June 29, 2018
The History of Chinese Instant Noodles
Instant noodles are the noodles that could be cooked just by adding hot water. With the addition of flavoring powder and seasoning oil, people can get a hot bowl of noodles within just three minutes. Instant noodles help people save time from cooking and fill people’s stomach. Therefore, nowadays, instant noodles can be seen everywhere in the supermarket and its consumers include people from all classes. In this paper, I want to study the development of Chinese instant noodles from the perspective of history, economic, anthropology and culture. The paper is divided into three parts. The first part will describe the general development of instant noodles considering the economic and historic situation in China. The second part will focus on exploring the changing of ingredients and packaging of instant noodles in China. And the third part will reflect on the question of why instant noodles are more popular in the old times than nowadays.
Firstly, I want to examine the development of instant noodles considering the economic and historical situation in China. From research, Instant noodles were invented by Momofuku Ando of Nissin Foods in Japan. (Fijimini, 2012) They were launched in 1958 under the brand name Chikin Ramen. However, it was not until 1964 when instant noodles are finally introduced to China. In 1964, Beijing Food Factory tried to use duck oil to produce dried and fried instant noodles. However, they did not succeed. Four years later, the first instant noodles were invented by Shanghai YiMing Fourth Food Factory.(Du, 2017) It used the technology of high pressure in cooking fried noodles to produce almost 2 millions package of instant noodles to Chinese consumers, signifying the start of Chinese instant noodle production. During the 1978 to 1980, the scientists cooperated with Beijing Food Factory and designed an exclusive technology of producing instant noodles by steaming noodles with high pressure and drying them with infrared ray. Therefore, from the year of 1964 to 1980, China was in the period of exploring instant noodles.
From 1981 to 1986, China began its initial mass production of instant noodles. In 1981, Shanghai Yiming Food Factory and Beijing Instant Noodle Factory imported several assembly lines of instant noodle from Japan. During 1980s, with China opened its door towards foreign companies and embraced the idea of market economic, China had imported almost 100 assembly lines from Japan and put them into Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuxi etc. to start the instant noodles production. (Du, 2017) With the introduction of instant noodles into Chinese market, people began to learn about instant noodles. However, the instant noodles at that time was rather expensive compared to rice because it involved foreign technologies. According to history document, people needed to spend a quarter and two food coupons(粮票) in order to have one instant noodles. But normal Chinese family do not have such spare money to buy things other than necessities. Therefore, instant noodles don’t have lots of consumers in the beginning. So during the period of 1981 to 1986, there were few profit in making instant noodles and instant noodles were not very popular among China.
The year from 1987 to 1991 was the transitional and developmental period for Chinese instant noodles. In 1987, China no longer used food coupon as a way for people to buy rice and oil. People have more freedom in buying food. Therefore, the limitation of producing and consuming instant noodles was reduced. Moreover, it was the time when Chinese economic were growing. Citizen’s life quality improved significantly and the pace of life quickened. Therefore, the efficiency and convenience of instant noodles were discovered by the public, making the industry of instant noodles boomed. Soon, the instant noodles industry expanded from urban to suburban and its price remained almost the same. The instant noodles change from luxury to affordable everyday product. In addition, during this time, a lot of foreign companies entered Chinese instant noodles industry, including the famous brand “kangshifu” from Taiwan. With their entrance, the variety and taste of instant noodles increased, making the instant noodle even more popular. (Du, 2017)
During the year of 1992 to 1995, instant noodles in China developed quickly. There were advertisements of instant noodle everywhere and people were made to believe that instant noodles were the necessity for traveling and for everyday life. (Du, 2017) During this time, lots of foreign companies were competing with each other. They released all kinds of instant noodles and attracted customers with its stretchiness, smooth, unique taste and pretty packaging.
The year after 2001 to now, Chinese instant noodles began to develop stably. The noodles nowadays strictly followed the food standards set by Chinese government. The industry now aimed to produce healthier and more nutritious instant noodles with more diverse taste and packaging. Moreover, the seasoning also began to change slightly. Before, it was comparably plain for it was only salty. Nowadays, people add more seasoning and oil inside so that it has the tastes of spicy, Unami and salty. In addition, there are more variety of instant noodles. For example, besides noodle with soup（汤面）, there are also lo mein(拌面) and crispy instant noodles(干脆面).
Therefore, with the history advancement and economic development in China, we could see the change of instant noodles in taste, packaging and cooking style.
