Ramen isn't just a go-to for broke college students anymore. The Asian soup's popularity has exploded, with real-deal chefs taking the noodles to new heights (or even turning them in to a Ramen Burger) around the world. But have you ever wondered how the humble noodles got their start? Read up on the backstory behind the dish, then get creative with our fun ways to upgrade ramen noodles-everything tastes better with a pinch of history.
1. Ramen was invented in China
Fossil evidence shows that noodles were made in China as early as 2000 B.C., but the dish has since come to be known as a specialty of Japan. There's much debate about how ramen made its way to Japan-some historians believe it was a scholar named Shu Shunsui who brought the recipe with him when he escaped Manchu rule in China, while others believe it was the restaurant Rai-Rai Ken in Tokyo that popularized it. Regardless, ramen carts and stalls began popping up all over Japan in the 20s, which were frequented by students and blue collar workers.
2. It originally had a different name
The noodle dish was first known as shina soba, which translates roughly to "Chinese-style soup," before it's popularity exploded. It's since been called ramen, which some linguists believe could be an adaptation of the Chinese term for hand-pulled noodles, la mein.
3. World War II inspired instant ramen
Japan's involvement in the war led to food shortages and famine throughout the country, and tight government regulations on food leaving the people with little to eat. The long lines of starving people waiting in line for noodles at the time inspired a Japanese man, Momofuku Ando, to fulfill the demand for ramen. He invented instant noodles and began selling mass-produced, packaged ramen in 1958. He later founded Nissin Foods.
4. The noodles are deep-fried
The chewy texture of ramen sets it apart from other noodles. Kansui, a mixture of baking soda and water, provides the consistency as well as the yellow color. Before instant ramen is packaged, the noodles are fried in oil to parcook and dehydrate them so they're just right when they're prepared at home.
5. It took 5 years to develop Cup Noodles
Making ramen even easier to cook and eat wasn't an easy process, but the pre-portioned styrophone cups with seasoning and vegetables was finally introduced in 1971. The affordable meals, which just require hot water, were marketed under the name Kappu Nudoru, which translates to Cup Noodles in English.
6. We eat an insane amount of it
Maruchan entered the ramen business in the 1970s, bringing a wide variety of Asian noodle products to the American market. The company produces 3.6 billion packages of Ramen Noodle Soup each year, which if strung together, would stretch from earth to Mars and back again! Today there are over 35,000 ramen noodle restaurants in Japan.
7. It comes in some crazy flavors
Chikin (chicken) was the first flavor of ramen put out by Nissin Foods, and they've since expanded to beef, shrimp, oriental and chili-flavored noodles. Maruchan has expanded on the offerings even futher with flavors like Sriracha chicken, roast beef, lime chili shrimp and even cheddar cheese noodles.
8. Ramen can cure a hangover
The seasoning packets that come with each batch of instant ramen hold magical powers. Well, at least it feels that way on the morning after! The spice mixture is packed with sodium, which can replenish the salts that your body loses through dehydration from drinking. Next time you reach for a bottle of Gatorade to soothe your throbbing headache, think about slurping a bowl of Breakfast Ramen instead!
9. There are two museums dedicated to it
If you're in Japan, you can get seriously schooled on the history and different varieties of ramen out there. Check out the Ramen Museum in Yokohama, or the Instant Ramen Museum in Osaka, which honors Momofuku Ando's invention with interactive displays and demo stations that look like something out of Willy Wonka's factory.
10. It's even been to outer space
Nissin Foods invented a special noodle that's edible in space called "Space Ram," which was later eaten by astronauts aboard Space Shuttle Discovery! The noodles also reached great heights in 1987 when Dr. Gene Ellis hiked to the peak of Mount Everest and brought Maruchan ramen with him.
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