Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando

Instant ramen, the cheap meal that has quieted the growling stomachs of so many cash-strapped college students it’s become a cliche, actually has a compelling back story. The people of Osaka, Japan, struggled to survive after World War II, resorting to eating grass, bark, and garbage scraps if they had no money, while those who did have money paid a sky-high price for bowls of ramen. Momofuku Ando was heartbroken by the sight of his fellow citizens wearily waiting in long lines for the disproportionately expensive food. Driven by compassion and not profit – how refreshing! – he tried over and over to create an inexpensive, easy, filling, nutritious meal. But his noodles were by turn too brittle, too soggy, too sticky, too tough. Then he watched his wife fry tempura and the proverbial light bulb blinked on. He realized frying would evaporate the water in the noodle batter, leaving tiny holes that could reabsorb water when the noodles were boiled, making them tender and creating a satisfying soup. Families only needed to add hot water to packages of his crispy seasoned noodles. The afterword notes that instant ramen did cost more than the fresh version at first, but the convenience of preparation won people over, and the noodles’ popularity brought the price down. Over the years, Ando tinkered with his recipe, adding vitamins and freeze-dried vegetables, and reducing or replacing salt, artificial flavors, and MSG. Ando’s company continues to sell instant ramen all over the world and also supplies millions of packages to regions in crisis. Wang’s clean and simple narrative makes this a great read-aloud, and Urbanowicz’s graphic novel-style illustrations bring home Ando’s emotions as he fails and then triumphs. The color palette is earthy and warm, adding to the artwork’s appeal. Ando is quoted as saying, “Peace follows from a full stomach.” Whoa. Have students chew on that for a bit and then lead them in a “think globally, act locally” discussion on hunger. What are the societal consequences of hunger? What can they do in their community to alleviate it? And how far-reaching could their solutions be?

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