
- Resident ojou of Seitokai Yakuindomo also appears to be quite fond of ramen.
- One of the Project X nonfiction business documentary mangas is about Nissin and the creation of the Cup Noodle.
- In one episode of Patlabor, the prince of a Middle Eastern nation comes to visit Japan to check out their mecha police program. After becoming friends with the show's police squad he becomes enamored with "commoner" food and demands to be provided with every flavor of dried noodles they can find.
- Despite living with a very good cook, Kazuki Yotsuga and Ken Sanada of Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure wind up sneaking instant ramen at midnight, saying they need that cheap junk food taste.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, Cup Ramen is specifically stated to be Jack Atlas' Trademark Favorite Food. Justified, in the sense that he (along with Yusei and Crow) grew up as an poor orphan in Satellite, and they were so deprived that even eating cheap Cup Ramen is a considerable luxury for them. Jaeger/Lazar, a Circus Brat from a third-rate circus, has a very similar background, as it's shown that his mother sold her wedding dress to buy him one cup of ramen as a birthday present one year, which he shared with his siblings. It motivated him to find a better-paying career to support his family, eventually becoming Rex Goodwin's number two in the Public Security Maintenance Bureau.
- A specific brand, Red Demon's Noodle (a reference to his Signature Card) was a focal point in one episode.
- In one chapter of Area 88, McCoy sells Shin a case of cup ramen, which Shin much appreciates as a taste of home. Meanwhile in Japan, Ryoko decides to just have a cup ramen instead of eating anything fancy. The chapter closes with both of them waiting on their serving of cup ramen to finish cooking—Shin with a huge grin on his face.
- Dragon Ball Super: Vegeta bribes Whis with instant ramen to get Whis to train him.
- In a bit of Filler in the "Stone Wars" arc of Dr. STONE, Senku reinvents dehydrated cup noodles as convenient field rations for the Kingdom of Science, using natural cold and vacuum chambers to freeze-dry them. This saves them from having to hunt or carry heavy food packs, allowing them to travel much faster.
- Lupin III characters are regularly seen eating cup ramen. Zenigata is often short on time and money while pursuing the gang, it's one of the few options to satisfy Goemon's strong preference for Japanese food while abroad, and the gang's finances are barely a step above Perpetual Poverty despite the members' skills.
- In A.A. Pessimal's Discworld and The Big Bang Theory crossover The Many Worlds Interpretation, Ponder Stibbons is introduced to instant ramen in a laser research lab at Caltech by Leslie Winkle. He tastes them and instantly realises there are Dibblers on Roundworld. He deduces this because like a Dibbler sausage, you can't believe what you're eating, you sense the plastic pot would be more nutritious and less harmful than the contents, you have suspicions as to what nameless stuff goes into it, and yet knowing all this, you still want to eat the stuff.
- In Uglies, they have tons of types of dehydrated meals, many involving noodles, which are all written in CamelCase.
- In The Tomorrow Series, city girl Fi is entirely unfamiliar with Two-Minute Noodles. Jack tells her about him subsisting on Two-Minute Noodles for a whole week when living with his father before the war.
- In Red Dwarf, Lister refers to "Pot Noodles" as a meal of last resort. He eats dog food over them in "Marooned", and in "Angels and Demons", when on a "perfected" version of the Red Dwarf, he tests its perfection by ordering Pot Noodles from the food dispenser.
- In a first-season episode of Breaking Bad, Walter White gives a pack of ramen to his old business partner Elliott Schwartz as a memento from their days working together as struggling graduate students.
- An early episode of ER had Dr. Ross catching Dr. Carter preparing to feast on a cup of instant noodles, despite being from a very wealthy family. Turns out, his family cut him off due to a disagreement.
- In Once Upon a Time, when Mr. Gold is banished from Storybrooke and moves in with Ursula the Sea Witch, he's shown making ramen noodles in the microwave as an illustration of how far he's fallen. Ursula explains to him how it works, to which he irritably points out that he's been in the real world almost as long as she has.
- On Orange Is the New Black, the inmates use ramen seasoning packets to season the disgusting food that is introduced after the corporate takeover of the prison.
- Queer Eye (2018): Jessie, the heroine of "Black Girl Magic", often eats instant noodles, mainly because it's usually the only food that she is able to afford. Antoni shows her how to make "cheap and cheerful" homemade chicken broth ramen for when she and her Found Family is sharing a meal together.
