The Ultimate Guide to Noodles from Asia

May 7, 2020 | Asia, China, Japan, Korea, MJ Toledo, TASTE

Niboshi Rame – En Ramen, Japan ©City Foodsters

Wherever you go in Asia, there’s a type of food that you’ll always encounter – noodles. If you want your noodle shopping and food trip experience to be seamless, get to know the different types of noodles.

Asian kids know the drill. When their parents are too busy to prepare something to eat, it’s immediately noodles that come to mind. Not only is it inexpensive and delicious, it’s also very easy to make.

In China, there’s an adage that says “There is no satisfaction without noodles.” This idiom is true not only for the Land of the Red Dragon but also for other countries in Asia. From dishes submerged in sumptuous soup, to those tangled in a myriad of vegetables and meats, there’s no way you can get enough of this ingredient.

Some Westerners think that all noodles are the same. However, this isn’t true. There are different kinds of pizzas and burgers after all, right? To know the difference between the various Asian noodles, keep on reading.

Origin

Although both the Chinese and Italians claim to invent the noodles, the food staple was mentioned in a third-century A.D. dictionary in China. However, the first noodles were not strands. It resembles bread dough and were cooked a wok containing boiling water. This noodle is still present in China and is called mian pian.

Types of Noodles

Here are the most common types of noodles you’ll most likely see on any Asian supermarket and restaurant.

Wheat Noodles

Wheat noodles encompass a wide variety of noodles that are made with water, egg, salt, and wheat flour. Although this type of noodles has similar ingredients, its texture and taste differ.

Ramen

A Chinese-inspired Japanese noodle, Ramen is mixed with an alkaline agent called kansui that transforms the noodle to be springy and wavy. Many ramen-makers also use baking soda to mimic the effect kansui gives. This popular noodle originated in China. However, Japan made it trendy. It is served with flavored soup and a variety of toppings.

How ramen noodles taste depends on the soup. Traditional ramen noodles, which are different from what many college students are familiar with, are rolled or hand-pulled before it is cut and steamed.

There are many regional variations of ramen in Japan. These variations not only differ in noodle texture, but the way of serving as well.

Hakata Style Ramen - Ichiran, Kyoto ©City Foodsters

Hakata Style Ramen – Ichiran, Kyoto ©City Foodsters

Wonton

If you’re familiar with wonton dumplings, then you may already know what Wonton noodles taste like since it’s made with the same ingredients. This type of noodle is sold in a variety of widths, which all work perfectly to make wonton noodle soup.

There are two common varieties of wonton: flat ones which are similar to linguini, and round ones which look like thin spaghetti. Ideally, each noodle is a foot long. This type of noodle is famous for being tender, springy, and soft. It is a great addition not only to noodle soups but also stir-fried dishes.

Wonton Noodle Soup ©City Foodsters

Wonton Noodle Soup ©City Foodsters

Udon

Ideal for people who love satisfying noodles, Udon is one of the thickest noodles you can find on the market. It is famous for having a chewy and dense bite and is usually round and white. There are also square and oblong options.

Like other wheat noodles, Udon is also sold in many thicknesses and sizes. There are a lot of options for Udon on the supermarket – fresh, dried, and frozen. Udon is usually the centerpiece for delicious hot and cold soups and casseroles. It is also served on a large bowl with light soy sauce, vegetables, and meats. 

Udon ©George N

Udon ©George N

Soba

Packed with fiber and protein, soba noodles are long, round, and thin noodles that are loved by millions of people for its savory flavor, coupled with buckwheat base.

This noodle has a light brown or beige color and is prepared in serving-sized portions, usually with a ribbon. This straight noodle resembles a shorter spaghetti since it only measures around 8 to 10 inches.

Soba is known for its firm texture which is quite similar to meat. Even after cooking, it still retains its unique bite. It is perfect for cold broths, with additional dipping sauce. It is also usually used for stir fry dishes. The recommended way of eating it is to slurp it from chopsticks – the louder the better!

Soba Noodles with Tempura ©Rajesh TP

Naengmyeon

This Korean noodle made with wheat flour, coupled with a variety of starches such as potatoes are gaining momentum all over the world. It has everything you’d want in a noodle – springy, long, and chewy even after being cooked. This dark brown noodle is bundled in straight dried sticks.  

Its thin noodles have a bite similar to jelly, just like Soba. It is the perfect addition to highly unique cold soups that come with ice, coupled with beef, poultry, or fish, vegetables, and eggs. Dried versions of this noodle also sometimes include broth flavors you can easily mix with cold liquid.

Naengmyeon in Dongmu Bapsang ©Republic of Korea

Naengmyeon in Dongmu Bapsang ©Republic of Korea

Rice Noodles

Rice Noodles, also called fen or fun in Cantonese are made using rice flour and water. Although the noodles are quite bland, it does an amazing job of complimenting bold flavors.

Banh Pho

Arguably the most popular form of rice noodles, Banh Pho noodles widely used in Vietnamese cuisine are flat, and have narrow strands that range from small linguine-like noodles to large noodles that are similar to pappardelle. These tender noodles are usually sold dried in commercial establishments.

It is made by steaming rice batter to form thin sheets, and cutting it to strands. Aside from being used in Pho soup, this rice noodle can also be made into Cheong Fun, a kind of dim sum noodle roll stuffed with lettuce, herbs, and beef.

This type of noodles is white when uncooked, but becomes semi-translucent after being in contact with hot liquid. It is known for its chewy texture.

Vietnamese Pho ©Marco Verch Photography

Silver Pin

One of the most interesting types of noodles that is a bit harder to find in the market. Silver Needles are shaped like a long version of a worm. Its one of a kind texture and taste are due to its tapioca starch added to the rice flour. Because of this added ingredient, the noodle has a slippery sheen on its surface. It also has an unmistakable chewiness.

This type of noodles is quite hard to find and is usually ordered fresh. Also referred to as rat tails or pearl noodles, Silver Needle is short, round, and fat, and are only 2 inches long with pointed tips. It is also more slippery compared to other noodles. This makes it a great addition to clay pot casseroles and stir-fry dishes.

Silver Pin Noodles

Ddeok

You might know this tasty ingredient as Korean rice cakes. It is made from glutinous rice that is steamed, pounded, and boiled to form different sizes and shapes. Korean rice cakes are a staple in Korean night markets and celebrations. It is usually eaten with a sumptuous soup.

Two of the main shapes of this noodle are flat circular chips, which is its Cantonese form, and thick and short cylinders. It has a dense and smooth surface and is stickier compared to other rice noodles. Its creaminess makes it such as treat to eat. Aside from being used in soups, it can also be added in stir-fried dishes and casseroles, mixed with beef, pork, and herbs.

Korean Rice Cake Soup ©James

Korean Rice Cake Soup ©James

Ready to Get Your Noodle Fix?

When it comes to Asian cuisine, noodles are seen as a crucial ingredient that serves as the fabric that binds dishes together.

Now that you know different Asian noodles, you won’t walk the aisles of grocery stores looking lost and confused. Any Asian would tell you that a good and filling serving of noodles is essential is a good diet. This comfort food is not only delectable; it is also immensely versatile. Check out this video to see how they are prepared.