Ramen: voted the greatest Japanese
invention of the 20th century. Photo ©
Olga Nayashkova | Fotolia.
It may be old news, but we just came across an old Japanese survey that names instant ramen as “the greatest invention of the 20th century.”
We would have passed it by, but for the the fact that Nation’s Restaurant News recently published an article about how ramen was trending among chefs in U.S. restaurants—albet the original ramen, not the instant noodles (see “The History Of Ramen,” below).
In 2000, Fuji Research Institute, a financial research firm in Tokyo, asked 2,000 adults in the region to rate the greatest Japanese inventions of the 20th century.
They were given three categories: manufactured goods, culture and technology.
Japan is known for its technological innovation. So most people were surprised that ramen, instant noodles, was voted the best invention of the 20th century.
Created in 1958, instant ramen went into commercial production in 1971. Worldwide, almost 50 billion cups are now consumed each year.
THE TOP 10 JAPANESE INVENTIONS OF THE 20TH CENTURY
No. 1: Instant ramen
No. 2: Karaoke
No. 3: Headphone stereo sets
No. 4: TV video games
No. 5: CDs
No. 6: Cameras (which were not invented in Japan—see footnote*)
No. 7: Filmmaker Akira Kurosawa (editor’s protest: a person is not an invention)
No. 8: Pokemon
No. 9: Automobile-related technology
No. 10: Sushi (however, it should be noted that sushi was actually invented in the 19th century)
While the Fuji Institute’s survey may not have been the most scientific, it does show one thing: Even in a country famous for its technology, food rules.
*The first camera, called the camera obscura, dates back to the ancient Chinese and Greeks. It projected an image on to a surface but did not create a permanent image. The first photographed camera image was made around 1816 in France by Nicéphore Niépce. In 1837 his partner, Louis Daguerre, created the first practical photographic process, the daguerreotype, using silver-plated copper plates. Commercially introduced in 1839, the date considered as the birth year of practical photography. It was replaced by easier processes in 1860, including paper-based negatives and much shorter exposure times. The use of photographic film was pioneered by George Eastman, who started manufacturing paper film in 1885 before switching to celluloid in 1889. His first camera, the Kodak, was first offered for sale in 1888.
THE HISTORY OF RAMEN
Ramen are Japanese wheat noodles. While they are known to Americans largely as salty, inexpensive packaged noodle soup mixes, in Japan there are as many varieties of noodle and recipes as there are prefectures, ramen dishes are fine cuisine and innovation is the name of the game, where recipes are closely-guarded secrets.
The concept of a dish of noodles in meat broth—chicken or pork—originated in China. It differs from native Japanese noodle soup dishes, in that until ramen appeared, Japanese broth was based on either made from vegetables or seafood.
The type of noodles and toppings used in ramen also came from China. It is believed that “ramen” is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word “lamian,” meaning “hand-pulled noodles” (as opposed to noodles that are sliced with a knife).
While some ramen dishes began to appear in Japan in the late 1600s, they didn’t become widespread until the Meiji Era (1868 through 1912), when Japan moved from being an isolated feudal society to a modern nation.
Top Ramen, the brand invented by Momufuku Ando of Nissin Foods. Photo courtesy Nissin Foods.
Foreign relations and the introduction of meat-based American and European cuisines led to increased production of meat, and played a large role in the growing popularity of ramen. Almost every locality or prefecture in Japan created its own variation of the dish, served at restaurants.
The growth of ramen dishes continued after World War II, but was still a special occasion that required going out.
Soup recipes and methods of preparation are closely-guarded secrets in many restaurants. Beyond regional variations, innovative Japanese chefs continue to push the boundaries of ramen cuisine. Curry ramen, invented in the Hokkaido region, became a national favorite, as has ramen based on the Chinese dish of shrimp in chili sauce. Non-Japanese ingredients such as black pepper and butter have found their way into recipes.
Here’s a recipe for homemade pork ramen soup.
Check out this article, which details the different type of ramen by region.
THE INVENTION OF INSTANT RAMEN
In 1958, instant noodles were invented by Momofuku Ando, founder and chairman of Nissin Foods. Named the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th century in a Japanese poll, instant ramen allowed anyone to make this dish simply by adding boiling water. Exported, these ramen soup packages soon became a pop culture sensation across the globe.