It’s no secret many of us Asians love eating instant noodles. Some of us call them two-minute noodles. Others ramen, instant ramen.
Living in Malaysia and Singapore as a kid, my mum made piping hot bowls of prawn-flavoured Maggi soup noodles for Saturday lunches. I licked every bowl clean. After nearly a decade living in Melbourne, my taste for instant noodles hasn’t waned one bit – I still eat Maggi noodles once a week for lunch most Saturdays.
Many of us Asians love eating instant noodles because it’s cheap. Asians are cheap. We can get a pack of Indomie Mi Goreng or Nissin noodles for 30 cents a packet in the Asian grocery shops in Melbourne. Perfect for Asian international students on a budget in Australia. Perfect for a twenty-something Chinese Australian like me on a budget, trying to secure a stable job in the local Caucasian-dominated, white-collar workforce so as to pay the bills.
We’re fond of instant noodles because they’re convenient, quick and easy meals. Not much cooking expertise required except boiling water and pouring it over noodles. Which is why the fast-and-efficient Asian in me loves making instant noodles for lunch on lazy Saturday mornings – washing up doesn’t take much time.
It’s hard to get bored of eating instant noodles as there are so many flavours to choose from, tasty flavours too. Which Asian person with a strong palate doesn’t like a flavourful meal? Then we have the option of customising our instant noodle meals with anything we like – great for us Asians who like heaping food on our plates. Personally, I like plain soup instant noodles for a quick snack, and noodles with an egg and chicken slices to make it a bit more of meal.
Also, making instant noodles is fun; there are so many ways to cook the different varieties of it. Dishing up straight or curly instant noodles with broth, fried in a pan, you name it. And many Asians aren’t only big on eating, but big on cooking and cooking way more portions everyone can eat as well.
It’s no surprise instant noodles aren’t good for us. They are junk food, junk food with additives and artificial flavours (such as the chocolate flavoured ones). High in salt and MSG that get us hooked on them. And rumour has it this makes our hair drop out.
The more we eat instant noodles, the more we become lazy. Lazy to cook. Lazy to look after our health. The more we have quick meal fixes, the more we get used to feeling instant gratification from eating, feeling full after eating a tasty feed. And empty, longing for more.
These days Maggi have stopped making prawn-flavoured instant noodles, so I’ve settled on eating the chicken-flavoured variety on weekends – eating instant noodles never really tastes the same anymore. Still, memories come gushing back.
The taste of Chinese Malaysian food in Australia pales in comparison to the dishes in my parents’ hometown, and I do get tired of eating Western food in Melbourne. Every time the pungent, savoury spices of Saturday’s instant noodle lunch hit my tongue, I’m transported back to a time in Malaysia where I had instant noodle lunches together with the family, a time when no one laughed at my Chinese meal. A time in Singapore where I went to school camp, cooked Maggi noodles on a portable gas stove on the ground in the middle of a deserted forest with a bunch of Chinese friends, laughing.
And so eating these noodles reminds me of what it’s like to belong. What it means to be Chinese. What it feels to lose a part of myself as I’m staring down at an empty bowl in my apartment at noon on Saturdays, alone, the last bits of chicken-seasoned-soup lingering on my tongue. We eat to relive moments, or at least try to – food is tied to culture, memories of a certain place. Not only are we nourished physically when we eat, but emotionally too, maybe for a few moments.
There’s no reason why we can’t “eat to live” instead of “live to eat”. Eat in moderation, of course. When we eat certain foods we go on a rollercoaster journey. A journey where we remember where, and who, we used to be. And a journey to see where we are today.
Do you like eating instant noodles? What’s your favourite instant noodle flavour?