Know Your Noodle: The Ultimate Guide to Asian Noodles
Everyone loves noodles! As kids, who didn’t want noodle soup for dinner every night? Surviving on instant noodles during college or grabbing takeout pad thai every now and then when you’re too tired to cook after a long day at work, no matter what, it’s a hit for all age!
Who Came up With Noodles?
Every country has its specialty of cooking noodle their way. In addition, every household has their family recipe. However, have you ever wondered where the noodle actually originated? Well, there has been an ongoing debate between China, Italy and the Middle East about who were the first to invent the noodle.
In recent years, the answer seems to be clearer than ever. Archaeologists have unearthed the world’s oldest noodle stored in an overturned bowl from northern China. They assume it estimates to date back 4000 years ago! Facts also state that the oldest ever written records of noodle date back to the Han Dynasty. From there noodles has now become a common staple in many Asian countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore.
Noodles gained most popularity after World War 2. People and warfighters were running short on food supply and that is when they resorted to noodle. It is warm, filling, can be instantly cooked and stocked up for days. These qualities are what made it the best option. Not to mention it is tasty and healthy also.
Asian noodles come in many sizes and shapes. Tall, short, thick, thin; have it your way! All the shapes and sizes are so fascinating and unique. This article will discuss the different varieties of noodles, their composition and the best way to cook and consume them.
You must have eaten this at one point in your life. Deemed as the most popular form of noodle, it is mainly made of wheat. In China, people also know it as “Chuka men”. It is also popular in Japan and Korea, although originating from China. They are long, thin and springy, stored in plastic packages or cups and cook instantly.
The spice packet that comes with it may be little in size but contains a delicious burst of flavor. They get their rich yellow color from eggs in the recipe and the springiness from wheat flour. This is definitely not limited to one continent. The ramen noodle has made tours around the world stretching from North America to Asia.
Ramen is a versatile food staple. It is customizable in endless ways. Korean people traditionally cook it with seafood, vegetables, broth and fried pork. This dish is called “champon” in Korea. In Japan, it people serve it as in Korea or fry it, a food delight known as “yakisoba”. Typically, more or less all ramen consists of a broth, vegetables, any protein and signature soy sauce for the essential flavor. Have it fried or in a soup, it is a delectable meal!
Ramen noodle can also be found fresh and dried, in many Asian markets. Using fresh ramen will surely up your ramen game. Ideally, you should cook fresh ramen for two to three minutes and dried ones require 4 to 6 minutes of boiling. You should also keep in mind that because of its thin shape, it soaks up liquid. Therefore if you are using it on a soup, do not cook it fully initially; rather leave it a little raw.
Chow Mein Noodle
This is arguably the second most commonly known and consumed form of noodle in the world. It has a shape similar to that of spaghetti and is slightly thicker. Chow Mein recipes have evolved over the years. The most famous way of consuming chow Mein is to pair it up with some vegetable stir-fry and throw in shrimp or chicken to add texture and flavor.
Another very popular way of cooking it is surprisingly an American method. Chow Mein is deep-fried until hard and crispy and then smothered with sauces and vegetable the American way. It is then topped with a pan-fried or poached egg with a runny yolk. The noodle, whether fresh or dried, must be parboiled before cooking.
The diversification of recipes and endless possibilities with Chow Mein have made it so popular. Street vendors on the nooks and crannies of countries such as India and Bangladesh are selling it as an everyday staple. The Americans have invented their own signature recipe for it, which is the American Chopsuey.
Lo Mein Noodles
Lo Mein and Chow Mein are often being confused. However, in reality, the two use different recipes. Lo Mein can be both thick and thin in shape. The cooking time is about 3 to 5 minutes if you are using dried noodle. Reduce the boiling time to between 2 to 4 minutes if you are using fresh noodle. Lo Mein is usually added towards the end of cooking and tossed with other ingredients and sauces just to warm up.
These dense noodles hold up nicely to thick meaty sauces. You can try it with a sauce made of minced pork or beef. You can try having lo Mein with sautéed beef, celery and a quick side made of preserved vegetables, sesame oil and soy sauce, known as “Tianjin”.
