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From student fodder to Michelin-star chef’s favourite snack, instant noodle soups are making a comeback as a culinary sensation.
Modern nouvelle cuisine owes many of ist impulses to Asian cooking. Today, coconut, coriander, ginger, Thai basil and lemon grass have become staple ingredients in Western and international diets, and Asian as well as fusion restaurants rank among the best restaurants in the world. Despite this prevalence and esteem, there’s one product of Asian gastronomy that some consumers have a hard time taking seriously – instant noodles.
Indeed, their ubiquity is one of the things putting people off. Since their creation in 1958 by Taiwanese Japanese inventor Momofuku Ando, they have become a common snack throughout the world, and there are very few supermarkets that don’t stock these pressed blocks of dried food. And in some corners of the globe, the name of the most popular brand, Yum Yum, has assumed the generic term for the product, which is sold around the clock in many cities as an alternative to dinner for those pressed for time and money. Yum Yum has also revolutionised lunch breaks, usurping the dominance of sandwiches, yogurt, muesli and chocolate bars. Part of the reason for this is because they’re incredibly easy to prepare – all you need to do is add hot water, and some manufacturers even provide a plastic pot for you to ‘cook’ your noodles in.
As such, it’s easy to see why instant noodles aren’t thought of very highly. An inexpensive and simple to make snack, they have become associated with students, bachelors and camping trips. And in an age in which culinaryconnoisseurship now co-defines social prestige, that’s not a good thing, and the absence of a ‘premium’ line has only perpetuated the instant noodle’s reputation as an unsophisticated snack. But look closer and actually, the instant noodle isn’t that one-dimensional. In fact, its many flavours reflect the full spectrum of Asian culinary traditions from China to Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, to Korea and Japan.
As a result, they come in all shapes and sizes. Consumers can get them with rice or egg noodles of varying degrees of thickness, and with different types of sauce, including ones made from miso or soya, and those topped with a variety of meats and seafood. However, the versatility of the instant noodle has also contributed to another negative myth: that this adaptability is somehow syntheticand therefore unhealthy. Thomas A. Vilgis, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Mainz, leading flavour researcher and author of the trailblazing cookbook “Aroma – The Art of Seasoning”, sees no threat in Yum Yum soup: “Besides starch, the noodles contain wheat flour and two different thickening agents that are completely harmless,” he says. “Acidity regulators such as citrate or small amounts of phosphates pose no threat either.”
Contrary to public opinion, flavour enhancers also aren’t harmful. Mostly made from yeast extracts, they simply trigger certain tastes and smells and are therefore just as ‘authentic’ as other food products that are naturally salty and bitter or sweet and sour. As a basic principle, taste and smell simply exist on a molecular level, in which certain combinations produce certain gastronomic effects. And whether or not the foods that produce these effects were synthesised in a laboratory, extracted from foods or consumed in their natural form, molecules are molecules, and our bodies can’t tell the difference.
Last year, in a test for German newspaper F.A.Z., Berlin-based star chef Michael Kempf showed that a number of these instant noodles have a rightful claim to culinary status. Fellow Michelin star decorated chef Hendrik Otto, Kempf’s colleague at the Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer restaurant in Berlin, likes to cook these soups at home with halibut. He cuts the fillets into thin strips and cooks them in hot water with the noodles until piping hot. To round things off, Otto doesn’t add Asian herbs but native additions such as savory, lovage, marjoram and celery leaves. Sometimes, he even chucks in a few fresh oysters for good measure, turning a simple Yum Yum soup into a slippery delicacy.
For those who want their favourite flavour of instant noodles even faster, GROHE’s Red® offers hot water directly from the faucet. The innovative GROHE Red® system keeps up to 6 litres (depending on the model) of filtered kettle-hot water ready for immediate use at all times. As a result, Asian instant noodles become even more enjoyable – as all substances that might impair the smell and taste are being filtered out – and the added convenience of having hot water on tap means that instant actually means instant.