Tastes Like Japan: Discover the Country’s Punk Rock Soul with Noodle Ice Cream
The easiest way to experience a country’s culture is to immerse yourself in its traditional cuisine and give it a taste.
Country foods are also windows to their soul.
Have burgers. Hand-held, quick to assemble and swallow, they embody a quintessentially American idea that founding father Benjamin Franklin put on paper in 1748 and that still fuels ambitious people on Wall Street and beyond. “Remember,” Franklin wrote, “that time is money.”
In China, food is so ubiquitous in the national psyche that people greet each other with the phrase âchi fan le ma? And the snobbery of French cuisine prompted the famous omnivorous president Jacques Chirac to one day joke nastily to the British: “You can’t trust people whose food is so bad.”
This brings us to the Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama, Japan. Yes, there is such a place. And, yes, instant noodles have a lot to say about the Japanese traits of inventiveness, risk-taking, and openness to adapting and modernizing foreign influences that helped Japan recover from WWII. world to become an economic, cultural and gastronomic titan. Some of those same traits have, over the past two weeks, also helped Japan achieve the unlikely feat – or madness, the jury is out – of hosting the Olympics in the midst of the pandemic.
Allowing 11,000 athletes from around the world, some carrying the coronavirus with them, was a testament to Japanese resilience, hospitality and flexibility. Now back to ramen, with – excuse the pun – a potted story. Japanese sifted noodles from neighboring China, where they are called “lamian”. Over the years, Japanese chefs have elevated ramen to art, a mind-boggling array of flavors, textures, and choices. In short, Japan absorbed foreign influence and improved it. It will be the same later with automobiles, gadgets and – for fans of “My Hero Academia”, “One Piece” and other manga – cartoons, to name a few. Back to the noodles, however.
Horrified by the food shortages that ravaged post-war Japan, the impoverished former credit union employee Momofuku Ando came up with the idea of ââturning surplus American wheat into ramen that hungry people could cook with just hot water and a few minutes. Ando’s eureka moment came as he watched his wife fry tempura.
This gave birth to the idea of ââfrying the noodles to dehydrate them. Ando’s first instant noodles were launched in 1958. Cup Noodles followed in 1971. The idea for this idea came during a study trip that Ando made to the United States in 1966, when he saw consumers of his instant noodles rehydrate and eat them from paper cups.
This is, according to Nissin Foods, the reason why Ando founded the company. Cumulative worldwide sales of Cup Noodles surpassed the 40 billion mark in 2016. Ando died in 2007 at the age of 96. But his inventive spirit lives on in what has to be one of the most unique taste experiences in the world: Cup Noodle ice cream. Served only at the Cup Noodles Museum, in its fourth-floor cafeteria, it’s made with the same powdered soup and freeze-dried toppings – onion, shrimp, egg pieces, and meat – as used in real Cup Noodles. Museum visitor Noriyuki Sato, who tried it, described it as “sweet and savory”, neither here nor there. âI’m not sure that word has meaning for foreigners,â he said. “It’s not sweet, and neither is it salty.”
But it’s a monument to thinking outside the box and a Japanese talent for merging seemingly incompatible things into whole new ones. It’s hard to imagine an Italian glacier going so daringly off the beaten track. Nissin Foods spokesperson Kahara Suzuki said the ice cream – after tasting it, one is reluctant to call it a dessert – embodies “what I would call a punk rock spirit that many Japanese people have.” . “Who would ever have had an idea like this?” I mean, it’s very unique, âSuzuki said. “You can see this punk rock spirit in all aspects of Japanese life.”
Definitely on Japanese plates. Some other examples include the fruit sandwiches sold in convenience stores and the popular rice burgers. Since May, they and their tastes have been joined by rice pizzas – developed by Sachie Oyama, Head of Innovation and Head of Menu Innovation Department at Domino’s Pizza Japan Inc.
The Domino’s Deluxe version is, in effect, a pizza built on a base layer of compressed and pre-cooked white rice grown in Japan, instead of the usual pizza dough base. The rice base is then covered with a rich tomato sauce and topped with traditional pizza ingredients: mozzarella cheese, onions, peppers, pepperoni and Italian sausage.
Domino’s sells the product line only in Japan. Oyama calls it âa pizza you can eat yourself,â rather than sharing slices. “The Japanese are good at rearranging things,” she said. “A combination with pizza and rice isn’t a strange thing at all.” Maybe not. But such foods help explain why Japan never seems to stop. After all, there are always new tastes to be invented.