Gourmet ramen in 45 seconds from a SF vending machine

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Andy Lin enjoys a hot bowl of Black Garlic Tonkotsu Ramen prepared in 45 seconds by one of his new vending machines at San Francisco's Metreon. (KGO)

Grabbing instant ramen from a vending machine is going upscale. A new vending machine has made its debut in San Francisco and it is serving up gourmet ramen.

The Yo-Kai Express is the brainchild of Andy Lin, an electrical engineer and self-described foodie who came up with the vending machine after finding it hard to get good ramen in the middle of the night in the Bay Area.

"Our machine is capable of running 24/7 automatically," said Lin as he ordered Black Garlic Tonkotsu Ramen from the machine at The Metreon food court. "You can get a bowl of ramen within a minute."

Try 45 seconds once you swipe your credit card. Lin partnered with a chef from a Michelin rated restaurant to develop the ramen recipes. The noodles were created by a local Japanese ramen vendor and unlike those cups of instant noodles, these ramen bowls come with several slices of chasu, pork belly meat.

"Everything is precooked and flash frozen in a central kitchen. So we only put the broth in the ramen once the customer orders," said Lin.
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While ramen vending machines are common in Japan, they are rare in the United States. Lin is installing three Yo-Kai Express machines at San Francisco International Airport and is working to place them at Stanford University, Kaiser and Sutter hospitals and private companies like Tesla and Google. He said the vending machine at The Metreon regularly sells out nightly from movie goers looking for warm food after a late-night movie.

The machines can offer up to four different soups. Lin is developing recipes beyond ramen. He plans to offer a spicy kimchi soup and is working on an Italian recipe.

Lin says he does not want to compete with regular restaurants. He is happy with filling in the gap after restaurants close, but diners appetites remain open.

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