HARD-BOILED NOODLE NOIR

Noodles are my business. Sesame, cellophane, udon, you name it--I've chased the wild chow fun in Chinatown, stalked soba up and down Sawtelle. When I heard whispers on the street that the O was missing from the "Cup O'Noodles" product name, something didn't taste right. "Cup Noodles" isn't just grammatically offensive, it's anti-prepositional. I had a case on my hands.

I knew I'd have to go to the source, and that meant Nissin Foods in . . . Gardena. I'd been in better fights than a drive to Gardena, but I was going to follow this case wherever it led. Four hours out of downtown, I crawled off the 405 Freeway and into the Nissin offices.

Her name was Cindy. Cindy Franco. She was a customer service liaison. And she was ready for me. "They dropped the O in 1996," Cindy explained. "Worldwide, it's been 'Cup Noodles' for a long time. People still ask, though," she added.

I kept digging. "What kind of people?"

"People like you," Cindy said.

I asked what "Nissin" meant. Cindy summoned a colleague, who informed me that Nissin is Japanese for "Sun. Clear. Pure." Then he gave me a Cup Noodles coupon and asked me to leave. "Much More Than a Soup," it read.

Five hours later in a downtown grocery, I spotted "Bowl Noodle Soup" by the Nong Shim Co. in Korea. Yeah, I know, no O. If you want me, I'll be at Musso's.

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