Who invented Cup Noodles? 🍜

The greatest entrepreneur you’ve never heard about.

Thierry Maout

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Today, I want to talk about a dish that, regardless of age, country, social background, and financial status, I’m almost certain you’ve eaten at least once: Cup Noodles.

A staple for students with tight budgets, salarymen with busy schedules, and people with no skills in the kitchen alike (I somehow identify as all three), cup noodles are a meal option that’s been around my entire life but whose origin I’ve never really even thought about.

A recent visit to Yokohama and its Cup Noodles Museum was an excellent opportunity to learn the story behind the delicious, easy meal and to be introduced to its inventor, Momofuku Ando.

A genius invention that has traveled the entire world 💡

Japanese entrepreneur Momofuku Ando invented instant noodles out of his workshed (literally) in the 1950s.

The whole idea is that the noodles were precooked and dried, giving them a longer shelf life and allowing a straightforward preparation: All you need to do is add boiling water and wait 2 minutes, as some of you might recall from last night’s dinner. Initially considered a luxury item in Japan (they were significantly more expensive than fresh noodles), they became a massive hit across Asia and, eventually, worldwide.

In the 1970s, Ando went after the U.S. market and, in trying to fit the consumption habits of the American public, introduced the idea of selling his noodles in a foam cup.

Now, here we are, 50 years later. Cup Noodles are available in dozens of flavors, and 100 billion servings of instant noodles are consumed every year.

Doesn’t seem like the safest way to eat boiling noodles. I’d recommend sitting down (source: Nissin website)

Yet, somehow, Momofuku Ando is relatively unknown outside of Japan — or at least I had never heard of him before visiting the museum.

Momofuku Ando, the resilience of a true entrepreneur 💪

The entire visit to the Cup Noodles museum gives a very inspiring, in-depth look at the life of Momofuku Ando and how he managed to change the world against all odds.

Ando was 58 when he perfected his flash-frying method and started selling his instant noodles. That in itself is pretty inspiring, especially if you’re over 30 and looking at “30 under 30” lists feeling like an absolute failure — I was won over instantly (“Does this mean I still have time?”).

But even more inspiring is the fact that this was only the beginning for him. Propelled by his ambition to bring affordable food to people worldwide, he continued to innovate and brought Cup Noodles to the world when he was 61 years old (!). He even invented a version of his noodles that could go to space when he was 94. What a legend.

But beyond the inventions, it’s Ando’s spirit of humanity and entrepreneurship that shines throughout the exhibit, from his alliance with other players in the food industry to avoid conflict at the expense of the public to his resilience when building and growing Nissin Foods.

Throughout the museum, a long quote attributed to him is repeated again and again, like a mantra:

There is no such things as “too late” in life. Failure does not provide us with the key to success. An idea that cannot be commercialized is nothing more than a whim. The entrepreneurial spirit means creating something from nothing. Be meticulous, yet bold. Tenacity is the breeding ground for inspiration. You should develop the habit of thinking up new ideas day and night. Think, think and think again. Always look around you with a great deal of curiosity. Incomplete knowledge keeps you away from the essence of things. Only a layman can come up with an idea that transcends the bounds of common sense. Show me wisdom rather than knowledge. Initiate the change instead of following the changing times. Forget about your knowledge and experiences, and start from scratch. Never fall into complacence. There is always something beyond you to aim for. Willingness to change is noting to be ashamed of, but rather is proof of flexibility. Do not indulge in self-praise. Always let a third party be the judge. Do what others will not. Turn work into play. Don’t come up with excuses when you fail. Time is life. The origin of every activity of humankind is related to food. Human beings are noodle beings.

Take time to read the quote in full and digest its essence. It’s a pretty sensational one. A lot can be taken from it, both in work and in life.

Must visit: Cup Noodles Museum 📍

I’m not one to put a lot of focus on entrepreneurs or historical figures. I barely read biographies and tend to avoid what I think often turns into cults of personalities, especially online. However, Momofuku Ando’s story of resilience, ambition, and eventually success really spoke to me and is worth learning about, in my opinion, if only for how wholesome it all feels.

I strongly suggest visiting the Cup Noodles Museum if you’re ever in Osaka or Yokohama (the two locations) and in the mood for an inspiring, fun visit.

The ultimate incentive is the option to create your very own cup noodles there — a fun activity which, if you’re as artistically gifted as I am, is guaranteed to yield pretty fantastic results:

Thank you for reading! This article was originally published on my newsletter at https://thierrymaout.substack.com. To subscribe and follow more stories, head over there!

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Thierry Maout

Jack of all trades, master of some. Japan-based, I write about tech, business, MMA and education. Mostly in English, but sometimes in French too.