In traditional Dan Dan noodle recipes, lo Mein s typically used. Alternatively, you can simply toss it with some peanut or sesame oil. Your meal will taste delicious either way.
Primarily invented in China, udon noodle is now a more important part of the Japanese cuisine. It originated from a similar Chinese noodle that was known as “cu mian”. History says that Japanese Buddhist Monks brought it back from China in the 800s. This emphasizes the importance of udon noodles in Buddhism and Japanese Zen.
Although people assume udon is similar to soba noodle and one can be used as a substitute for the other, udon has its uniqueness. Udon noodles are light in color, thick and long. Their texture is very chewy and is perfect to hold up heavy sauces and meaty broths.
Many people enjoy udon noodle with only a broth and spring onions for garnish. If you do not like processed pasta and do not want to put in the effort to make it from scratch, you can simply use udon noodle. Udon is found in three different forms in Asian grocery stores: fresh, dried and frozen. Make your pick and throw it in with that delicious sauce you wanted to have with your pasta with!
Even if you have never cooked with egg noodle ever, you must have eaten it at some point. We can say this with surety because this is the noodle used widely in Chinese food carts and takeout. The basis of this noodle is wheat flour and egg. The eggs are what give it that yellow hue.
Egg noodles are thick, hard and very versatile. When cooking, they can endure very high temperatures for long. Unlike some other forms of noodle that get mushy while cooking. You can try egg noodles with a variety of recipes. Whether it is stir-fried orange chicken, chicken teriyaki or a peanut chili sauce you are pairing with, just fire up your wok and get things heated up! You will be in for a yummy treat.
A combination of flour and buckwheat flour makes the Soba noodle. The buckwheat flour gives it that distinctive greyish brown tint. In terms of flavor, it has a nice earthy and nutty flavor. In terms of nutrients, it is packed with useful nutrients for the body.
Soba noodle is actually a popular staple in Japan originating from there. To be precise, its birth is traceable back to the Edo period in Tokyo. At this time, the wealthy people slowly started to consume white rice instead of brown. However, brown rice is more jam-packed with nutrients than white rice. Thus began the production of soba noodle and people started eating it to get the nutrients they were missing.
Other than its unique flavor and taste, soba noodles is well known for another thing: its flexibility. Be it a hot summer afternoon or a breezy winter morning, soba noodles is perfect for any occasion. One very popular way to consume soba noodles is to have it cold. In Japan, people serve it with only a traditional dipping sauce made of dashi, soy sauce and mirin. It can also be the component of a salad with other vegetables including pink radish, bok choy, purple cabbage, papaya and other Asian salad classics.
On a cold day, you can expect your soba noodle to float on a bowl of warm and flavorful broth. They pair up excellently with red meat such as beef, mutton or pork. The cooking time is similar to that of pasta; about 5 to 7 minutes.
If you absolutely cannot find soba noodles at your local Asian grocery store, you can swap it for whole-wheat pasta. The taste will be different from the authentic soba noodle, thus use this recommendation as a last resort.
Somen noodle is very similar to soba noodle. The key differences lie in the color, as soba is white, and obviously the absence of buckwheat. At times, you can also find it in different colors in specialty stores. The colors derive from natural flavors. The flavorings used are yellow or orange for carrot, purple for beetroot, green for matcha powder and pink for shiso oil.
Soba noodle is very thin and flexible because the dough mixture contains oil. Just like soba noodles, somen is also served both hot and cold. While serving cold it is usually paired with a delicious dipping sauce consisting authentically of bonito flakes. Other times when you want to consume it hot, you can cook it in a soup with spicy ginger, turmeric and miso paste.
Another classic combination is with soy sauce, fish sauce and rice wine vinegar topped with pickled cucumber and marinated tofu cubes.
