Review: Magic Ramen By Wang & Urbanowicz

There has been an interesting theme in some of my recent favorite picture books: food! We have a handful from the library currently and are just adoring them. And bonus, several of them include recipes too! So this week, I’m going to take some time to review our favorites (and hopefully we’ll try the recipes too!)

First up today is a book for noodle lovers! This is the story of Momofuku Ando who persistently experimented for over a year to invent instant ramen. Grab a bowl of delicious noodles and take a look at Magic Ramen by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz, 2019.

The story covers about 12 years of Ando’s life, beginning a few years after the end of World War II as Osaka, Japan continued to recover. Ando is appalled to see people starving, waiting in long lines for hours for bowls of ramen. He determines to make food his life’s work, longing to create a peaceful world by making sure everyone has enough to eat.

After several failed business endeavors, Ando himself was penniless and still thinking about the people waiting for food. He sets out to find a way to make ramen quicker and much cheaper and more nutritious. He experimented for a year, trying different methods, gaining inspiration from various places, and failing again and again… until finally, magic ramen is invented!

I was charmingly surprised by this book. Who would have thought the story of ramen’s invention could be so enthralling? Now, I must admit, we are not an instant ramen family. We are very much a ramen restaurant family, where the broth has been cooked for hours and the noodles are fresh and the atmosphere is warm and inviting. This book was actually a very humorous read for my New Yorker children who have only ever had fancy ramen (and adore it.) I think they were slightly appalled at the idea of instant ramen when restaurants serving ramen abound in our city. But, we’ll get some soon and let them experience it for themselves.

What I love about this book though, not only does it introduce me to Momofuku Ando and his invention, which I never thought twice about in college; but it also shows the perseverance and creativity that inventing something takes. It is exhausting just reading about all his ideas and attempts, but that only leads to feeling such excitement with him when he finally succeeds!

Andrea Wang did a lovely job sharing a long, tedious story with just the right pace. And I really appreciate the author’s note, pronunciation guide, and afterword in the back, giving a larger overview and a bit of back matter to the true story.

But my favorite part is always the art and Kana Urbanowicz has created an immensely fun story through her illustrations. The style borders on graphic novel and works so wonderfully with the ink outlines and muted, limited color palette. I love her style and especially the pages with six panels that show an experimentation process Ando took.

Hope you enjoyed this first food picture book for the week. And if you enjoy ramen in any form, you’ll love this story.

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