Pot Noodle skeletons in the pantry


Pot Noodle is the skeleton in my pantry (iStockphoto)

Everyone has a skeleton in the pantry. Mine is Pot Noodle. Unbeknownst to my mother I ate them as a teenager at school for lunch. They’re those horrid instant noodles that come in a pot, covered in powdered flavouring, with a sachet of dodgy sauce. Add boiling water, stir in sauce, reseal the foil lid, wait a short while, and hey presto, you have a one-pot meal of reconstituted gunk that leaves you feeling extremely thirsty afterwards.

As 17 year-old school girls – with the privilege of leaving the school grounds at lunch-time that younger students weren’t afforded – we were quite possibly addicted to Pot Noodle.  Okay, they were cheap. Around 50 pence (77 cents) a pot. I was living in England at the time, in the north, a town – soon-to-be city – called Sunderland.

We’d nip out to the local corner shop for our lunch-time Pot Noodles, bring them back to the Common Room, pop the kettle on, and slurp them down – usually before the suggested steeping period was over. We’d drink the dregs afterwards. Disgusting really. But we were usually saving our cash for the inevitable under-aged, piss-up and a pub crawl that we partook of most weekends.

There were several different flavours: beef and tomato, chow mien, and even chicken tikka somewhere along the line. Despite chicken tikka masala being hailed a national dish the Pot Noodle flavour didn’t catch on with the British public and was discontinued. The chicken and mushroom flavour was my favored fast-noodle fix.

Australia has Cup Noodle. I know this not because I buy them, but because I was on a Jetstar flight recently when my neighbour – who had been asleep and snoring – woke up and ordered one from the inflight menu. I admit I had a little sneer to my food-snobbish self when the Cup Noodle was passed across and I nibbled my cheese and crackers and sipped my plastic cup of Shiraz.

After a few minutes, my neighbour removed the all-crucial, heat-trapping, aroma-catching foil lid. I tell you, I almost wrestled that Cup Noodle from her pretty little hands, so tantalising was that hauntingly familiar smell.

I’m not proud to admit that I salivated my hankering after that girl’s noodles was so bad.

Maybe there’s a chemical explanation, or it was a memory trigger, or it’s due to the inclusion of notoriously naughty ingredients, such as mono sodium glutamate. Maybe i was just hungry.

So, I ask you dear reader. What makes bad food smell so good? And what blast from the past do you salivate over when it wafts – hauntingly – past your nose?



Filed under Reflections

24 responses to “Pot Noodle skeletons in the pantry

  1. I do enjoy instant noodles every now and then! I’m thinking it has something to do with those bouncy squiggly noodles and the savoury addictiveness of msg…


    • I honestly haven’t eaten them for donkey’s years, but curiously I can really remember the taste. At least I think I can remember the taste. I’m not planning on going back there any time soon to see if my taste memory is accurate … Although I was tempted on that Jetstar flight!


  2. I owned up to my own pantry shame some time ago – Gravox. My family loves it!


  3. Rachel, good post, as always. Funnily enough, I have recently been reviewing my lunch options and shopping to stock my cabinet at work. To my surprise, I did stop in front of the Two Minute Noodles and pick up a packet, but then put them back when I thought of all the salt and fat. They do (did) taste ok once upon a time.

    In answer to your question, not sure if it is bad food, really, but when people at work are toasting sandwiches with cheese, I do start hankering. That smell is quite wonderful!

    Oh, now I think about bad food… yes, a work colleague and I literally made ourselves sick one day last winter. We smelled salt and vinegar hot chippies in the elevator, so went across the road and bought some for ourselves. Mine were smothered in that gloopy gravy you get in those greasy spoon joints! I gobbled them down so quickly and they did taste yummy, but I paid for it later that day with thirst and indigestion!


    • Ahh, yes. Hot chips. They get me, too. Sometimes buy them from the cafe at work. Best when they’re doused in gravy of course. I always get half way through them and think ‘what am i doing?’. And realise they’re not that nice. I chuck the rest, then fall into the same trap a couple of months later. Thanks for dropping by, Lizzy.


