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Instant Ramen

Spreading Around the Globe

Pasta-like instant ramen

Pasta-like instant ramen sold in Europe. (Nissin Food Products Co.)

Instant ramen produced in Japan is exported to 43 countries around the world, many of them in Asia. The amount of instant ramen eaten overseas is more than seven times the amount consumed in Japan. Nissin's Chicken Ramen was the first brand to be exported, going on sale both in Japan and overseas in 1958. Momofuku Ando, who was president of the company at the time, sent a few samples to a company in the United States and was surprised at the positive response: A request came right away for Nissin to send 500 cases. Beginning around 1964, requests to set up joint ventures and form technological alliances came in one after another from companies in countries like Italy and South Korea.

Curry-flavored vegetable ramen

Curry-flavored vegetable ramen sold in India. (Nissin Food Products Co.)

Today Japan exports some 92 million packs of instant ramen every year. Most of the 41 billion packs that are eaten in the world annually, though, are produced overseas in the countries where they will be consumed, and the noodles have been customized to suit the tastes and eating habits of local people. For example, chicken soup is used for the base in the United States, while tomato-flavored and cheese-flavored ramen are popular in Brazil. In Europe, meanwhile, the soup is a bit thicker, and chicken and tomato flavors are well-liked. Spice is the key to popularity in Asian countries. Instant ramen sold in China is flavored with such spices as fennel, cinnamon, and star anise, and the noodles sold in Thailand have the taste of the traditional spicy and sour tom yum soup.

halal mark

The halal mark used in Malaysia. (Nissin Food Products Co.)

Flavor is not the only consideration when selling instant ramen in other countries. Hindus do not eat beef because the cow is sacred to them, and Muslims do not eat pork because they see the pig as a dirty animal. So for India, where Hinduism and Islam are the two major religions, vegetarian ramen flavored with masala (spices) is produced.

And in Islam, a prayer must be said when an animal is killed. Food that conforms to Muslim dietary tradition is called halal, and only the meat of an animal properly killed may be eaten. So in a predominantly Muslim country like Indonesia, it is only natural that packages of instant ramen carry the halal mark.