The Joys Of Modern Life: 33. Pot Noodles

THE POT Noodle has an image problem. It's not an aspirational snack. You imagine them spilt amid the needles and vomit on a junkie's living-room carpet. Or left half-eaten by some bachelor's bedside, abandoned on top of a pile of dog-eared copies of Razzle. Or piling up in the wire basket of some friendless individual in the queue behind you in Tesco, making you feel all cosy and superior about your organic kumquats and family pack of part-baked croissants.

But the Pot Noodle, for those who can overcome their prejudices, offers a world of unregarded pleasure - due as much to what it kicks against, as to what it tastes like.

It is gloriously unpretentious food. The fierce, synthetic flavourings are so intense and dusty, they give you the impression that someone has managed to turn smoky bacon crisps into a hot meal. It's far superior to the other just-add-water snacks with which it shares supermarket shelf space.

Curry-flavoured Pot Mash probably has enough E-numbers in it to make a horse chronically hyperactive, and the Pot Rice range has an unattractive tendency to degrade to an unctuous mush. But Pot Noodle's highly flavoured wriggliness makes eating it more like a larky game than a meal.

And this can be an educative experience: for many people, these slippery rehydrated forms are an introduction to Oriental cuisine. Before you can graduate to dragon broccoli with tofu, you have to go through a stage at which the Nice'n'Spicy brand is the apogee of exoticism.

Bestfoods, the creators of Pot Noodle, is clearly under no illusion about its product's lack of glamour and sophistication. Its ad campaign is headed by Peter Baynham, the gonk-like comedian who used to emerge each week from inside a deep fat-fryer on Lee and Herring's Fist of Fun. Unlike the makers of truly disgusting food such as Viennetta and Cook-In sauces, Bestfoods doesn't pretend its product will provide some life-changing experience.

It's never going to persuade Ken Hom to endorse it as the authentic taste of Szechuan province, and we'll never see Jancis Robinson gargling with the barbecue variety, and comparing it to oak-smoked pencil shavings beneath a miasma of bilberry and Bovril.

I doubt whether even Delia Smith would agree to feature it in her next book of obvious culinary observations. I confess a secret desire to see Loyd Grossman trying to coo over a Pot Noodle coulis on Masterchef. "And for pudding it's Birds Trifle with Party Faces biscuits, Loyd," the mould-breaking contestant would say. It'd be one in the eye for all those dreadful people who live in converted water towers on the Sussex Downs and who - while everyone else is at work - spend their afternoons caramelising pears with a blow-torch.

And there's more skill involved in the Pot Noodle's preparation than you might think. The process requires judgement and forethought. You don't just splosh a load of water into the tub and let it get on with it. Just as in tea-making, there's a delicate art involved. Too much water and you'll have a dilute soup, too little and you'll be struggling with an oleaginous slurry topped with a tangle of unrehydrated matter.

Though generally regarded as a culinary last resort, the Pot Noodle may yet have its day, particularly if there's a nuclear war, when their indestructible wholesomeness will make them more valuable than diamonds. So if you've got any millenarian suspicions about the end of the world, start hoarding them now.

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