People. Flash frying. Tempura. And how the history of instant noodles is a lesson in design principles.
What makes great instant noodles? Why, the same principles that make great design!
Principle #1: Observing
The idea for instant noodles came to its inventor, Momofuku Ando, when he saw a long line of people queuing up after World War II. They were “dressed in shabby clothes shivered in the cold“, but were prepared to wait a long time for “noodles to be cooked to order in vats of boiling water“, just so that they could have a hot bowl of ramen.
Mr Ando thought to himself why not make it easier, and and why not try to do it himself? And thus, the seed for the invention of instant noodles was sown in his mind.
Principle #2: Serving People’s Needs
To turn his idea into reality, Mr Ando knew that it had to serve the working class which was suffering from poor nutrition after the war. That meant the noodles had to be “cheap [and] decent“. He was guided by his philosophy of life:
Peace will come when people have food.
Eating wisely will enhance beauty and health.
The creation of food will serve society.
Mr Ando also considered other cultures. He chose to use chicken soup, instead of soup or stock from other types of meat because
“By using chicken soup, instant ramen managed to circumvent religious taboos when it was introduced in different countries.. Hindus may not eat beef and Muslims may not eat pork, but there is not a single culture, religion or country that forbids the eating of chicken.” (Source: New York Times)
Principle #3: Prototyping and Adapting
But Mr Ando faced a huge challenge. Despite spending almost over a year experimenting at home, he “had trouble getting the moisture out and keeping any flavouring in“. Working day and night, he was nowhere closer to a solution until he saw his wife cooking vegetable tempura.
He realised that was the answer. Like the vegetable tempura, all he need to do was to flash fry i.e cook in very hot oil for a very brief period. That would drive the moisture out while sealing the flavors in. The first successful batch of instant noodle was born, and in the first year after, he had sold 13 million bags of instant noodles.
Principle #4: Repeating
Despite the phenomenal sales, Mr Ando did not stop there. Once again using his powers of observation, he noticed the Americans “breaking [the noodles] in half, placing them in a cup and dousing them in hot water“. He thus…
“…realised that a Styrofoam pot that narrowed at the bottom was the best vessel for holding the noodles and keeping them warm. Consuming them was as easy as opening the lid, adding water and waiting a bit. The simplicity, efficiency and low price of Cup Noodles transformed Nissin’s [Ando’s company] fortunes… [and] helped spark the popularity of instant noodles overseas.” (Source: Financial Times)
Principle #5: Making an Impact
Today, instant noodles can be found in every corner of the world and
“Over the past half-century, it has fed everyone from starving students to hikers, cops, firefighters, soccer moms and office workers too busy for anything except a quick bite at their desks. Homeless people camping out on heater grates eat the stuff, while the privileged can find it offered as a snack in first class on jets crossing the Pacific.” (Source: Paul Saffo)
No wonder then that instant noodles have been voted by the Japanese as the top invention of the 20th century!
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