YOKOHAMA, Japan — Countries’ foods are also windows on their souls.
Take hamburgers. Hand-held, quick to assemble and wolf down, they embody a quintessentially American idea that founding father Benjamin Franklin put to paper in 1748 and which still powers the ambitious on Wall Street and beyond. “Remember,” Franklin wrote, “that time is money.”
In China, food is so omnipresent in the national psyche that people greet each other with the phrase “chi fan le ma?” — have you eaten? And French food snobbery prompted the famously omnivorous President Jacques Chirac to once quip unkindly of the British that: “One cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad.”
Which leads us to the Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama, Japan.
Yes, there is such a place. And, yes, instant noodles have plenty to say about Japanese traits of inventiveness, risk-taking and an openness to adapting and upgrading foreign influences that helped Japan recover after World War II to become an economic, cultural — and gastronomic — titan.
Some of those same traits have, these past two weeks, also helped Japan pull off the improbable feat — or folly, the jury is out — of hosting the Olympic Games in the midst of the pandemic. Allowing 11,000 athletes to come from around the world, some bringing the coronavirus with them, testified to Japanese resilience, hospitality and flexibility.
Now back to ramen, with — excuse the pun — a potted history.
The Japanese cribbed noodles from neighbor China, where they are called “lamian.”