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Memories of Ramyun

Posted July. 14, 2014 05:15,   


The origin of Korea’s instant noodles goes back to September 15, 1963. With a unit price of 10 won, ramyun emerged in the Korean food market like a comet. It was easy to cook and cheap in an age when an assortment of food scraps cost 5 won and a cup of coffee cost 35 won. Initially, consumer response was tepid. The food was like nothing Koreans had seen before and the unfamiliar name “ramyun” called to mind a kind of fabric. Yet with free tasting events to promote ramyun taking place here and there and with the Korean government’s policy to encourage the consumption of non-rice grains and wheat flour foods from 1965, Korean ramyun fast became established in Korea, with its being a meal at a low cost.

The founder of Samyang Foods, the first Korean instant noodle maker, has passed away. Among the middle-aged in Korea who heard the news, there were probably many who recalled their excitement during their childhood whenever their mothers took out the orange packaging, which Samyang ramyun came in. They were the taste of heaven itself, and was alluring to children. No matter how high-end instant noodles are in Korea right now, and how varied they are now, their taste is no match for those times when each drop of the soup was precious. Middle-aged Koreans will also no doubt vividly recall those times whenever the threat from North Korea heightened, almost every household in South Korea stockpiled ramyun for emergency meals.

Korean ramyun noodles are now captivating global palates. Ramyun exports in 2013 amounted to 215.52 million U.S. dollars. The biggest customer of Korean ramyun is Japan, which with its ramen noodles commercialized the dish first. There are a total of 124 nations that import Korean ramyun, from Russia, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya to the South Pacific Island state Tuvalu. Koreans are unusually fond of ramyun noodles. As of 2012, Koreans ate a total of 3.52 billion, seventh in the world, while per capita consumption of the noodle is always at the top of the world at 72.

Koreans eat ramyun out of nostalgia, for the taste, and to appease hunger. Opinions vary on what makes a tasty ramyun. Some like chewy noodles, while others like them slightly overcooked. Some like scallions sliced in, others put in a slice of cheese. The Web is filled with ways to cook tasty ramyun noodles. The safe way is to follow the instructions on the back of the package, but the good point of ramyun is that it is possible to cook in a variety of ways to our liking.

Editorial Writer Koh Mi-seok (mskoh119@donga.com)