Secondly, I want to explore the change of ingredient and packaging of the Chinese instant noodle. In order to show the change of taste in instant noodles, I will mainly compare the ingredient differences between Meat Noodles(肉蓉面) from old times and Kangshifu’s braised Beef Noodles with soy sauce(红烧牛肉面) nowadays. Meat Noodles were produced by Shanghai Yiming Food Factory. It was among one of the first instant noodles produced in China. It used to be popular in old times. By opening the paper packaging, there was only one powder seasoning and curved noodles. In the powder seasoning, it contains salt, sugar, flour and onion powder, pepper powder and rousong(肉松). After it is cooked, the noodles are stretchy and according to consumers, the noodle soup is mainly salty without other taste. Therefore, many people nowadays mainly used this noodle in the hot pot because it is very smooth and stretchy. (Cheng, 2017) On the other hand, Kangshifu’s braised beef noodles is completely different from Meat Noodles. Kangshifu is a Taiwanese company who was among the first foreign companies to produce instant noodles in China. When Kangshifu produced this kind of braised beef noodles, it soon became a hit. According to statistics, eighty percent of instant noodles consumed by Chinese people are Kangshifu’s braised beef noodles. Kanagshifu’s braised beef noodles in soy sauce is very different from Meat Noodles not only in ingredients but also on taste. For seasoning, it not only contains flavoring powder, but also contains seasoning oil. It was the first instant noodles in China to have seasoning oil. Moreover, it adds more ingredients in the flavoring powder too. For example, it contains monosodium glutamate(味精), curcumin and crocin that Meat noodles did not have. (Kang, 2000) With all these ingredients, people can experience more tastes in the noodles and the soup in the noodles is more delicious. The evolution of taste in Chinese instant noodles from Meat noodles to braised beef noodles reflects Chinese people’s evolution in taste too. During 1980s, Chinese did not have much food to choose. Therefore, the food people ate are rather plain and are not diverse. The main goal is to fill their stomach. However, as China progress, people tasted more and more delicacy, so people have more requirement for food. As a result, people would eat noodles like braised beef noodle to enjoy a variety of taste in noodles.
Thirdly, I want to discuss the reason why instant noodles are more popular during 2000s than nowadays. According to BBC report in 2000s, China sold over 46.2 billion instant noodles each year. (Atkinson, 2017) This is around one third of the world’s consumption of instant noodles, making China the biggest consumer of instant noodles. However, recently, lesser and lesser people choose to eat instant noodles. I want to address this phenomenon in four aspects. First of all, in nowadays, customers want better food than instant noodles. Cooking instant noodles are really easy: Just adding hot water and seasoning into the bowls and wait for three to four minutes. However, people nowadays have higher expectation than having dehydrated vegetables and meat and noodles with preservative. With all kinds of restaurants everywhere in the city, less people will choose to have instant noodles which are not nutritious. Just like Zhao Ping, the Academy of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade said “The decline of instant noodle sales shows a shift in China’s consumption patterns. Consumers are more interested in life quality than just filling their bellies these days.” Secondly, less people choose to have instant noodles because of the population shift (Atkinson, 2017). One of the big consumers of instant noodles are migrant workers because they are away from home, often living in cramped conditions with limited cooking facilities, and keen to save as much money as they can to send back to their families. Before 2010, a huge number of rural Chinese went to cities to work. But that trend has now reversed for the following years. It shows that more people choose to live in rural areas than before. Therefore, less people will take the train and eat instant noodles during their travels. Thirdly, less people consume instant noodles might be the result of Infrastructure improving and people’s habits changing during travel times. According to a passenger: “Travelling in China 20 years ago, I filled my stomach (and time) by eating pot after pot of instant noodles during cross-country train journeys, which sometimes lasted three days or more.” (Atkinson, 2017)However, this phenomenon is changing. Chinese trains and stations have improved. Journeys are quicker, and the range of food options are far more international. For example, there are McDonalds, KFC, and Starbucks in nearly all train station. Therefore, noodle sales on the railways have fallen. And then there is the boom in aviation as middle class Chinese people spend billions flying on domestic and international holidays instead of using trains. As a result, less people will buy instant noodles during travel. Fourthly, there is also the influence of internet and smartphones, which help promote food delivery everywhere. About 730 million people in China now have access to the internet according to government figures. And about 95% of those are using smartphones to connect. Among these smartphones, almost all of them would have food delivery app inside. Whenever people are hungry, they could just get the food by one click on their smartphones. After waiting for half an hour, the food will be delivered right to your home or office. Their menus are undoubtedly more expensive than a pot of instant noodles. But these meals can still be inexpensive. And arguably more tasty. So considering consumer’s expectation, population shift, infrastructure improvement and the commonality of delivery app, people can see why instant noodles are not as popular in nowadays as before.
In conclusion, the history of instant noodles in China really reflects China’s economic and culture development. From instant noodles, people can see the condensation of Chinese food culture. Because it combines the taste of general Chinese people into one seasoning powder. So by studying the change of Chinese instant noodles, people also study the change of taste in Chinese people. Moreover, by studying the popularity of instant noodles in China, people could also see China’s society change and technology improvement in China.
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