Momofuku Ando is credited with inventing the instant ramen noodle in Japan, and in one swipe, he single-handedly solved the food shortage problem along with changing Japanese cuisine forever. The inventor of instant ramen noodles has become an unlikely foodie hero around the whole world, with hip restaurants even springing up all around the cuisine of making instant noodles. As a result, he has earned the respect of the whole Japanese nation as a Japanese cultural icon, though the funny thing is that he was not even Japanese, to begin with.
Following a poll in 2000, Japanese residents concluded that instant ramen noodles were without a doubt the biggest invention of the 20th century. It seems odd now that you can find instant pack noodles everywhere – but actually, they were only invented in 1971. Ando died at the age of 97 in 2007, but his noodle legacy lives on and his fame continues to grow as the world becomes obsessed with finding the best instant noodles.
Ando was born as Wu Baifu in Taiwan in 1910, he emigrated to Japan after World War I, which is when he took his new name. As a working adult, he had a whole range of jobs, including things such as sock sales or making salt. Yet always in his spare time, he was creating and tinkering with recipes, and it was not until he was in his late 40s that he suddenly knew what he had to do: create instant ramen noodles. His biography states he was inspired by a group of people hunkered around a ramen noodle pot in Osaka. This was a time when food shortages were happening everywhere, after World War II, and Ando was certain that noodles were the answer for solving world hunger.
There are cracks in his beautiful story of trying to solve world hunger, his first noodle product was marketed as a luxury product and sold for a higher price than fresh noodles. Ando also had a time in jail for tax evasion, though he has always claimed it was due to providing scholarships to students. So it appears that Ando was at the end of the day trying to make money as a business.
That being said when he followed up his original instant noodle product with Cup Noodles in 1971, inspired by customers using coffee cups instead of ramen bowls, the explosion of instant noodles did take off. Competitors entered the market, and we now see instant noodles are one of the cheapest ways to eat in the world – so, in the end, we can say Ando has helped provide a solution for world famine.