My top pick for a kid-friendly activity in Japan that won’t bore adults to tears
This must be my quirkiest, most bizarre Making Makan post ever. It’s about making instant noodles from scratch. You know what, I don’t even eat instant noodles.
But, by golly, it was the most fun I had in Japan with clothes on.
For the most fun in Japan with clothes off, go to an onsen (hot spring). But that’s outside the scope of this blog post.
As FITK’s regular readers will know, Making Makan posts are just-for-fun galleries revealing key steps in making certain dishes. So don’t expect to see a recipe for making instant noodles from scratch (see “Will make again?” below).
Degree of difficulty:
- LOW if you’re doing it with the professionals at the Chicken Ramen Factory.
- EXTREME if you’re doing it at home.
Will make again?
What’s the point of making this at home? If one slaves in one’s own kitchen for hours to make instant noodles from scratch, that utterly defeats the purpose behind 3-MINUTE noodles.
Tips (for your next trip to Tokyo)
- The Chicken Ramen Factory workshop is in the Cupnoodles Museum in Yokohama, a half-hour train ride from Tokyo station.
- Make it a day trip to view the exhibits and discover what drove Momofuku Ando, esteemed inventor of instant noodles.
- The museum visit is guaranteed to please children and adults alike. Trust me, my 3-generational travel party of ten people – aged 7 to 72 years old – all had fun!
- It’s affordable too: 500 yen (USD 5.40) per adult entry, FREE entry for kids in high school or below, plus another 500 yen for the workshop.
Photos: Day and night views of Yokohama.
Quite apart from the food side of things, I got a huge kick out of experiencing this museum’s shining example of inimitable Japanese service, namely:
- Professionalism and efficiency. The staff dress neatly and smartly. Each knows exactly what to do, so that…
- …everything runs like clockwork. Example: When we changed from kneading dough to rolling dough, benches were cleaned and new equipment produced in a twinkle of an eye.
- Cleanliness that’s worthy of godliness. The work space was always immaculately clean, except when we untrained participants were at it messing it up. At change-overs, the staff cleared and wiped at speed. Needless to say, the restrooms (like the majority in Japan) were sparkling.
- Utmost courtesy. There was much bowing by the staff, coupled with big, warm smiles. Okay, so this is probably part of their staff training, but their smiles did seem genuine, and they appeared happy to share the ramen-making experience.
An insider’s view of the Chicken Ramen Factory
The Chicken Ramen Factory isn’t a working factory. It’s a custom-built kitchen for visitors to make their own instant ramen. It’s so clean I’d let my kids eat off the floor.
First, the head instructor greets everyone with a bow and explains the process. It was a full house on the Friday we visited. Most of the participants were Japanese.
Participants pair up. An army of staff is at hand to give individual guidance at every step. Knead flour, water and flavourings. Roll it out with a rolling pin. Let it rest while you design your noodle packet.
Put the dough through the hand-turned machine 20 times (yes, 20). The guide changes the machine’s setting, so that it cuts the flat dough into narrow ribbons. As your partner churns out the ribbons, you wait at the end with scissors to cut the noodles into lengths.
Using the digital scale that’s appeared on your bench, weigh out a 100g portion of the noodles. Your guide labels and takes away your noodle nest, reassuring you that s/he’ll call you when it’s time to observe your noodles being plunged into boiling oil.
I felt the Earth. Move. Under my feet. But the sky didn’t tumble down.
(The above orange text references a very old song, for the young ‘uns out there.)
Here’s something from left field. While the oil was bubbling away, a tremor caused the building to sway. It was a gentle one, not enough for anything to slide off the benches.
I had faith that the staff would be able to identify a serious earthquake that required evacuation. They took the precaution of taking a break from the deep-frying, and calmly, smilingly instructed participants to step away from the viewing glass.
Five minutes later, the building was stable. Deep-frying re-commenced. A bit of surprise excitement for this earthquake novice.
After the noodles have cooled, they are packed and sealed. Each person gets to take home:
- the 100g pack of self-made chicken ramen, sealed in the self-designed packet;
- a commercially available packet of chicken ramen (so that sentimental people can keep their self-made ramen forever); and
- the head scarf with the cartoon chicken.
Don’t understand Japanese? Don’t worry.
Non-Japanese speakers need not worry about the workshop being conducted in Japanese. You get illustrated cards with detailed English instructions. And the friendly staff communicate effectively to individual participants with hand signals and English words.
Lessons for life
My father bought my son a trinket from the Cupnoodles Museum’s souvenir shop. The cashier put it in a plastic bag emblazoned with lofty words of wisdom, such as:
- “Tenacity is the breeding ground for inspiration.”
- “Always let a third party be the judge.”
- “Human beings are noodle beings.”
Food (oh dear) for thought, indeed. For more details on the Cupnoodles Museum, visit its website.
For people who are interested in ramen of the slow-cooked variety, have a look at Adam Liaw’s article on high-tech ways of making this traditional dish.