Japanese Cup Ramen through the Ages

20 September 2021 by Lindi

Ramen is a much-loved dish in Japan, and you’ll find ramen shops serving tasty bowls in a variety of forms and flavors across the country. But if you can’t get to Japan anytime soon, there is thankfully an endless list of cup ramen brands producing instant ramen in a range of delicious flavor combinations.

The History of Cup Ramen

The history behind cup ramen begins with the invention of Chicken Ramen, or Chikin Ramen, the world’s first example of instant noodles. While working in his shed in Ikeda, Osaka, Momofuku Ando attempted to find a quick way of making ramen with only boiling water. It took him more than a year of research (and many sleepless nights), but in 1958, he succeeded in achieving his goal. 

A golden statue of Momofuku Ando at the Yokohama Ramen museum

Image via Shutterstock

Unsurprisingly, Chicken Ramen became hugely popular. When visiting the US in 1966, Momofuku noticed that people were eating Chicken Ramen out of cups instead of bowls, and with forks instead of chopsticks. This led to the launch of the original Nissin Cup Noodles in 1971. 

Momofuku, known as the ‘Father of instant noodles’, initially invented cup ramen as a solution to the food shortage experienced in Japan after World War II. Later, Nissin Foods went on to launch the first instant ramen in the US in 1972. Since then, the number of cup noodle flavors has just kept growing. 

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Nissin’s Legacy

Made with no added MSG, and ready in only three minutes with the addition of boiling water, flavors include Chicken, Beef, Shrimp, and Hearty Chicken. There are also spicy cup ramen flavors like Hot & Spicy Shrimp and Spicy Lime Shrimp. New releases are continuously being developed, including a US-exclusive Pumpkin Spice flavor that is set to launch in October 2021, and other global favorites like Seafood and Curry.

In 2005, Momofuku Ando came up with another ingenious idea. He wanted to create a version of ramen that could be eaten in zero gravity. Enter ‘Space Ram’! This clever variation, which jetted off into space aboard the US Discovery shuttle 16 years ago, didn’t need boiling water to heat and came in four flavor options, namely Soy Sauce, Pork, Curry, and Miso.

Under the leadership of Momofuku Ando, who passed away in 2007 at the age of 96, Nissin Foods became one of the most famous Japanese cup noodle brands in the world. In fact, it is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Nissin Cup Noodles are so popular that there are even two museums dedicated to them. One is the Yokohama ramen museum, and the other is in Ikeda, the birthplace of instant noodles. 

The make-your-own cup noodle bar with many toppings and extras at the Ikeda ramen museum in Osaka

Image via Shutterstock

If you’re lucky enough to pay these attractions a visit, you’ll get to do things like making chicken-flavored ramen by hand and creating your own personalised Cup Noodles packaging in a flavor of your choice, all while learning about the history of Japanese instant ramen and the life of Momofuku Ando.

Nissin Foods has also extended its range to include Cup Noodles Stir Fry, which comes in a variety of flavors, including Teriyaki Beef, Korean BBQ, and Hot Garlic Chicken. The brand has also developed a range of other instant cup ramen options to enjoy, including a collaboration with popular ramen restaurant chain Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto, as well as a selection of different ramen noodle soups, namely Nissin Raoh, Nissin Demae Ramen, and Hot & Spicy.

While Nissin Cup Noodles might be one of the most well-known examples of cup ramen, there are many more exciting options to try from a range of different brands. 

Other Iconic Ramen Brands

A line of many different ramen brands and flavors at a station in Osaka.

Image via Shutterstock

Acecook released Curry Noodle, its first cup ramen, in 1973, followed by the Super Cup series in 1988. Available in flavor combinations like Bean Sprout Miso, Pork Kimchi, and Spicy Chicken, the Super Cup variety comes in small (mini) and large (1.5 times) containers, as well as special editions. 

The mini version contains 30g of noodles, the 1.5 times container is filled with 90g of noodles, and the new Super Cup MAX edition contains 100g of noodles. Super Cup MAX launched in 2021 with Miso, Salty Soy Sauce, and Tonkotsu (pork bone) Ramen varieties, with Tonkotsu Ramen being one of the most popular existing flavors.

Sugomen’s range of regional options includes iconic favorites like Hakata Tonkotsu, Sapporo Miso, and Kitakata Ramen. They also include Nagasaki Champon (a Chinese-inspired noodle soup) and Kyoto Seabura (pork fat) Soy Sauce Ramen. 

Like Sugomen, Hikari Miso’s popular Menraku cup ramen range is also available in the classic flavor favorites, as well as flavors like Hokkaido-style Seafood with Shrimp & Scallop Soup, Sichuan-inspired Spicy Sesame, and Chicken Paitan (thick, white Chinese-style soup broth). 

Maruchan’s Toyo Suisan instant noodles, which launched in 1961, has since expanded to include cup noodles, packet noodles, and instant lunch packs as part of its range. It is also behind the QTTA series, released in 2020, and available in Seafood, Tonkotsu, Miso Cream Onion, and Curry flavors. They also have the GOLD ‘Restaurant Quality’ range in Spicy Miso and Soy Sauce flavors.

A row of Maruchan chicken flavored cup noodle on a shelf in a grocery store

Image via Shutterstock

If you’re looking to add a cute factor to your next cup, Pokémon Noodle from Sanyo Foods is a must. Packaged in an adorable Pikachu-themed container (complete with a collectible sticker), Pokémon Noodle is available in two flavors, Seafood and Soy Sauce. The kamaboko fish cakes inside are even printed with little pictures of our favorite, cute electric-type Pokemon himself!

The number of cup ramen variations on the market in Japan is vast, not to mention the enormous selection of instant yakisoba and udon options to choose from. What is your top cup ramen pick? Let us know which flavor is your go-to favorite in the comments!


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