Delighting children, reassuring lonely, dinnerless workaholics, and representing the stunning success of a brand, Maggi noodles completed 25, competing with street food and only slightly threatened on its throne
On that cold December night, the Magi had carried with them gold, myrrh and frankincense as gifts for the infant Jesus. Had Maggi been an invention of the Biblical times, I am sure that the three wise men would have tucked a packet of noodles inside their robes. A delicious meal, which can be prepared in two minutes, would have been an ideal commodity for a long journey.
I discovered Maggi’s miraculous properties early in life. For some reason, my twin sister and I had been let loose in the kitchen in my mother’s absence. Rummaging through mysterious tins and strange smelling jars, we discovered a bright yellow packet. We tore it open, and a lump of dried noodle cake dropped to the floor. Having been taught never to eat anything that has fallen on the floor, we proceeded to do exactly that with a sense of elation. After gathering the bits of noodle, we put them inside a pot and poured an enormous amount of water on it. Having no idea how to turn the gas on, we placed the pot on an electric heater and decided to wait and see what happened next. Soon, the world inside the pot turned magical: the water began to boil, bubbles emerged on the surface making gurgling sounds, and a noodle-like smell filled the room. In our excitement, we forgot to add salt. Neither did we notice the pouch of masala powder, which was supposed to be added to the broth. Our first dish of Maggi, which took us much more than two minutes to make, must have been as bland as prison food. Despite the years, our cooking abilities have remained unchanged. So has our love for Maggi.
But my fascination with Maggi cannot be explained solely on the basis of an enduring childhood memory. I find Maggi’s soaring popularity on its silver jubilee intriguing sociologically too, for it represents our society’s changing relationship with time. For instance, Maggi’s success as a consumer product is premised on the easy demand it makes on time. The advertisements, which earlier featured two brats making a dash for the steaming bowls of noodles after crashing through the gate on return from school, told mothers that the meal can be prepared in a jiffy. Everyone is in a tearing hurry these days, including mothers who need to get to work, as well as children who must rush to coaching classes instead of to the playground. Very few families have the time to sit together and savour wholesome, cooked food. Solitary creatures like us have company in Maggi.
Maggi’s success is also indicative of some piquant cultural traits. Maggi’s founder, Julius Maggi, a pioneer in industrial food production, had started his company in the German town of Singen to improve the nutritional intake of factory workers. Perhaps inspired by his legacy, the present owners, Nestlé, introduced Maggi Atta instant noodles and soups in India, in 2005, to address health concerns. Indians, never ones to indulge in healthy eating, rejected the new product resoundingly.
Everyone has his own Maggi story. A friend of mine gets teary eyed every time he mentions how Maggi helped him survive Delhi’s harsh winter and a demanding job. Another apocryphal tale I heard was about this young man, who couldn’t cook to save his life, winning his starving beloved’s heart by fixing a quick meal of noodles and soup. It is this personal bond — tinged with memories of people and places — that has helped Maggi vanquish all competition.
Baltic nations relish Maggi soup. The subcontinent gorges on Maggi noodles, while parts of Africa and South America cannot do without Maggi bouillon cubes. After a hard day at work, when I return home and find that there is nothing else save an egg and a packet of Maggi in the refrigerator, I seldom feel lonely or depressed. For I know that in some corner of the world, a distant place that I will never be able to visit, someone else too is being saved from spending a long, hungry night by a humble, much-loved, bright yellow packet.