It’s instant noodles’ world and we all just live in it


In the midst of the cost of living crisis, millions have found sanctuary in a new savoury saviour

November 22, 2023 11:00 am(Updated 1:49 pm)

Shall I compare thee to an instant noodle? Thou art, I’m afraid, inevitably less delicious and less convenient.

Even without Shakespearian hyperbole, the appeal of instant noodles is hard to argue with. Ready in three minutes flat (or six, if like me you take yours with a soft-boiled egg), available in every flavour from garam masala to nam pla fish sauce, French champignon to “American breakfast”, there is truly a noodle for everyone. This is especially true for those short of time and/or inclination for proper cooking. Best of all, they cost next to nothing. When bought in bulk online, you can get a meal for less than 50p.

As such, the sudden ubiquity of instant noodles should come as no surprise; in the midst of the cost of living crisis, millions have found sanctuary in a new savoury saviour. In 2022, consumers around the world got through a staggering 121.2 billion servings. Noodle giants Nissin Food and Toyo Suisan are spending millions on expansion in the US and Mexico to meet soaring demand. In 2023, this is a noodle’s world, and we’re just living in it.

Everyone has a favourite flavour, but also a go-to way of jazzing up their packet lunch. My top additions are eggs (fried or boiled), kimchi, and sriracha sauce. My boyfriend uses the little packs of seasoning to make a kind of broth, while my mum swears by spring onions on top. I invite you to try all these tweaks, and then come up with your own; noodles are nothing if not versatile.

My own love affair with ramen began several years ago. At some point during the pandemic, poor and pissed off, it occurred to me that I would truly lose my mind if I had to add one more lunch of scrambled eggs to the trauma of being locked inside for months on end. Casting around online for ideas, I landed on instant noodles, and the die was cast.

My initial multi-pack of Indomie’s Mi-goreng flavour, ordered online, marked a turning point in the bleakness of pandemic life. So many little packets of oily mystery and powdered umami seasoning! Mixing them up felt like a yummy chemistry lesson, and since then my enthusiasm hasn’t waned. Noodles have not only endured in my regular lunch rotation – I’m eating them with crispy onions as I type, no, really – but their cheapness has come into its own in the current economic landscape.

End of the month squeezing your bank account? Instant noodles! Business slower than usual? Instant noodles! Rent hike? Eye-watering energy bills? A round of drinks suddenly costing your first-born child? Noodles, noodles, noodles.

People have always reflected hard economic times in what they put on their tables, but there’s nothing austere about instant noodles. On the contrary, they are both endlessly diverse and tabula rasa and best of all, they seem to never go off (don’t quote me on that) so there’s very little risk of food waste.

If you’re yet to join the noodle train and they sound too good to be true, I understand your reservations. How can one thing be tasty, convenient, and cheap all at once? Honestly – I don’t know! Don’t ask too many questions or they might get spooked and go back to their noodle planet, where everything tastes great and laborious cooking is illegal.

While it’s easy to be snobby about fast food, the utility of something that can be ready in less time than it takes to play a pop song cannot be overstated, especially when life’s other demands feel overwhelming.

Although instant noodles have been embraced around the world, the UK needs comfort and convenience more than ever. According to the Office for National Statistics, as a country we are less happy than we were before the pandemic. Luckily, a little packet of mystery seasoning can do wonders for the spirit.

Long live the instant noodle – proof that when life is hard, bitter, and difficult, it helps to eat something soft, savoury and simple.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *