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We’re just that into mie: Asia’s obsession with instant noodles
We’re just that into mie: Asia’s obsession with instant noodles
We use data to find out why.
Asia ❤️ instant noodles
In a 2000 poll, Japan voted instant noodles as the country’s best invention in the 20th century. It looks like the rest of Asia agree. According to the World Instant Noodles Association (yes it's legit), Asians are the biggest consumers of instant noodles. Eight out of the top ten countries for global consumption are situated in Asia.
Top 10 countries with the highest demand for instant noodles
Why is Asia so obsessed with instant noodles? To find out, we looked at data from the Ramen Rater, the reigning authority on instant noodles.
Instant noodle brands are mostly from Asia
Distribution of instant noodle brands according to their country of origin
According to the Ramen Rater, he gets his instant noodles from different sources. He buys them, or they are gifts from fans, retailers, big instant noodle distributors, and corporations. While we do not claim that his list is representative of all the available instant noodle brands out there, Asian brands do dominate. The Nissin brand from Japan is virtually synonymous with instant noodles worldwide. And even when brands originate from Western countries—like Maggi which is Swiss—Asian countries hold the biggest market share.
Since Asia is both a big exporter and consumer of instant noodles, we wanted to follow up by seeing if localisation was a big factor in explaining Asia’s instant noodle craze.
Local noodles, local flavours
Gone were the days where instant noodles were simply dried noodle blocks. To stay ahead of the competition, instant noodle companies have come up with noodle types and flavours that are familiar to Asian palettes. Anyone feeling homesick can instantly get a taste of home by grabbing a curry flavoured maggi mee, or by slurping a bowl of jjajangmyeon (black bean sauce noodles) while watching mukbang videos (eating broadcasts) for the full experience.
Types of Noodles
Enterprising companies have found a way to convert various asian noodles into instant ones. Noodle types are plotted based on how many times they occur in the dataset.
Noodle types that are common also tend to be quite versatile. Take udon for example. It may have originated from Japan, but countries like South Korea have given it their own spin with the pojangmacha (street food) udon.
Instant noodles flavours
Perhaps you have eaten tom yum-flavoured instant noodles before even trying the real tom yum soup. The diversity of instant noodles flavours has enabled people to sample different cuisines at an affordable price.
Distribution of flavours across countries
Curry and spicy flavours are most well-loved across Asia, which makes sense as a lot of its cuisines use spice.
We have a theory: instant noodles sizes are proportionate to the size of the people. To test it out, we compared the average weight of the population (male and female) with the weight of each country’s most common instant noodles.
Average mass of person against the average mass of 1 serving size of the most common instant noodle per country
Surprisingly, the lightest (India) and heaviest (Taiwan) people do have the lightest (70g) and heaviest (200g) instant noodle packets. But everything else in between does not support our theory. If we consider the sheer variety of instant noodles that exists, it makes sense that companies would not be able to tailor the portion size of instant noodles to each country.
Instant noodles are cheap 💵
Instant noodles has helped alleviate the hunger of millions, from cash-strapped college students, to low-wage workers on a budget.
To see how affordable instant noodles truly are, we compared the most common instant noodles in each country against the price of other common food items, like one litre of milk and a fast food combo meal. Turns out, instant noodles are very affordable, with Indomie being the most cost-effective at US$0.18. Taiwan and Japan are slight outliers, crossing the US$1.00 mark. A possible explanation for Taiwan is that the chosen instant noodles, “TLL Taiwan Huadiao Chicken Noodle” is a premium instant noodle with actual chicken slices inside.
Price of 🍜instant noodle compared to 🥛milk and 🍟fast food
Ramen Rater's 2019 Top 10 List 🏆
It would be sacrilegious to use Ramen Rater’s data without showing his famous top ten instant noodles list, so here are his picks for 2019.
We explored the potential reasons why instant noodles are so popular in Asia, but sometimes it is difficult to quantify the love of something.
When Momofuku Ando invented instant noodles in 1958, he wanted to design a form of sustenance which would tide people through tough times. From the start, instant noodles was about celebrating humanity.
61 years later, instant noodles is still fulfilling this purpose. In 2010, South Korea shipped three million cups of instant noodles to North Korea as a food aid, a first for the two divided countries.
Instant noodles also reveal the idiosyncratic sides of people. “Ramyeon meokgo galrae?”, translated as, “You wanna eat ramen before you go?” became a way for shy millennials in South Korea to gauge romantic interest in 2017. Reddit is filled with posts about instant noodles, from tips on how to elevate it, to discussions over what people add to the noodles. Kylie Jenner set off a frenzy when she shared her ‘secret’ instant noodles recipe on Snapchat. It may seem silly that we care so much about a convenient food item. But instant noodles has always been the food of the people. As the Momofuku Ando’s saying goes:
- References (click to expand)keyboard_arrow_down
- instant noodles,
- momofuku ando,
- ramen rater
Disclaimer: Our stories have been researched and fact-checked to the best of our abilities. Should you spot mistakes, inaccuracies, or have queries about our sources, please drop us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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