At the height of the food shortage in Japan following World War II, noodle companies struggled to satisfy crowds of people waiting for a hot meal. People craved comfort food and longed for noodles instead of bread, the latter of which was more readily available given the United States’ supply of wheat flour to Japan.
Businessman Momofuku Ando thus sought a way to incorporate American flour into traditional Japanese cuisine, and after much experimenting, he eventually released his Chikin Ramen to the public in 1958. Little did he know that this “just add water” delicacy would evolve into a product consumed and cherished by people across the globe.
Today, people from all walks of life enjoy instant ramen, but for time-pressed college students, this appreciation goes deeper. The noodles are a staple food of the college diet, deliciously combining comfort and convenience into a perfect meal.
As a college student myself, I, too, appreciate the convenience of being able to make a hot meal in my dorm in roughly three minutes. However, even before becoming an essential college food, instant ramen played another special role in cultivating community in my life.
When I was in middle school, my parents would invite large groups of college students from our church over for dinner on Sunday nights. They would cook profuse amounts of food and we would all sit around the family room, eating and talking about life.
As a middle schooler and only child, I loved getting to know these college-aged friends whom I called the “older siblings I never had.” I loved listening to their stories about crazy roommates and late night study sessions. I was also fascinated that they wanted to hear about our lives too. College is so much cooler than sixth grade, and yet they want to hear about me? I kept thinking.
But, indeed, they wanted to hear about me. I would update them on the latest sixth grade drama, which would then prompt them to share about their own middle school experiences. We would talk and talk until we ran out of food, but soon the instant ramen would come into play.
After all the food was gone, my mom would offer to make a bunch of Korean Shin Ramen cups. “I’m sorry!” she’d say, smiling sheepishly. “I know you guys probably eat a lot of this already.”
I remember thinking the first time this happened that no one would take my mom up on the offer. All the good food is gone, and it’s getting late, I thought. Why would they stay to eat instant ramen?
But I was wrong. My mom’s offer was met with a resounding “yes!” complete with cheers from a couple guys on the sofa. A few students assisted my parents in the ramen-making effort, and soon, everyone had a steaming cup of noodles in their hands. You wouldn’t expect a group of college students to be hanging out with a 12-year-old and her parents on a Sunday night, but it was a delightful sight — people from all walks of life slurping instant ramen noodles together. The chatter resumed and when it was finally time to bid farewell, people left with full stomachs and full hearts.
From that Sunday onward we always kept extra instant ramen in our pantry with the college students in mind. It wasn’t needed every time, but it was always there — a reminder of how sweet it is to gather in community. Whenever I opened the pantry, I would think back to the spectacle of eating ramen with my college friends, and how the humble instant noodles brought us together when we were about to part.
“The ramen fostered a sense of community as we chose to push the limits of our stomachs just to prolong the time we had together.”—Emily Kim PO ’25
Middle-school me wondered why the college students would stay to eat ramen with us. Now, years later, I know the answer — they didn’t want to leave. They wanted to continue the conversations we were having, continue getting to know my parents and I, continue living life together — and the ramen offered a way to do that. The ramen fostered a sense of community as we chose to push the limits of our stomachs just to prolong the time we had together.
Reflecting on those dinners now that I’m a college student myself is a reminder of how time moves quickly. But as I write this in my dorm room, seeing the ramen that I brought with me out of the corner of my eye, I chuckle to myself. Not only will it come in handy when I need a quick meal or study snack, but it also makes me hopeful for the community that I’ll find during my time here.
Maybe sometime soon, just like my middle school self did with my unexpected college friends, my 5C community will be huddled together, happily slurping noodles in each other’s company, too.
Food columnist Emily Kim PO ’25 is from Irvine, California. She loves baggy sweaters, YouTube karaoke and banana bread.