Saturday, November 6, 2010

Confessions of a hardcore instant ramen lover

Confessions of a hardcore instant ramen lover
Lisa Katayama
Tuesday, Apr 6, 2010

Toshio Yamamoto's earliest memory of ramen goes back to when he was five years old. He was slurping down a bowl of instant noodles at home with his parents when he accidentally flipped it over and burnt himself. "I've been eating instant ramen ever since," he says. By his early elementary school years, Yamamoto had mastered the skill of cooking noodles in a pot, treating himself to a serving of Maruchan whenever hunger struck. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion that would eventually make him a pseudo web celebrity.

Yamamoto is the man behind, a web site that meticulously chronicles and reviews thousands of different types of ramen from Japan and beyond. After we profiled his web site on Boing Boing, the 49-year old hardware engineer agreed to answer a few questions about his instant ramen obsession.

Yamamoto eats instant noodles for breakfast five days a week — Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are cup noodle days; on Saturdays and Sundays he eats the kind that comes in plastic packaging. Until recently, Yamamoto was eating instant noodles seven days a week. He recently decided to slow down his pace for logistical reasons. "For one person to chase a single theme over a long period of time is a very special thing," he says. "I feared that, if I continued at that pace, I would get bored."

The rest of his meals are "just normal meals" — lunch at his company's cafeteria, simple dinners at home. "I don't hate ramen shops, but I'm not particularly drawn to them either."

He started the web site in 1995, reviewing ramen from the 80s that he happened to have stored in his pantry. When a Japanese magazine picked it up as fodder, he decided to continue to document his culinary adventures. is a monster database with over 4,000 distinct ramen reviews — he occasionally revisits the classics to make sure the taste hasn't changed, but for the most part the site consists of new brands and special edition flavors, often from different countries. Over New Years, for example, he flew to Hong Kong and returned with over 100 packets that he's now in the process of reviewing.

Yamamoto also has a YouTube channel. Using Adobe Premiere Elements 4 and some 8mm video skills he acquired as a college student, he created hundreds of video reviews of instant ramen — precise 40-second clips with bouncy music, sound effects, and a voice over that describes the texture, the ingredients, the umami, and ends with a kicker, like "This was altered for American taste buds. It's not something I would ever choose to eat" or "The premium beef paired with ordinary noodles makes it oddly unbalanced." In some of them, you see him adding a hot dog and some cabbage. That's for nutritional balance; also, since hot dogs and cabbage are always readily available, adding those two ingredients consistently removes the possibility of a biased review. For products catered towards Muslims, like instant ramen from Indonesia, he makes sure not to put pork hot dogs inside.

The key to enjoying instant noodles every day is simple: "It's to eat while possessing a feeling of happiness." Yamamoto can conjure up this feeling by reminding himself of the universality of instant ramen. "When I think about all the people even on the opposite end of the globe who are eating instant noodles at the same time as me, it really makes me feel connected beyond borders," he says.

As for his health? So far, he reports no problems whatsoever.

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