Inventive Ingenuity: The Ramen King
Japan continued to suffer in the aftermath of the crushing defeat imposed on it by the United States and its allies more than a decade earlier. Food shortages were rampant. A solution advocated by the country's Ministry of Health was to promote consumption of bread made from U.S.-supplied wheat flour.
Ando and others questioned the government's logic. Instead of bread, why not noodles, a food staple more familiar to Japanese people. Because, noodle-makers were too small, and ill-equipped to satisfy demands was the Ministry's response to such concerns.
Like noodles everywhere, Japanese noodles, or ramen, originated in China. In fact, the word ramen is based on a Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters Lo-Mein, for "boiled noodles".
As he watched the crowd waiting patiently, Ando made up his mind to formulate a quicker alternative to the time-consuming methods employed in traditional noodle-making. He vowed to develop a noodle product made from U.S.-supplied wheat.
Ando's scheme to feed the masses with noodles was nothing new for him. He had tried and failed many times already to fill various voids.
Ando was born Gô Pek-hok to wealthy parents on March 5, 1910 in Taiwan, which was a part of the Japanese Empire from 1895-1945. The youngster was raised by his grandparents after his parent's untimely death during his infancy. His grandparents, who sold textiles out of a small shop they owned, inspired him to start his own textile company after coming of age.
Following the end of World War II, Ando became a Japanese citizen and moved to Japan, where he entered Ritsumeikan University. Along with his studies, he juggled the running of clothing companies in Osaka and Taiwan.
In 1948, Ando was convicted of tax evasion and sent to jail for two years in conjunction with a scheme to provide scholarships for students. After prison he tried his had at a variety of things. He sold engine parts, prefabricated houses, Magic lantern projectors, and socks, among other things. Eventually, he found his way to a credit association, where he served as chairman until it went bankrupt.
Left virtually penniless, Ando fell back on the tiny, family-run salt-making business he established in 1948, which would soon be known to the world as Nissin Food Products Co.
It was at about this time that Ando determined to feed the hungry masses of the world with ramen. Equipped with a noodle-making machine he bought second hand, he embarked on what would be about a year's worth of trial and error experimentation in a small shed in the garden behind his home.
The problem was how to remove moisture from his noodles without removing flavor. His wife, Masako, eventually provided the solution: flash-frying the cooked noodles in palm oil.