Walking down the instant noodle aisle of the Wing Yip supermarket in Cricklewood is a wondrous assault on the senses. Each phosphorescent packet, box, and cup on the shelves make up a cavalcade of colours and flavours that seems never-ending. Roasted beef! Abalone and chicken! Porkchop! BBQ! Sesame! Hot and sour shrimp! I even spy a flavour called "Seafood Party" as I make my way to the checkout and, while I’m not entirely sure what that get-together is composed of, I sure as hell know that I want an invite.
Instant ramen holds a place that’s near and dear to my heart, and running my eyes over the selection of noodles in any supermarket – greedy for a quick, easy, and salty snack – always takes me back to my childhood.
Maggi's masala-flavoured noodles were the first thing that I was properly able to cook. Opening up a packet of those noodles, breaking them apart with my childish scallop-sized hands, and throwing them in a pot of boiling water was a rite of passage; an initiation into a world of adulthood where I could now fend for myself. Provided that all you needed to be an adult and fend for yourself was a bowl full of bright yellow noodles. And not, like, a stable income or a mortgage or anything like that.
My brother even used to take a packet of dry Maggi into school for his lunch. He’d pour the seasoning (chicken was his flavour of choice) onto the dry noodle cake like it was salt or pepper and eat it like that, acoustically. Looking back now, I’m not sure if that was absolutely absurd or absolutely genius behaviour. The older I get, the more I lean towards the latter. And the older I get, the more I’ve come to realise that instant noodles have been there for me at just about every major juncture of my life so far.
Moving to the UK from the UAE when I was 18 meant that I was offered a whole new cornucopia of instant noodles to choose from. Super Noodles and Pot Noodle dominated the shelves in England and, though I’ll admit to having a few rogue Chicken and Mushrooms in my time, they never tasted as good as Maggi and didn’t satisfy me in quite the same way. A discovery I did make at university, though, was Indomie.
Those brittle bricks of Indomie Mi Goreng got me through more break-ups, breakdowns, and breakfasts than I care to recount and hearing the news that the flavour’s creator, Nunuk Nuraini, passed away in January of this year was a real punch to the gut. I’d never met Nuraini personally but, in a roundabout fashion, I’d been fed by her countless times. I’d go as far as to say that the only woman who’s provided me with more sustenance over the years is my own mother. For that, I’m eternally grateful to both Nuraini and Indomie. And I’m far from the only person that feels that way.
Shuko Oda, whose London-based udon outfit Koya has been shipping nationwide noodle kits since February, is also a fan. Although Oda didn’t eat a huge amount of ramen growing up, her mother used to fry up Yakisoba noodles for weekend lunches on a regular basis. It was Oda’s first-hand experience of Japanese noodle culture growing up that inspired the creation of Koya Mail – a refreshingly minimalist meal kit concept that contains nothing but a generous portion of handmade udon noodles and a bag of fish dashi.