This Day In History: August 25

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To help address the food shortage crisis in Japan after World War II, inventor and businessman Momofuku Ando develops Chicken Ramen, the first-ever instant noodles, on August 25, 1958. The shelf-stable noodles are readily available, take two minutes to cook and fill hungry bellies. Today, instant noodles are a ubiquitous global fast food—and not just in college dorms. More than 100 billion servings of the just-add-water meals are consumed annually, the World Instant Noodles Association reports.

While ramen is considered quintessentially Japanese, it actually originated in China. In 1858, when Japan ended its nearly 200 years of self-imposed isolation, cultural exchange and trade began to flourish. An influx of Chinese migrants brought their culinary skills to Japan, introducing the wheat-based noodles to Japanese tastebuds. After decades of adaptation, the restaurant-quality ramen we know today—a savory broth typically combined with shredded meat, vegetables and fresh aromatics—was developed in 1926 by a chef named Wang Wen-chai at a Chinese restaurant in Sapporo, Hokkaido. His challenge: to make noodles that appealed to the palates of both Chinese and Japanese students studying locally.

In the years after World War II, widespread food shortages in Japan led to the introduction of black-market food vendors selling ramen. According the Nissin, the company Momofuku Ando founded, Ando noticed long lines forming at the black-market ramen stalls. It was then he set his goal: to create noodles that can be “quickly prepared and eaten at home with only hot water.”

After a year of tinkering in his garden shed, Ando had an epiphany while watching his wife make tempura. Noticing that the hot frying oil was drawing the moisture out of the flour coating, he realized the process of dehydration through frying could preserve the noodles, allowing them to be stored for a long period of time. After perfecting the method, he created the first instant ramen. When Ando’s invention finally hit the shelves, it was sold as a luxury item. Costing about six times more than fresh noodles, the noodles were originally met with skepticism. They eventually came down in price, gained popularity, and after more innovating and fine-tuning, Ando introduced Cup Noodles in 1971, launching a global sensation.

Instant ramen has diversified significantly since Momofuku Ando started making it in 1958, with flavors like laksa, creamy chicken and jajangmyeon. But the original Chicken Noodles are still readily available.