I have another pot of barley stew cooking in the kitchen (this time using grass-fed beef), and my husband is making instant ramen noodles for a belated lunch. Like most Americans, I associate ramen, first with the Japanese, and secondarily with cheap food eaten by college students, artists, and other folk with more dreams than money. So I looked up the story of ramen in Wikipedia, and found that it hasn't always been that way.
According to Wikipedia, ramen was originally a Chinese noodle dish--yet another of the cultural imports from China that the Japanese managed to make their own. However, the "just-add-water" form of ramen was invented by about 50 years ago by Momofuku Ando, the owner of the Japanese food company Nissin Food Products Co., Ltd. At the time, Japan was still suffering from a severe food shortage as part of the aftermath of World War II. Ironically, Ando was also a Chinese import, in a sense; he moved to Japan as a young man and obtained Japanese citizenship. Eventually, he founded Nissin, and worked on making an instant noodle product to help alleviate the food shortage.
Ramen was originally marketed as a luxury product. In 1971, Ando came up with the "cup-of-noodles" idea, providing a waterproof styrofoam container with the noodles. The built-in eating bowl enhanced the product's popularity, and it began to sell more rapidly. In short order, the taste for ramen, like the taste for falafel, became global, as it is today.
Interestingly, Momofuku Ando was a man who believed in his product. He died in 2007 at the ripe old age of 96, attributing his longevity to playing golf and eating instant ramen almost every day. An interesting claim, since instant ramen is flash fried during the manufacturing process and as a result is high in saturated fat or even trans fats.