Diving Deep into Our Favorite Cyberpunk Food
From the hacker in his pod apartment to the parkouring rebel at the top of the skyscraper, noodles like instant ramen are probably the only food item universally associated with cyberpunk. After all, even Deckard stops to have some noodles for a second in the genre-defining Blade Runner.
In a genre severely lacking in culinary options, ramen feels like the only food universally agreed to be tied to cyberpunk. At first, this association might appear inevitable because of the genre’s infatuation with the Far East, especially Japan. But could this association run even deeper, to the point that we can find the ingredients of cyberpunk all hidden inside one packet of instant ramen?
Even in the world of noodles, the idea that “Cyberpunk is Now” remains prevalent. At first, the idea of instant noodles was only really popular in Asia. However, instant noodles have become a worldwide phenomenon, especially in the student world. Most of the people who consume it are probably not doing it for their devotion of a niche sci-fi genre, but by exploring the hidden cyberpunk inside every packet. We might be able to build a better view of our current reality.
What caused this fast food to become much more popular than other low-cost alternatives, like boiled rice or miso? Time to open the lid and get the water boiling, because we’re ready to unpack the secrets inside the main cultural ingredient of a good chunk of meals from my university life.
High Tech, Low Nutrition – The Strange Origins of Instant Noodles
Compared to other comfort foods, it’s strange to compare the staggering difference in taste between the instant version of ramen to the one you’d order at a ramen shop. Of course, these compromises come with their own benefits, such as the ease of preparation, incredibly long shelf life and availability of mass production that allows for lower prices and larger production volumes. By the way, none of these benefits were mere accidents. Since their invention in 1958, they served as a way to provide food to Japan after WW2, trying to use the tons of wheat sent over from the US as a form of aid which was initially going to be used to make bread.
However, the strangeness of instant noodles does not end here. With its strange origins out of the way, let us delve now into an even stranger use for these portable sodium rations: DYI.
Is My Sink Made of Ramen? And Other Questions You Never Thought You’d Ask
Back in the distant age of 2019, a DYI trend started by a few repair channels quickly became viral over social media. The idea was simple. You get something that’s broken, like a burnt wooden table or porcelain items like sinks or plates, and you cover the broken area with dry instant noodles. By adding some magical clear liquid (probably super glue or epoxy), as well as the seasonings for comedic effect, your once broken item would be a spray paint and varnish away from being as good as new.
Like many other unorthodox “life hacks”, the internet is still divided on the viability to this day. Depending on who you ask, these videos might be either full of editing and replacing tricks, or the technique of using filler is common in the prop industry. Personally, I’m currently in the camp that noodle fixing is viable, but requires a fair amount of DYI knowledge for it to look good. But in any case, I digress. Rather than focusing on the viability of repairing with ramen, I feel there’s another angle worth exploring to understand that cyberpunk is now: Why do people want it to be real?
Personally, the wish for ramen to be so versatile demonstrates the cyberpunk wishes behind many people. It’s not only the wish for a DYI fixup that’s cheap, but also unique and unexpected. After all, how incredible would ramen be if it was truly the panacea to all of our problems, from a skipped dinner to a broken dish? In a way, the trend of ramen fixing is but a modern urban version of Kintsugi, or the Japanese art of fixing broken items with precious metals to highlight the beauty of these changes. I might be reaching too far here, but what is more cyberpunk than fixing something with a patch of ramen? Next time I break a bone, I’ll ask my doctor to fetch a couple of boxes of Shin Ramyun.
Carving Your World in a Mass-Produced Reality
Having explored both the cyberpunk origins and uses of instant noodles, there’s no better way to conclude this strange ode to ramen than by exploring the personal aspect of instant ramen.
After all, how do you make something so mass-produced into your own?
That’s because, after eating the third ramen packet with the same flavour, they tend to become quite dull. To solve this, almost everyone has come up with their own secret ingredients. Whether it be combining different packets, or including a few special fresh ingredients, there are hundreds of ways of making a dish your own. We can even spot this in Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite with the Park family’s Ram Don or Jjapaguri dish, where the combination of a couple of packets with the expensive Hanu beef shows their wealth even in the comfort food.
Applying this concept to other aspects of life shows how, even at the stage of choosing your ramen, there is still a bit of cyberpunk in it. As our commodities become more and more standardized, what can we do to make them our own? How can we hide our own souls into a mass-produced, mega-conglomerate designed life? Through its many common twists and suggestions, instant ramen is able to show us our desire for identity even when dealing with food produced in the billions.
Putting all of these together, it’s not that hard to believe anymore that ramen deserves its place in the throne of cyberpunk food. For many, this rabbit hole might have been purposeless. But hopefully, this small ode to something hiding behind your shelf has given you a chance to imagine what other common items might hide a little bit of cyberpunk in them.