Noodles and Controversy

One now, and one later

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It seems that when cities in the US started shutting down this past month, the consensus was that restaurants should continue with delivery and takeout operations. To feed people, yes, but the emphasis was on keeping businesses afloat.

Last week, though, I saw some restaurateurs poking their contrarian heads out and saying they think everyone should close completely for the duration. Andy Ricker told Portland Monthly that watching food prep in the commissary, the Trump administration’s unashamed concern for money over humans, and Floyd Cardoz’s death all informed his decision to close. On the East Coast, Tom Colicchio has shut down his restaurants as well. (For now.) It could be argued that business owners of their caliber can afford to close, but I think they’re making their decisions in good faith. After all, Colicchio is more or less a full-time activist now.

On the other hand … reading about true mom-and-pop restaurants trying to survive will make you tear up.

[What do you think? Complete restaurant shutdown or stay open for takeout and delivery? Or some other option? Tell us here.]

An Unlikely Museum

By Emily Beyda

The Osaka CupNoodles Museum lies tucked away in one of the least tourist-friendly neighborhoods of the city. To get there you have to ride a series of increasingly pokey commuter trains, before walking through a sleepy grey neighborhood where the most exciting local industry is a bustling FamilyMart. Not the most convenient approach to a museum dedicated to one of the world’s oldest convenience foods. But in some ways the pilgrimage aspect of visiting the ramen museum is fitting. What quickly becomes apparent once you arrive is the cult-like aspect of the world of instant ramen, and the lifetime of perfectionistic fiddling that lead to its creation.

Photo: Boaz Rottem/Alamy Stock Photo

The centerpiece of the museum is a recreation of the backyard workshop where Momofuku Ando - the namesake of chef David Chang’s noodle slinging empire - first developed the concept for instant ramen back in 1958, working, according to the museum’s literature, for long hours into the night in the converted chicken coop. The space is similar to Colonial Williamsburg, small and dark, with rusted equipment cluttering every surface, including the packed dirt floor. There is an impression of chaos, something impossibly rustic and vaguely serene, and inside you almost feel transported to that quiet backyard, so long ago. 

The illusion doesn’t last long once you step outside though. The rest of the museum is all slick modern convenience, with sliding walls and digital displays presenting fun ramen facts and figures, including a giant rotating Cup Noodles whose styrofoam surface rotates to reveal the enormous puck of noodles and moonlike slivers of magnified dried shrimp and vegetables scattered atop it. There’s a multilingual touch screen table top ramen quiz game and a theater where you can watch a film on the history of instant ramen. For the photo-driven, there is a rainbow wall of every flavor of cup noodles currently in production, including rarities like Curry and Spicy Seafood flavors, and a tunnel of historical Cup Noodle oddities, featuring a timeline of brands that sprung up in the wake of Ando’s success. 

Photo: Christian Kadluba/Flickr

But for true cup noodle connoisseurs, the real draw is the two in-house DIY ramen stations. If you’re really serious about the art of the Cup Noodle, you can sign up for classes in the industrial kitchen, where you can learn to knead, spread, and steam wheat flour dough, drying it via flash frying. For the rest of us, there’s the automatic Cup Noodle cafeteria downstairs. Buy a cup at the vending machine, decorate it with markers, and hand it off to the helpful ladies stationed behind the sneeze guard with freeze-dried ingredients for you to choose at your whimsy. Take your pick before watching your creation be vacuum sealed and packed into an inflatable sphere to protect it from being crushed on your long journey back into the heart of Osaka, and wherever your travels take you next.🍜

CupNoodles Museum in Osaka and its sister location in Yokohama are currently planning to reopen on April 8.

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This newsletter is edited by Katherine Spiers, host of the podcast Smart Mouth.

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