When Thai students go to study abroad, what do we pack? Even when we vacation abroad, some of us still pack them. During the COVID-19 outbreak and city lockdown, these are the first food items we store.
That’s right, instant noodles.
Ahead of the March 26 emergency decree, instant noodles were already the first food items to disappear from supermarket shelves. For obvious reasons. They are cheap, delicious, easy to cook and can be stored from two to 12 months, depending on the brand.
It’s the menu of choice for the apocalypse.
Currently, Thailand produces 300 million instant-noodle packs per month. That’s 10 million packs per day. Of which, Mama, produced by Thai President Foods PCL, accounts for five to six millions.
At maximum capacity, the industry can produce 15 million packs per day, at the sale price of THB6 to THB15. Imported brands are around THB30 to over THB100.
Thai instant noodles is a THB20 billion bath industry, with Mama controlling 51% of the market, followed by WaiWai at 23% and Yumyum at 23%. The rest is divided between smaller brands.
But, if you don’t already know, instant noodles aren’t a Thai invention.
Momofuku Ando (1910-2007), a Taiwanese-Japanese inventor and businessman, created the world’s first instant noodles. The brands Top Ramen and Cup Noodles were his. He also founded Nissin Food Products Co., Ltd.
Following its defeat in World War 2, Japan fell on hard times. Foods were scarce and citizens had to line up for breads handed out by the American occupation forces. The problem was, bread wasn’t in the Japanese diet. But ramen, or noodle, was.
Therefore, Momofuku invented the dried and pre-cook noodles that come in a squared block, with flavoring powder and/or seasoning oil in a small package. Add hot water, grab a pair of chopsticks, and there you have it.
On August 25, 1958, Nissin Chikin Ramen (chicken flavor) hit Japanese supermarkets at Y35 per pack. By 1971, instant noodles made their way into Thailand.
The brand Mama became such an important staple diet for Thais that in the past, local media used the “Mama Index,” rather than the Economic Index to explain the economy.
When the economy is down, the Mama Index is up, because people can’t afford more expensive food items. For example, in the 1997 Economic Crisis (nicknamed Tom Yum Goong, another Thai dish), the Mama Index was skyrocketing through the roof.
However, the Mama Index is no longer used, as it is hardly an accurate measurement of the economy. But as a staple food, whether in normal times or times of COVID-19, instant noodles are the one thing we all can rely on.