  4. Richard

    Being from the UK I can totally relate – I used to absolutely love chicken pot noodles! Funny also that you mention the Jetstar incident. I recall being on a JAL flight back to the uK once and discovered, through seeing a traveller who was clearly more seasoned than myself, that cup noodles could be procured from the flight crew ad infinitum throughout the flight for free! I hate airline food – to the point that I normally don’t eat at all even on long haul flights, so it was with great joy that I discovered bland but sustaining noodle cups could be obtained so readily.

    I had McDonalds chips tonight for the first time in as long as I can remember, not eally sure why, just go the urge – they were disappointing. But the blast from the past I still find it hard to resist when I’m back in the UK is the Ginsters Chicken and Mushroom Slice. Eaten cold, straight from the fridge at the local Sainsburys. It’s an abomination I know but I find it hard to resist!


    • Good to meet another fellow – and former – Pot Noodle nut! I couldn’t go past the chicken curry flavour.
      I have no idea what Ginsters chicken & mushroom slice is. Sounds horrid … In a good kind of way:-)
      Thanks for sharing your in-flight story.
      I had a good chuckle at it!


  5. I can’t go past Kraft Macaroni Cheese ( Deluxe) it brings back so many childhood memories and I will buy it now and again and relieve them. Love it!


  6. Correction – relive not relieve 🙂


  7. When I was at uni I studied abroad in Hong Kong. I was on SUCH a tight budget and all my free cash went to booze and travels. So, I ate a lot of instant noodles. I fell in love with the “Spicy” flavour. I’d soften the noodles in the water, then pour out most of the water and add the flavour packets so the flavour was super intense. When I was in Vietnam last month I saw the same brand of noodles that I’d eaten in HK and I tried a pack. It was terrible! The noodles were freakishly chewy and the spice pack was all gluey. I wasn’t really surprised that my trip down Noodle-Memory-Lane was a failure.


  8. I have the same craving! Only with mine it is Maggie Chicken Noodles. They have to be made in a specific way: Crushed into a large mug, topped with boiling water. Then you place a text book of some description over the mug to ensure maximum steamage of the noodles. After a bit, drain half the water and then add the flavouring. This was what got me through my HSC! Even today my hand brushes over the packets in the supermarket as my mind fills with nostalgia. I may or may not have a packet or two in the pantry for emergencies!


    • I love the fact that your method includes putting a text book over the top for maximum steamage, which is a fitting piece of equipment given this particular pantry skeleton got you through your HSC.
      Also love the fact that you’ve got some in the pantry for emergencies … Maybe!


  9. I love instant noodles and usually try to keep a couple of packet sin the house however there are only two kinds that I buy: Wai Wai sour flavour (like Tom Yum) and another one whose name escapes me but the flavour is ‘onion’. Both are fantastic and only 1 has MSG (according to the label). I only ever eat them late at night when I have my second wind with writing and am powering on into the early hours of the morning. Yes, it’s trashy food but when I’m on a writing binge I want something quick, hot and fast 😉

    btw great to meet you at Tasting Australia!


  10. LOL ahh pot noodles! My sister loves them! I didn’t mind them but they weren’t quite my favourite although I could name loads of other naughty things (of the chip variety).


  11. Lindi Sheehan

    I’ll admit it – I still eat them when I home by myself at night


  12. You know, pot noodles revolutionised the post-war diet in Japan for those who could not afford to eat after WWII. So rather than feel guilty as you put on the kettle, you can eat in amazement at how wonderful this invention has been for society 😉 My mum used to buy a huge boxful of instant noodles from the Asian grocer for those evenings when she was too tired to cook, though she often made it on the stove and added fresh vegetables and herbs. I have to admit that I have a craving for instant noodles now and then and feel no guilt in eating it at all 🙂

    But my weakness happens to be hot chips with a good slather of tomato sauce. Sadly, no place in Switzerland really sells hot chips, unless you buy a sausage to go with, which I often do just to get my fix. At times, the craving has been so bad that I have been tempted to walk into McDonald’s … but I haven’t crossed that line yet 😉


  13. It’s got to be partly the memories those aromas invoke – apparently our sense of smell is attached to our strongest memories – but also the umaminess from the salt and MSG!


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