Ramen museums' cups runneth over with noodle facts
Growing up in a home in which both parents worked and the older siblings took care of the younger ones, I found Nissin’s Cup Noodles a welcome regular after-school meal.
Though choosing a commuter school for college and earning stove cooking privileges drew me away from the instant lunch, the cup still holds a place in my cupboard in case of a zombie apocalypse or other disaster.
Imagine my joy when I found out that Yokohama houses two unique museums dedicated to the noodle that changed it all: the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum and The Cup Noodle Museum.
They are a 30-minute train ride apart, but on a rainy Saturday I made it to both with plenty of time to see (and taste) what each had to offer.
In search of a good bowl, a history lesson and some amusement, I decided to start with the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum, which claims to be the “world’s first food-themed amusement park.”
The basement is the museum’s shining feature. Outfitted to look like a 1950s Japanese street scene, the two-floor area boasts nine ramen noodle shops specializing in either a country or a region’s soup. They also offer vegetarian and non-pork options. The waiting times for each ranged between 15 to 30 minutes. A quick check of the queue chart manned by an employee dressed as a ’50s police officer at the entrance will give you the info.
I opted for a pork bone ramen, known as Tonkotsu, which is popular in Kyushu, an island in Japan’s south. For 900 yen (about $7.58), I was served a generous portion, but it was a bit on the bland side and needed some spice.
Searching around for the “museum” in Shinyokohama Raumen Museum was a real task. I found it — next to the gift shop, of course. It consisted of some glass cases showing noodles from around the world. It was not very impressive.
At the gift shop, I was able to package my own ramen for 1,000 yen (about $8.42) and even had my photograph taken with a personalized message for the label. What an ironic gift to send to the parents who fed me instant ramen.
Despite its failure on delivering a good bowl and history lesson, the museum was still entertaining and an attraction I think vacationers might enjoy. At 310 yen, the entry fee is decent, but then you realize you paid to go into what essentially is a glorified ramen food court with a gift shop.
By comparison, Cup Noodle Museum was quite fancy and is a real museum. Entrance is 500 yen. Exhibits include a brief history of the beloved noodle cup, a room displaying the diverse packaging and flavors of Cup Noodles around the world, a ramen factory where you learn how to make noodles and a manufacturing interactive for children.
The “Noodles Bazaar” is the museum cafeteria fashioned to look and feel like an outdoor market with eight food stands featuring noodles from eight countries that Cup Noodles inventor Momofuku Ando visited “during his travels in search of ramen’s origins.”
Around the corner from the bazaar lies the best part of the museum, where visitors get to make their own Cup Noodle cup to take home. For 300 yen you get a cup to decorate however you’d like (markers provided), then proceed to choose toppings to go into your very own Cup Noodles. I chose crab, fish pastas shaped like hearts, chives and the traditional seasoning. My cup was vacuum packaged before my eyes.
The museum is a rather fancy homage to the invention’s humble beginnings inside Ando’s small work shed in Osaka. Really makes you think about how many millions of cups were sold to fund this MoMA copy with its flashy interactive exhibits and shiny hardwood floors.
While both museums have their own pros and cons, I don’t think I could have visited one without going to the other. Sure, maybe I didn’t learn as much as I might have wanted to, but my day of cultured museum visiting was complete with a personalized ramen package and a personalized Cup Noodles to call my own. Priceless.
The Shinyokohama Raumen Museum
2-14-21 Shinyokohama, Kohoku-ku, Yokohama-City, 222-0033, Japan
Open 7 days, 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. except holidays.
Entrance 310 yen (about $2.53). Extra for food.
Museum requires a minimum purchase of one bowl per person.
Cup Noodles Museum
2-3-4 Shinko, Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0001 Japan
Every day except Tuesdays 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; last admission 5 p.m.
Entrance for adults 500 yen (tax included); high school students and younger admitted free. Plus cost for food, Chicken Ramen Factory fee and CupNoodles Park fee.
For 300 yen you get a cup to decorate, then choose toppings to go into your own Cup Noodles.