- In Ace Attorney, Dick Gumshoe frequently finds himself eating ramen... when he can afford it.
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater takes place in 1964, and ramen is an uncommon item that offers excellent stamina recovery, and doesn't rot like other foods.
- Instant noodles return as standard healing items in both Metal Gear Solid 4 and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
- Nissin Cup Noodles won the lottery on Product Placement in Final Fantasy XV, where it serves as Gladiolus Amicitia's Trademark Favourite Food. There is a dedicated food truck in Lestallum that sells cups of noodles, which can be prepared when the party makes camp. Approaching said truck near the middle of the game begins an entire sidequest where Gladiolus convinces the party to find a special ingredient of the player's choice to make the perfect cup; meat (from a Behemoth), shrimp (from a Big Creepy Crawfish), or egg (from a Phoenix roosting on the Rock of Ravatogh). In this case, it doesn't serve as an indicator of money troubles (your main player character is the Crown Prince of Lucis), but of a lack of cooking skills; it's one of two options that can be prepared while team chef Ignis cannot cook due to losing his eyesight, with the other being a cold food tin.
- One subplot in Yakuza 3 revolves around a food conglomerate trying to replicate the signature dish at local ramen restaurant in instant form.
- Cup 'O Ramen is a very cheap quick meal available in The Sims 2: University.
- Project SEKAI: Instant noodles are Kanade's Trademark Favorite Food, as their quick prep time and ease of consumption allow her to focus more time on composing music. The game also collaborated with Nissin for the 50th anniversary of the Cup Noodles brand, adding five songs from famous Vocaloid producers themed around Japanese Cup Noodles flavors.
- In Undertale, Instant Noodles are a food available in Dr. Alphys's lab. Unlike other food items, however, when consumed, you are described the entire process of preparing them (it doesn't take quite as long, but...it gets the point across), and are about as healthy as in real life, as they only grant you 4 HP. If you use them in one of the possible final bosses, however, you instantly consume them and they max out your HP. "They're better dry".
- Implied in a few NPC thoughts in The World Ends with You — they don't specify, but 100-yen ramen is probably not a fresh bowl from Ramen Don. Incidentally, that very shop does offer insta-noodles in exchange for a 100-yen pin (cash not accepted for this product); unlike Ken Doi's other fare, this one is no good for Stat Grinding as it only boosts your sync rate.
- The students in PHD feed off of dried ramen and free food.
- Despite being French, Mona Montrois in C'est la Vie is incapable of cooking: she appears to live on cigarettes, strong drink and pot noodles (instant ramen).
- Noblesse has the main character having ramen as his Trademark Favorite Food despite his high-class background.
- In Freefall, Florence the uplifted canine recalls that in her student days her standard meal was a bowl of instant ramen and kibble.
Florence: They combine better than you would think. The downside was when my college roommates found out, they ate all my kibble.
- There is a video out there (on YouTube) where purely for scientific interest, two willing volunteers prepare and consume a twelve-year-old Pot Noodle found in the forgotten dark depths of a food cupboard. What worried them was that while it looked grey and unappetising, it still tasted broadly as if it were still fresh. Preservatives are there for a purpose, it seems...
- The YouTube foodie/food science channel "Alex the French Cooking Guy" has made an entire series of videos describing his 'addiction' to instant ramen, which - in keeping with the rest of his channel - he then used as a jumping-off point for discussing many cooking topics, such as taste and texture, the health concerns involved with instant noodles, the science of how dehydrating foods works, the differences in instant ramen and traditional ramen, the different flavorings which can be used with or made for them, and how the noodles are made. He does this over (so far) twelve videos showing his quest to find the best way to make dehydrated instant noodles himself for his own use.
- The YouTube channel "How to Make Everything"'s video on re-inventing instant noodles using primitive technology was not conspicuously successful, but interesting nonetheless.
- Yet another YouTube foodie personality, Barry Lewis, tried to replicate Unilever Pot Noodlesnote , one of the most popular instant noodle brands in the UK. Unlike some of the others, he didn't try to make the noodles himself (instead using some existing noodles), focusing on replicating the 'instant cup' packaging and the other ingredients included in the package (dehydrated chicken, sweet corn, and mushroom, specifically).
- One memetic Discord conversation features someone asking for help making instant ramen, and goes from failure to failure until it turns out the poster ate a block of uncooked ramen noodles with no flavoring, washed down with hot salt water... and it took him 45 minutes.
Fresh ramen as seen in media
- The eponymous character in Naruto is a fan of ramen, preferring the fresh kind when it's available, but also eating the dehydrated packaged ones on a daily basis. The series has a ramen bar, Ichiraku Ramen, that's internationally famous. It's telling that even after everything Naruto went through (up to finally becoming Hokage and starting a relatively well-off family of his own), he still brings his family and friends to Ichiraku, as a mark that he remembers his roots.
- Ramen Fighter Miki focuses on competing ramen delivery services.
- In One Piece, Wanze fights using ramen noodles as armor and as grappling.
- Oishinbo has devoted chapters here and there to ramen and other noodles.
- AIR: Kunisaki Yukito is dirt-poor, third-rate street performer who will do anything for a bowl of real ramen.
- Miss Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles is about the eponymous character visiting different ramen joints.
- In Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, Chika Fujiwara has gotten several chapters dedicated entirely to her eating ramen, during which she usually ends up encountering one of "The Four Ramen Emperors", a group of three men (and one woman) who are regarded as the ultimate connoisseurs of ramen.
- In Dr. STONE, Senku reinvents fresh ramen to impress the villagers and get them to provide manpower for his science experiments. They instantly love it, though to pre-Stone Worlders like Senku and Gen it tastes like a poor imitation of real ramen. As it was made from foxtail millet (which lacks gluten), it would realistically be very brittle, more like soba.
- Tampopo is considered the classic Japanese ramen movie (a "Ramen Western", if you will).
- The Ramen Girl, a movie about an American woman who follows her boyfriend to Japan, ends up getting dumped by him and left stranded there, and later drowns her sorrows at a local ramen restaurant. To cope with the loss, she vows to become an expert ramen cook and convinces the restaurant owner to train her in cooking ramen. She also gains the ability to create empathetic food - putting her tears in the broth - and uses it in the closing scene of Probably Happily Ever After back in the USA.
- In The World Ends with You, there's a ramen restaurant (Ramen Don) whose food affects the player characters' stats. In Week 2, Day 3, a mission revolves around Ramen Don and a rival ramen shop which opens a few doors down.
- Persona 3 had Hagakure Ramen as a typical hangout location, usually important for Social Links.
- Ramen has apparently become an Earth delicacy in the Mass Effect universe by the time of Mass Effect 2. Kasumi speaks about her grandmother preparing it, and a cook at a restaurant on the Citadel can also be overheard talking about it. Alternatively, the chef is trying to con some Citadel tourists into eating "genuine" Earth cuisine.
- Grunt the Krogan and Extreme Omnivore at that dislikes ramen, because it looks like dead worms to him.
- In one of the levels of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan the cheerleading squad has to help the owner of a failing ramen shop revitalize his establishment.
- In Pokémon Sun and Moon, the restaurant in Seafolk Village is famous for its ramen.
- In Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, Travis can recover all his health in the middle of a level by purchasing ramen dishes from Bugjirou's traveling stall. Each time, you get a distinct variety of ramen, and you unlock an entry in Travis's ramen blog. Said blog is basically Food Porn in written form, raving about how great each type of ramen is—and then invariably subtracting points because the restaurant doesn't also serve beer.
- Binging with Babish dedicated an episode to making proper, fresh, ramen, specifically recreating dishes from the previously mentioned Tampopo. He even apologies to the pork cutlet.
- Adam Liaw has a series of YouTube videos entitled "Ramen School", covering how traditional ramen is made from scratch, including how to make the noodles themselves, the various traditional sauces and other flavorings used with them, the preparation of the soup stock, and so forth, with a number of videos dedicated to specific types of traditional ramen.
- The website "The Way of Ramen" and its corresponding YouTube channel of the same name is Exactly What It Says on the Tin: a site/channel exclusively dedicated to making fresh ramen, using both traditional recipes and techniques and more avant-garde ones.
- One of the things which the channel's host, Ryan, encourages is for people outside of Japan to experiment with combining traditional Japanese ramen preparation methods with locally-sourced ingredients, as a way of making it a truly international, but also local, dish. One of the fruits of this was this video from the channel "My Name is Andong" on making a German-themed ramen dish.