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March 12, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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R.I.P. Momofuku ‘Mr Noodle’ Ando, 1910-2007

In Japan’s industrial hub, Osaka, there is a baseball dome home to the Orix Buffaloes. And in this dome, on February 28 this year, a ceremo- nial ring of 34 Buddhist monks stood with 6,500 mourners to officiate funerary rights beneath a gigantic banner, emblazened with the visage of an elderly man. This man was Momofuku Ando.

The monks, with their thousands of adherents, were celebrating the journey of his ashes into space, for Momofuku was the most revered inventor of post-war Japan, Mr Noodle. The wiry old fella in oversized sunglasses died in January. He is survived by his beloved Noodle Museum.

Momofuku has always been an enigma. In his book Momofuku Ando Speaks, he praises bosses who indiscriminantly shout “what are you doing now?” at employees. “Calling out to them in this way shocks them into re-evaluating what they’re doing,” he explains. Although Taiwanese by birth, Momofuku moved to Osaka as a young man during the days of the Japanese pan-Asian Empire. After making his fortune as a textile industrialist during the Second World War, he stumbled upon two revolutionary ideas: in 1958, a noodle deep-fried in palm oil to remove moisture for longevity; and in 1971, a vacuum-sealed plastic pot for accessibility.

In a poll conducted in 2000, Japan voted the instant noodle its greatest modern invention, above karaoke and the CD. Mr Noodle was particularly attached to his creation, opening the Noodle Museum in 1999. What does one do in a noodle museum? Perhaps one exclaims “hey honey, take a look at that, there’s a whole room of strings of food that all look the same…I am in a stringy room”.

According to the former Japanese Prime Minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone, whenever you break open a 50 cent pottle of instant noodles, those spindly strands of dried flour and water, steeped in saturated fat, whenever you pour in the boiling water and add the flavour sachet of ground up animal stock, salt and MSG, you are imbibing “a culinary culture that post-war Japan can be proud of.” In the USA, on the other hand, Momofuku’s noodles have had sordid dealings in politics. In 2004, Republicans accused Michael Moore of committing electoral fraud when he gave out free noodles to “slackers” in return for their promise to vote.

The pot noodle is a talisman of ultimate ease. Its saga stretches back to the first valleys of human civilization, and forward into the nether of space. Archaeologists working in the Yellow River Valley in China have recently identified the earliest known variety of string-like flour food as a 4,000 year old millet-noodle. Their continued existence is being put down to the vacuum seal in which they were kept – the same conditions as those in the Momofuku pot noodle. And in 2005, the sealed snack was consumed in space by Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi aboard the US vessel Discovery. So, emulating his adored offspring, Mr Noodle’s ashes have been sent to space to float about for eternity, never to have water added or have dried food sprinkled on it. All alone, just floating out there…

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Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

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