A Gaijin’s Guide to Instant Noodles

When I was speaking about this the response from my friend Minh was a disappointed  “White man advises fellow white men on entry level supermarket snacks.”

So here it is.

 

 

Throughout my life there have been a few experiences where I’ve just thought, “Damn, I’m very white”.  Now that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with that, there are some situations where you can feel a little out of place.  Preparing for this digital artefact was one of those times.

It was after work on a Monday night, the city was bustling; suits on their way home, others doing their shopping.  I was making my way downtown, walking fast, faces passed en route to Citi Super, the Asian grocers at Town Hall.  I go there often, so it’s not an unfamiliar place but that doesn’t stop it from being somewhat intimidating.  I didn’t grow up with much of the food there, and can’t speak any of the languages so my experience is probably very different to their average customer.  Now, this isn’t one of those little shops that cater to the Asiaphiles whose interest in eastern cuisine venture no farther than Pocky and matcha; no, this place is the real deal.

The instant noodle section takes pride of place near the fridges.  An entire isle dedicated to a food resembling early 2000’s Justin Timberlake is breathtaking.  The obvious language barrier is tough, so it’s not so much about what is written on the packets, but the funny cartoons or bright colours that catch my eye.  I’m standing there for what feels like forever.  Just staring blankly at the wall of noodles.  An older Chinese couple are watching me as I pick up packet after packet inspecting the flavour and country of origin.  I open google to aid in my investigation.  They giggle and keep walking.  I’m not in Kansas anymore.

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I make my selection, packets from all over the place.  Enough of a variety to gain a better understanding of each area’s different flavours.  At the counter, the attendant unpacks the basket.  She sees the assorted noodles and giggles.  “It’s for an assignment” I offer, hoping she would understand.  “Is there a brand you like that I should try?” She asks if I can handle chilli.

“Damn, I’m very white”

 

This, I feel is one of the key epiphanies from my experience with the topic of instant noodles.  The “Damn, I’m very white” phase is a rather crass way of conveying it, but I think it sort of works.  Not having grown up with any specific Asian influence, but the ‘western’ bastardisations popular dishes shaped my understanding of the region’s cuisine.  Now, I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to more authentic food, which has definitely changed how I viewed and interacted with it.  But over that time there’s been one thing that has remained a constant, the instant noodle.  When I was younger I ate the heinous yellow Maggi noodles that part of many people’s childhood.  Then progressing to varieties more true to their origins.  There’s a familiarity between them, but they can be just so far removed from each other as well.

What has become one of the most interesting parts of my experience throughout this assignment is how instant noodles are utilised across the globe.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and they were born through post-war necessity.  But now, they serve a different purpose to different communities.  Prior to this, I would have considered instant noodles to be a snack food.  They’re cheap, not particularly nutritional, and sold in convenience stores.  To me they weren’t a meal.  Many in the west would share the same sentiment; they’re a student, a last resort.  But across Asia instant noodles are seen so differently, they’re almost revered.

Rachel Bartholomeusz wrote a great article for SBS in 2016, also highlighting the disparity between how instant noodles are perceived globally.  She detailed her time travelling across Asia, having to dodge the synonymous Styrofoam cups at every turn.  Bartholomeusz also spoke to Dan Hong, the executive chef of Merivale joints Ms. G’s and Mr Wong.  Hong made a point that I think really ties speaks to why there is this difference of opinion on the noodles.  He said, “In Asian culture, it’s like the sandwich.  We don’t have sandwiches, we have instant noodles.”  So while convenience may play a part in why they are now so popular it’s deeper than that, it goes back to their origins.  When the US gave Japan flour and said for them to make bread they said no we will make what we know, and the instant noodle was born.  I found Dan’s comment about noodles being Asia’s sandwich… profound?  At least it has helped me to understand where the (not) obsession, but respect for the instant noodle came from.

 

My video is an investigation into the many varieties of instant noodles that can be found across Asia and at home.  I think that understanding the different types of noodles is important in learning how they can be utilised.  One of the things that was most influential in my thoughts on this was what the noodles represent or replicate.  The Maggi noodles we see lining the selves of Woolworths and Coles are snack food because that’s how they are presented.  Instant noodles won’t be taken seriously in Australia until there is some sort of finesse with them.  The noodles I tried from across Asia hard a deeper level of everything to them.  They were ‘convenient’ takes on actual dishes, and I think that makes a massive difference to how cultures perceive them.

 

Fantastic Oriental                                                         
Maggi Chicken Noodles                                                
Indo Mie Mi Goreng                                                      ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
SuperMi Mi Goreng Traditional                                    ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
MAMA Shrimp Creamy Tom Yum                                ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Nongshim SOON Veggie Ramyun                                ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Nongshim Mr. Bibim Stir-Fried Kimchi                        ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Nongshim Zha Wang Roasted Blackbean Sauce        ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Nissin Tonkotsu Flavor                                                   ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
SamYang Hot Chicken Flavor                                       🔥
SamYang Hot Chicken Flavor ‘2 x Spicy’                      🔥🔥

 

 

Bartholomeusz, R. (2016). Embrace the instant noodle. [online] SBS. Available at: http://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2016/01/25/embrace-instant-noodle [Accessed 25 Oct. 2017].

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