If you know, you know.
Everyone has their go-to meal when they’re feeling under the weather. And while classic Chicken Noodle Soup, saltines and ginger ale, and toast with honey all have a place in my heart, when I caught a cold this past week I only had one meal on my mind: Maggi noodles.
Here’s the thing about Maggi noodles: Objectively, they’re… fine? Owned by the same company that makes the much-loved bouillon cubes popular in many African countries and the Middle East, Maggi noodles are very similar to ramen noodles, but with a spicy, Indian-inspired kick.
Quality-wise they’re pretty standard 89-cent convenience food. They’re not exactly healthy, and all of that salt can’t be great for you. But something about them has such a strong emotional pull, not just for me, but for anyone who’s grown up in an Indian family, pretty much anywhere in the world. They’ve become this perplexing symbol of the Indian diaspora; for my entire life, during trips to the Indian grocer with my parents, Maggi noodles were always, unquestionably just as much of a staple in our shopping cart as the produce and spices we couldn’t find at our supermarket.
As a kid, when we needed a speedy Saturday lunch before rushing out to dance rehearsal or soccer practice, Maggi noodles—bulked up with fried eggs, shredded cabbage, or whatever frozen veggies we had on hand—were a regular go-to. When we got home late at night from a family road trip and wanted a hot, comforting meal fast, Maggi noodles, doused in a combination of Heinz ketchup and my mom’s homemade cilantro chutney was what we turned to. Even when I lived on my own, and it was finals week in college, I would dutifully head to the closest Indian grocer in my college town and stock up on the firetruck-red and yellow noodle packages to get me through late-night studying and coffee-fueled cram sessions.
Entire controversies and international conversations have played out around these noodles. Do you eat them soupy, or dry? With or without ketchup? Cheese or no cheese? In 2015, when there was a temporary international recall because tests found the noodles contained lead, the international Maggi-loving community collectively lost their mind, declaring their undying love for the product on social media, standing with the brand. There are memes. There are copycat spice blends. There are bizarre mashup recipes turning the noodles into everything from pizza to burgers to spring rolls.
And just last weekend, when I was feeling especially drained and couldn’t muster up enough energy or motivation to cook a from-scratch meal, I whipped up the two-minute noodles just how I’ve enjoyed them for the last 23 years of my existence: with one fried egg, extra soupy, half of a fresh-squeezed lime, and way too much ketchup—and it legitimately tasted like home.