Will 'warung Indomie' become a relic of our time?

The brand Indomie has become synonymous with “instant noodle”.
The brand Indomie has become synonymous with “instant noodle”.PHOTO: ST FILE

(THE JAKARTA POST) - In her book, On The Noodle Road: From Beijing To Rome With Love And Pasta, Jen Lin-Liu explained about the first noodle.

According to Lin-Liu, the geologist Lu Houyan and his team found a strand looking like noodle under a clay bowl while excavating village ruins in Lajia. The site had been home to an ethnic minority that thrived near the Yellow River before an earthquake decimated this area.

Carbon analysis confirmed the thread was made from millet and was about 4,000 years old. Although Lu is not sure whether it was the Chinese who introduced noodles to the West, but he is certain that no one would find an older noodle than that.

Let’s move to Indonesia - Bandung in West Java. It is very easy to find small stalls selling noodle, tea, and coffee – all instant. These stalls are locally known as warung Indomie or warmindo for short. To call Indomie popular is an understatement, since the brand name has become synonymous with “instant noodle”.

In these stalls, costumers can ask for additional eggs, vegetables, or corned beef as toppings. Almost all the coffee and tea comes from sachets, whether hot or cold, with sugar or creamer. Another treat commonly found in these stalls is soda gembira, literally happy soda, referring to the bubbles produced when condensed milk meets with soda, which race to the top – almost like they are dancing.

Yes, instant culture is here to stay.

Once I passed a warung Indomie during a football match between Persib, the local club and pride of Bandung, and a so-so club from another city. Some people ordered milk coffee and poured it over a small plate to make the hot liquid cool faster, some smoked kretek (clove cigarette), some ordered plain black coffee, and surely several empty bowls were stacked in the corner of a long table. All eyes were glued to the television screen, including the owner’s. Conversation centred on the players and the game. The scene was similar to Irish pubs as in the movies, where some O’Gradys, McPaddys, and McDougals sit together with beers in hand, eyes glued to the screen, cursing when a player missed the ball.

Of course, not all warungs are created equal. Bandung has long thrived as a creative city for its youth’s innovation. Warmindo has neither escaped the creative touch of Bandung’s young generations, as many small stalls start to resemble hipster cafes or restaurants.

The first, or at least the first successful, one in this line is Warung Madtari. The biggest branch is located near Dago, an uphill hip hang-out places for locals or domestic tourists, mostly just from Jakarta. Warung Madtari in Dago comes in a big house, and the restaurant serves variations of instant noodles and drinks, also toasts and bakso (meatball soup). The place’s popularity grows quickly as it’s located near several campus and universities.

Another hip Indomie joint is Upnormal, which prides itself as the pioneer of modern twists of beloved instant noodle. As in Madtari, the warung-cafe serves variations of instant noodle with mozzarella toppings and other hip food trends, along with an array of cold drinks, juice, coffee, fried rice, toasts, and don’t forget, free Wi-fi.

It's like these modern food stalls want to say: yes, the food might be instant, and the so-called food trend will come and go, but it’s not only about feeding, it’s eating and it’s a lifestyle.

Of course, there are times when you just need a midnight snack. There is nothing compared to Indonesian’s loyalty to instant noodle as an easy, quick meal (or just snack to some people). When you are too lazy to move a muscle to actually cook the noodle, just grab a cup of instant noodle and pour some hot water. Instant noodle just gets, well, more instant.

I am not paid to endorse Indomie. I’m just showing how instant noodle, thanks to its practicality, has become an iconic survival tool that evolves to follow the busy city pulse. 

Who knows, one future archaeologist will find a remnant of plastic package of instant noodle or the relic of a warung Indomie and be amazed on how creative we are in finding ways to serve instant noodle. Maybe they will forget to curse our obsession with these plastics and styrofoam food packages.