You won't find this in guidebooks

Last updated 05:05 15/01/2014
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NOODLE MUSEUM: Visitors order their own cup noodle at the Instant Ramen Museum.

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It takes me back. It takes me a long way back. It's just the sight of the packaging. You don't even have to crack the top of that cup and pour in some boiling water, before I'm suddenly back in university, I'm sitting on the futon with my mates Jase and Karl, I'm playing video games and I'm trying to avoid anything that could be construed as study.

I'm a poverty-stricken student again. I'm working part-time jobs with a full-time hangover. I'm passing subjects in between passing out.

I'm . . . Oh wait, I'm in Osaka. I've been daydreaming, and it's the noodles that did it, the instant cup noodles that provoke a sort of Pavlovian response of wanting to be couch-bound and destitute.

That's how I think of cup noodles. But it would seem I'm in the minority here.

This is the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, a touristy homage to gastronomic invention, to the genius of a tasty meal that requires only hot water and a plastic fork to prepare and eat.

It's a building dedicated to Mr Ando, the inventor of the humble instant noodle, and the product itself. It's also insanely popular with the Japanese, particularly today, a whole gaggle of noodle-loving schoolchildren and their noodle-loving teachers.

You know a nation is passionate about food when it can idolise the creator of povvo student snacks. This is, after all, the Ronald McDonald of Japanese cuisine. It's the supreme majesty of a hearty bowl of ramen dumbed down into a cup of brittle noodles and some powdered flavour.

And yet the Japanese, gastronomic enthusiasts one and all, flock here to worship it.

I'm prepared to accept I might be the Luddite here. It's possible I didn't appreciate the full magnificence of the white container with the big "CUP NOODLE" stamped on the outside in my university days.

In my haste to quell the munchies, I might not have understood the wonder of modern cuisine I was inhaling.

We'll see.

We'd been a little worried about finding the museum today, my partner and I, given it's set in the outskirts of Osaka, in a suburban area of quiet little streets and shops. It's not mapped by guidebooks or covered in tourist brochures, probably because as an attraction, it's faintly ridiculous. A museum dedicated to instant noodles?

So we stepped off the train at Ikeda station prepared for an inevitable Japanese tourism experience - wandering around in circles for a while - but the school kids were about to come to our rescue.

There they were in a long line, marching down a side street, each clutching a clear bag containing a single cup of instant noodles. Their source, we figured, must have been the museum, so we followed the line in reverse, these little kids strung out like a trail of crumbs to entice us to the feast.

That feast was a squat brick building with a neatly manicured lawn and a statue of a waving man clutching some instant noodles. That'll be Mr Ando, a man who quietly revolutionised food from behind his trademark dark sunnies, before dying a few years ago in the area in which the museum now stands.

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What's inside Mr Ando's homage? There's a wall of cup noodles in the main part of the exhibition, a multilayered timeline of packaging from the company's beginnings in 1958 to its ubiquitous modern-day container.

There are other child-friendly displays throughout the building, but they tend to attract far too many children, so my partner and I are headed to the main attraction: the chance to custom-make our very own cup of noodles. Already, the memories are flooding back.

We join a queue and we're handed an empty Cup Noodle packet, then directed to seats and shown the coloured pens and glitter. We're told to adorn our cup with pictures of our choice.

Me? I'm being taken back to dollar drinks nights at Rosie's, to missing every 8am lecture.

Next we join another queue to select our custom flavours. We push the boat out with curry sauce, chunks of pork, shrimp and bizarre fish flakes that do not look like food. It mightn't be a tasty combination, but it's colourful.

I, meanwhile, am thinking of part-time work as a short-order cook, of neighbours yelling at our mid-week parties.

We watch as our Cup Noodle is heat-sealed and shrink-wrapped. We're handed the finished product, which we clutch like it's a Faberge egg instead of a 30-cent stoner snack. We wrap it in the clear plastic bag, then finally join the school kids still returning to the train station.

It might seem as if we're leaving in a hurry, but it's time to go: I need to find some hot water and a futon.

What unusual attractions have you discovered on your travels? Share your stories below.

- FFX Aus


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