The food is often a low-end option for Chinese people short of money, time or cooking facilities.
Japan, considered the spiritual home of instant noodles, boasts a dazzling array. Masaya “Instant” Oyama, 55, who says he eats more than 400 packages of instant noodles a year, rattles off a sampling: Hello Kitty instant noodles, polar bear instant noodles developed by a zoo, black squid ink instant noodles.
In Tokyo, 33-year-old Miyuki Ogata considers instant noodles a godsend because of her busy schedule and contempt for cooking. They also bring her back to the days when she was a poor student learning to become a filmmaker, and would buy two cup noodles at the 100 yen shop. Every time she eats a cup now, she is celebrating what she calls “that eternal hungry spirit.”
In South Korea, it’s all about speed, cost and flavor.
Thousands of convenience stores have corners devoted to noodles: Tear off the top, add hot water from a dispenser, wait a couple minutes and it’s ready to eat, often at a nearby counter.
Some even skip the water, pounding on the package to break up the dry noodles, adding the seasoning, then shaking everything up.
“It’s toasty, chewy, much better than most other snacks out there,” Byon Sarah, 28, who owns a consulting company, says of a technique she discovered in middle school. “And the seasoning is so addictive — sweet, salty and spicy.”
Cheap electric pots that boil water for instant noodles in one minute are popular with single people. Making an “instant” meal even faster, however, isn’t always appreciated.
At the comic book store she runs in Seoul, Lim Eun-jung, 42, says she noticed a lot more belly fat about six months after she installed a fast-cooking instant noodle machine for customers.
“It’s obvious that it’s not good for my body,” Lim says. “But I’m lazy, and ramyeon is the perfect fast food for lazy people.”
A recent U.S. study linking instant noodle consumption by South Koreans to some risks for heart disease has prompted a passionate response throughout Asia, where the noodles are not just a cheap treat but an essential part of life. Some comments from noodle lovers across Asia:
“Eating instant noodles is like smoking cigarettes,” said Han Seung-youn, a 36-year-old photographer and daily instant noodle eater in South Korea. “Everyone knows continued…