The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze

The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze

The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze

The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze

Synopsis

A rich, salty, and steaming bowl of noodle soup, ramen has become an international symbol of the cultural prowess of Japanese cuisine. In this highly original account of geopolitics and industrialization in Japan, George Solt traces the meteoric rise of ramen from humble fuel for the working poor to international icon of Japanese culture.

Ramen's popularity can be attributed to political and economic change on a global scale. Using declassified U.S. government documents and an array of Japanese sources, Solt reveals how the creation of a black market for American wheat imports during the U.S. occupation of Japan (1945-1952), the reindustrialization of Japan's labor force during the Cold War, and the elevation of working-class foods in redefining national identity during the past two decades of economic stagnation (1990s-2000s), all contributed to the establishment of ramen as a national dish.

This book is essential reading for scholars, students of Japanese history and food studies, and anyone interested in gaining greater perspective on how international policy can influence everyday foods around the world.

Excerpt

Ōsaki Hiroshi, fifty-four, eats approximately eight hundred bowls of ramen per year and writes about ramen for a living. In his book The Secret History of Ramen in Japan (Nihon rāmen hishi), he claims to have ingested more than twenty thousand bowls over his lifetime at 9,500 shops spread across the archipelago of Japan. As the founder of the Ramen Bank, a website offering information on 35,330 ramen shops, he is part of a generation of ramen devotees who have worked to elevate the food from one associated with manual labor and night entertainment to an iconic component of Japanese national food culture. Ōsaki and others have transformed ramen in Japan into much more than simply a food. It has become an important source of tourist revenue, an idealized refuge for laid-off workers, and a focal point for the redefinition of the nation and its history.

There is something excessive about ramen. The salt, the lard, the lines of people waiting, the guidebooks, the television shows, the museum, and the taste of an unforgettable bowl—there is nothing else quite like it in Japan. The meaning that young people attach to the consumption of this noodle soup has been a seemingly inexhaustible resource for reality television producers, graphic novelists, and food bloggers. Every type of food has its fans . . .

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