Instant noodles riding a cultural wave

Megah Putra sells almost four million serves of plain wrapped dried noodles into the local market at Makassar, most of which are sold by street food vendors. 

In the 1950s Rudy Halim’s grandfather first began making dried noodles in Makassar on South Sulawesi, Indonesia. He was part of the small Chinese population on the island and the local Chinese were his only customers.

Photo of Megah Putra owner Rudy Halim

Owner of Megah Putra, Rudy Halim, is considering expanding into export markets.

PHOTOS: Catherine Norwood 

But a wave of immigration from Java to Sulawesi in the 1980s and 1990s brought increased demand for noodles as the Javanese brought their culinary preferences and their street foods with them, particularly dishes such as meatballs and noodles.

The uptake of noodles has spread on the wave of economic development from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta to other islands across the nation. Today noodles are an Indonesian staple, particularly in urban centres, second only to rice.

Megah Putra sells almost four million serves of plain wrapped dried noodles into the local market at Makassar, most of which are sold by street food vendors.

Photo of dry noodles on the back of a motorbike

“Today, if you have a party or a wedding, you have to have noodle dishes, as well as rice dishes,” Mr Halim says. “And at harvest time, instant noodles are very popular; workers can take instant noodles to the fields because they don’t need any preparation.”

Dried noodles rather than fried instant noodles are the biggest seller for the Halims’ family business, Megah Putra. They produce four basic products: dried noodles, dried egg noodles, fried instant noodles and instant snack noodles (crushed instant noodles with seasoning added, which are eaten dry).

Mr Halim says in the 1990s their only real competitor was Indofood (now an internationally listed food conglomerate), but there are now many more businesses producing noodles in Indonesia, even in the local Sulawesi region.

Megah Putra has been able to maintain its market share with its reputation for a quality product. “The price is a bit higher, but so is the quality of our noodles. The strategy has worked so far. We have invested in good equipment, with automated production lines – although the packing is still a manual process – and we buy good ingredients.”

The business uses up to 12,000 tonnes of flour a year, blending 80 per cent low-protein flour with 20 per cent higher-protein flour. They make their own flour blend, according to a family recipe, for the different noodle lines.  

Dry noodles form about 50 to 60 per cent of sales, with instant noodles accounting for 20 to 25 per cent, snack noodles 10 per cent and the more expensive egg noodles making up the remainder.

The mixing and noodle-forming processes are automated. On two of four production lines formed noodles travel on a conveyor through a hot-air dryer for 20 minutes. On the other two production lines the instant noodles are flash fried in shortening for three minutes.

Mr Halim says they have experimented with several different flavours for the instant noodles, with limited success. The best sellers continue to be chicken and plain noodles, and soto ayam, a Javanese-style chicken soup.

A global staple

Japan’s Momofuku Ando (founder of Nissin Food Products) invented flash-fried instant noodles in 1958.

By 2012, the global demand for instant noodles had reached 100 billion units, according to the latest figures from the World Instant Noodle Association.

This included both cup and packet noodles. Globally, this represents more than 14 serves per person, per year. China led demand, with 44,030 million units, followed by Indonesia with 14,100 million units.

Australian consumption ranked 19th globally, with 350 million units. Highest annual per capita consumption is in South Korea, with 72.4 serves per person.

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