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March 11, 2019 | by  | in Lost in the Sauce | [ssba]

Lost in the Sauce – Mi Goreng’s Spicy History


A five-pack of Indomie Mi Goreng noodlesthe instantly recognisable red-and-white packaged noodles which are manufactured in Indonesia under the Indomie brand—goes for $2.79 at New World. The company launched in 1972 as an instant, mass-produced take on the ubiquitous and ever-popular Chinese-influenced dish.

If we look further back, the first-ever instant noodles were created by Taiwanese–Japanese business man Momofuku Ando in post-WW2 Japan. They were created under austerity; a response to the extreme food shortages of the era. The flash-fried ramen noodles were extremely durable, with a shelf life even exceeding that of frozen noodles. The ramen noodles were made from wheat flour—wheat being the primary ingredient here, a surplus crop heavily given as aid from the US during their occupation. Thus, the global staple was born. From here, the noodles have made their way into virtually all global markets—including, eventually, to the shelf of your local New World.

The cultural milieu associated with “2 Minute Noodles” is probably familiar to you: lazy, broke students surviving on a few packets to save money for booze; or the meal of choice when you got home after school, when your parents weren’t quite home from work yet. Both have become clichés due to the low price and extreme ease of preparation.

The choice to eat a quick packet of Mi Goreng almost seems passive; it’s the bare baseline of meals, easy to make and light on the wallet. Yet the series of mechanisms that led you to those noodles is impossibly vast and complicated.


The world appetite for instant noodles is so ravenous that 100.1 billion servings of two-minute noodles were eaten in 2017.

In fact, in 2013, an international group of food experts led an investigation into the viability of instant noodles as a solution to world hunger. Dr Deborah Gewertz of Amherst College, who headed the team, described them as a “protean food designed for quotidian consumption” capable of penetrating any market. However, I’m not just here to heap praise; I don’t want you to think I’m in the pocket of big noodle. Not particularly nutritious but very calorie dense, the wheat flour in noodles has a high glycemic index (which basically means it’s not going to keep you feeling full for very long). But instant noodles are also very high in fat because they’re fried in palm oil. The bad one. The oil we all know and love. To barely touch on the dilemmas involved but the supply in palm oil production is heavily reliant on child labour.  


How do we talk about a cheap and tasty noodle when we know it’s reliant on race to the bottom labour practices? Eating is such an ordinary act, an approachable way to talk about much more esoteric issues around consumption and culture. It’s best for both of us if I take a more considered and esoteric approach to talking about food.


Food writing shouldn’t just be about how to properly sous-vide a pork belly or how to cheaply stretch the classic student stir-fry for cheap. We can have so many more conversations through the lens of food. Through Mi Goreng noodles, we can talk about how a dish brought by Chinese immigrants to Indonesia in the 13th century became a ubiquitous global stable. We can talk about the rise of industrial food production, global labour practices, resource scarcity. We can venture to discuss the ethical, cultural, and sustainability aspects of our diet. After all, eating is a political act.

What do you think is the most Kiwi version of instant noodles? Is there a version of the dish that you could say reflects the cuisine of Aotearoa?


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