Somen has embedded itself to a food tradition native to Japan over the years known as Nagashi somen. It is a summer tradition where, in a bamboo shoot, cooked somen is placed in water. As they flow by, diners surround it and catch the noodle using chopsticks. They then dip them into a sauce before eating. It is a fun and exciting way of eating food discovered by the Japanese. If you want your somen served hot, you need to boil it only for 2-4 minutes to get them ready.
Rice Stick Noodles
Rice noodle come in many forms and sizes. It can be thin, thick, flaky or wide. Brown rice noodle is also available now in Asian grocery stores. The variety of available dry rice noodle outnumbers the variety of fresh ones by far. They are made mainly from rice starch and have a firm and springy texture. Rice noodles have the ability to soak up sauces and broths well.
Ideally, you should not directly boil rice noodles but rather soak them in hot water for a few minutes. This is because they are very delicate due to the absence of gluten. Be it a Pad Thai or Vietnamese Pho, the variations of rice noodles make it a perfect choice for many recipes. This form of rice noodle is typically used to cook soups or stir-fries. For stir-fries, it should take about eight minutes to cook thoroughly. If you are using it in a soup then only a couple of minutes shall be enough.
If you are unable to find your desired shape of rice noodle in the grocery store, you can use linguine and fettuccine are close substitutes. However, the taste will definitely not be that of rice noodle so we suggest swapping it only in recipes that are very spicy or have highly seasoned sauces.
Rice Vermicelli Noodle
This is another common form of rice noodle used commonly in the Asian cuisine. Due to the thinness of its shape, vermicelli rice noodle is widely used for cold salads. They are much longer than the other types of rice noodles. These noodles take only 3 to 4 minutes of soaking in warm water to soften. If you want to use them in stir-fries, then prepare your meat and vegetables first by sautéing them and throwing in the rice noodle toward the end just to incorporate the mixture.
Here is a quick classic recipe you can try at home: sauté some vegetables like broccoli, carrots, ginger and bean sprouts. Then make a paste by combining sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, chili paste and brown sugar. Add the paste to the wok and cook until caramelized. Then add the rice vermicelli noodles. Finally, finish it off with crunchy fried tofu. For a salad, you can use the same dressing on cold rice vermicelli noodles and grated vegetables such as beetroot, carrot, raw papaya and bean sprouts.
In the noodle aisle of your grocery store, you are likely to find rice noodle under the names Pad Thai noodle or rice thread. However, be careful it is not the same as cellophane or glass noodle. Vermicelli rice noodles can also be deep-fried until golden and crispy. This crunchy element can be used to garnish other dishes and salads.
Cellophane or Glass Noodle
These noodles have two more names, which are bean thread noodle and mung bean noodle. Chinese locals also call it Chinese vermicelli noodle. These noodles are so thin that they are translucent. Traditionally these were made only by bean starch, mung bean starch, or any other starch other than rice starch or wheat.
Nowadays, a variety of ingredients are involved to make them such as tapioca starch, sweet potato starch, yam starch, cassava and canna starch also. You can identify these by their appearance. They are translucent, shiny and slippery in appearance, resembling plastic and come in wiry white bundles.
They are the base for many types of dishes across Asia. Glass noodle is used in Vietnamese spring rolls, stir-frying, soups, salads, hot pots and desserts! Glass noodles are quite common in Japan and Korea. These noodles require many additions such as spices, sauces and other flavorings to produce a well tasting dish. It is because they do not taste particularly of anything as they are mainly made from starch.
Similar to vermicelli rice noodle, glass noodle also requires only a few minutes of a hot bath to prepare. Then they take on a beautiful glassy and glossy texture. Before adding other ingredients, rinse the noodles with cold water and toss oil on it to prevent it from sticking. The cooking time should not take more than 3 to 6 minutes.
As promised, this is your ultimate and complete guide to Asian noodle. Starting from their origin to types to ways and suggestions for cooking. If you are planning to cook noodle anytime soon, then you must have some essential Asian flavors stocked in your pantry. Some of these ingredients are soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, Chinese five spice, Thai red chili, bok choy and beans sprouts. Any protein is good but tofu and eggs go well with noodles. Having these, you can create endless delicious creations with noodles!