Monday, January 08, 2007

Instant noodle nation

Indonesia is the second most ramen-eating country in the world, behind South Korea. Which I find hard to believe, because I can't imagine a more ramen-saturated country. Every supermarket in Jakarta devotes an aisle to a dizzying array of instant noodle brands and flavors. Walk down any good-sized street and you'll see packets for sale, as well as warungs eager to cook you up a bowl. Typically they add a hard-poached egg and a few leaves of spinach-like greens to make a more substantial meal.

Mie rebus (boiled noodles) at a warung in Puncak : classic breakfast of taxi drivers, students, and other people in a hurry

Indonesians love noodles for the same reason American students do: they're wicked cheap. The price of rice has gone up 30% in the last year for a variety of reasons I won't bore you with. The price of noodles has remained stable at 5 to 10 cents a package.

Instant noodles are like an invasive plant: they drive out native staples. Here they supplant rice; in Mexico they're replacing tortillas. This gives nutritionists migraines because ramen is about as bad as it gets: it's full of starch, calories, fat and not much else, leaving a double-whammy of malnutrition and obesity in its wake. The noodle companies have responded by fortifying some of their products with vitamins, but I'm a little dubious about that.

Crunchy shallots, sweet soy sauce, chili sauce, flavored oil -- oh, and noodles

I do have to say, though, that Indonesian noodles are much more fun to eat than their American counterparts. Naturally they come with the traditional flavoring powder made of MSG and what my family calls "chicken squeezings". But that's not all! They also include one or more of the following: chili sauce, powdered chili, onion- or chili-flavored oil, the iconically Indonesian sweet soy sauce, and crunchy fried shallots to sprinkle on top. There's even a new kind that has little "dumplings" in it -- which is fine if you think of dumplings as tiny rectangles of cardboard.


m said...

tiny rectangles of cardboard!

I'm having flashbacks to cups of ramen noodles and late nights in the college dorm room...

Chad's Dad said...

So - were you aware that NPR reported on the inventor of Ramen noodles who died today.

kopisusu2 said...

No way! That was a total coincidence. It should be a national day of mourning here. I think I'll go eat a bowl of Spicy Onion Chicken with extra MSG in his/her honor.

Scott McLean said...

Hi! Happy New Year a bit late! I still enjoy noodles, although I've branched out a lot in terms of what I can find to eat. So glad I'm not eating college food anymore. haha

Colbert said...

A great tribute to the Ramen Noodle Guy in the NY Times: