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a world noodle guide

noodles from across the world that bring happiness in a bowl

 

There is no doubt that eating noodles in a bowl of hot broth feels like a hug from the inside. We can tour the world by sampling different cultures in the way that they cook their noodles. In 2005, archaeologists unearthed a 4000 year old bowl of noodles, solidifying China as the birthplace of the noodle.

 

Noodles have been an Asian staple for thousands of years and remain a food favourite in many parts of the world. From Ramen in Japan to Meethi Seviyan in India, every country has its own noodle interpretation. The world of noodles is as deep and rich as the flavours steeped in our noodle dishes, so here we dish out oodles of noodle facts about some of our favourites.

 

wheat noodles

 

udon

The thick and dense Japanese noodles are a distinguishable addition to soups, hot broths, or stir fries. Their neutral flavour and thicker width neatly balance out high-strength flavours like soy sauce and ginger.

 

They are cooked in boiling water and served hot or cold. The cold varieties accompany omelette slices, shredded chicken, and fresh vegetables. Udon noodles can be fresh, dried or pre-cooked and vacuum-sealed so they are ready to heat and eat.

 

ramen

Ramen is the rebel of the noodles, transcending culinary necessity, from its complex original form to the uber convenient instant pots. Originally from China, how they made their way to Japan is still debatable, although many credit Chinese immigrants for introducing them to Japan between the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. While the noodles can be thin and straight to thick and wavy, they are usually yellow and stretchy. A bowl of traditional ramen contains broth, tare, noodles, and topping.

 

The magic of the ramen is in the broth, which consists of Dashi (stock) which is then combined with the Tare (sauce/seasoning), and flavour oil. The most common dashi ingredients are pork bones, chicken bones, bonito flakes, vegetables, kelp, dried sardines, and various seafood. While the classic broth can take up to two days to prepare, the modern ramen only needs boiling water to cook in minutes. If all of this sounds a bit complicated, we sell authentic ready-made broth in the supermarkets!

 

Ramen is typically served hot with thinly sliced green onion, pickled bamboo shoots (Menma), seaweed sheets, bean sprouts, chilli oil, and soy-soaked eggs topping the bowl. The ramen is a one-dish meal, but sometimes it is paired with a side dish such as gyoza. There is a whole ramen culture based on the instant variation that started its mighty global domination in the 1950s. The instant pots and cups offer a quick fix when you want to have ramen wherever, while the bowl is its rightful happy place to be served in conventional dining. Ramen noodles are widely available in the dry instant form, non-instant packets, and sometimes fresh.

 

somen

These thin white Japanese noodles are delicate and versatile and often served cold. Sometimes chilled water and ice cubes are added to make them extra cold. Cold somen with tsuyu dipping sauce is a summer treat that is effortless to eat even when you are not hungry. They are eaten as hot soups too; in which case they are called nyumen. In South Korea, they are called somyeon, and they go into hot and cold noodle soups and soupless noodle dishes.

 

These slender strands only need a minute and a half to two minutes of boiling. Once boiled, transfer into a colander and run cold water through them.

Somen is a typical lunchtime meal but works well as an appetiser or side dish with grilled chicken, beef, shrimp, or even sliced ham. Serving somen noodles by shooting them down a watery bamboo chute (called nagashi somen) is popular in some specialist Japanese restaurants and events during the summer, but serving them in a bowl with chopsticks makes it a less slippery [but also less fun] experience.

 

Dried somen is the most common form, some aged for two to three years to improve flavour and quality.

 

soba

Soba is one of the most popular varieties of noodles in Japan and has its roots in the late 16th or early 17th Century. The buckwheat and often the addition of wheat flour give soba its brown colour, nutty flavour, and slightly rougher texture.

 

Soba is served hot in broth or cold with a simple dipping sauce. Boil the noodles [traditionally in lightly salted water] in a generous-sized pot with ample swirl space. Most soba noodles cook in 3–5 minutes, after which it is ideal for them to take a plunge in an ice bath.
Cold soba is a summertime light meal, while hot soba with egg, fish or meat, and topping can be a one-dish meal. Traditionally soba is eaten on New Year’s Eve in many Japanese regions because they believe doing so brings longevity. Tsuyu or dashi dipping sauces accompany most cold soba noodle dishes while the hot variations are served with meat, vegetables and broth. Serving in a bowl allows for the ultimate slurp and swallow known to improve the sophistication of the dish as vouched by its hardcore fans.

 

lo mein

Chow Mein’s partner in deliciousness, these Chinese noodles made with a mixture of wheat flour and eggs means stirred or tossed noodles. Traditionally, it is a dry variation of noodle soup, where the noodles are separated from the soup ingredients and served on the side. However, preparation varies.

The ¼ inch noodles are cooked al dente and tossed in a wok with sauce, vegetables, and meats like pork, beef, and chicken, or seafood like lobster and shrimp. In China, they toss lo mein noodles through a thin sauce for a soupy consistency with a wonton or beef brisket topping. Vegetables served alongside the sauce or soup include bok choy, mushrooms, and cabbage. Lo Mein can be a main or a side dish [if you have a big appetite]. It is served in a noodle bowl, although soupless versions can settle on a regular plate.

 

rice noodles

 

rice noodles

Made from rice flour and water, occasionally including tapioca or corn starch for transparency and a chewier texture, they are common in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. Rice noodles make a luscious base for several Asian signature dishes, from pad Thai to chow fun to char kway teow to pho.

Their use has spread across the culinary landscape – going into everything from soups to salads to stir fries and accompanying curries and grills. Cooking rice noodles is generally a quicker affair than preparing wheat noodles. Soaking them in hot water is the typical cooking method. However, blanching in boiling water works too.

 

Rice-based noodle dishes make up mains, side dishes, and snacks. Instant varieties make effortless but hearty travel meals and easy remedies for your hunger pangs when you are in no mood for cooking. Add some leftover veggies, meat, or fish to make a delicious meal out of it. If this sounds delicious to you too, please check out our range of instant rice’noodles cups with authentic broths here!

 

rice vermicelli

These thin silky threads made from rice flour and water have been a staple in the Chinese diet since ancient times. They are super fine strands, which set them apart from regular rice noodles. They are used in cuisines across Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa and have regional variations from Taiwan to Vietnam to Indonesia.

 

Rice vermicelli noodles make up a key part of many soup dishes, stir fries, and salads. These do not need boiling; soaking in hot water for 5 minutes is the maximum cooking time necessary.

They are both a main and a side dish. In Guilin, southern China, it is a well-known breakfast staple. You can serve them in a bowl and on a plate or platter. Rice vermicelli are almost always available as a dry ingredient, although fresh ones are available too.

 

more noodles

 

glass noodles

These can also be known as ‘cellophane noodles’ because of their transparency when cooked. These noodles are typically made using mung bean starch, potato starch, sweet potato starch, tapioca, arrowroot, or canna starch and water, they are a Chinese noodle variety.

 

They are as thin as vermicelli, but their translucent appearance makes them easily distinguishable from other noodle types. Glass noodles are gluten free and have a smooth, light, and bouncy texture. The noodles are cooked by soaking in hot water for 10-15 minutes or boiling for 3-5 minutes. You can use countless dressings, including sesame oil dressing, chilli sauce, soy sauce dressing, or fish sauce dressing. The savoury and slightly sweet Japchae is a popular Korean stir fry dish made with glass noodles and vegetables. Glass noodles dropped in a bowl of soup, stuffed in rice paper spring rolls or dumplings, or tossed in a plate of stir fry are tasty options.

 

The most commonly available type of glass noodles in your grocery store is the thin and stringy variety, but they can also be flat and thick.

 

soybean noodles

These noodles have the highest protein content of any noodle and are made using soybean paste. They are excellent with hot broth, but don’t take our word for it, try our delicious protein‘noodle range for yourself!

 

egg noodles

The golden yellow noodles made with egg and wheat flour have the closest resemblance to pasta. The versatility of egg noodles means they can go in soups, salads, or stir fries. Youmian, Yi mein, oil noodles, and Jook-sing are Chinese egg noodle varieties, Jook-sing being one of the rarest noodles in existence. Kesme found in Turkic countries, Iran, and Afghanistan is a Central Asian egg noodle type.

 

Egg noodles are cooked in boiling water for several minutes, or they are steamed and sometimes fried for a crunchy texture. Chow mein and Lo mein are famous egg noodle dishes you can find in the East and West. They are served in various types of deep and shallow bowls.

 

other noodles from around the world

For thousands of years, the noodle has been included in the food culture of many countries. From Mongolia to Catalonia, every country has a noodle dish to show off. As much as we want to write about them all, it would be much like writing a book – so we have to settle for a just a few of them.

East Asia – China’s hand-pulled Lamian noodles need a lot of stretching, twisting, and swinging, like how pizza dough is spun and stretched. The dough eventually turns into strands of uniform noodles as long as a skipping rope. The noodles are served hot with beef or mutton in soups or stir fry or cold with salad ingredients.

 

Tokoroten, the Japanese seaweed noodle, has a history of over a thousand years but has more recently been referred to as a noodle due to its similar shape and as a healthy option. Made from the native seaweed tengusa and ogonori, it is a low calorie, carb-free, gluten free, high dietary fibre alternative to regular noodles. It can be a hot or cold dish, and some eat it as a dessert with Kuromitsu, a sugar syrup.

 

Naengmyeon is a cold noodle hailing from North Korea, which made its way to South Korea. Made combining buckwheat, arrowroot starch, potato starch, and sweet potato starch, it is light brown and stretchy. Served in a tangy broth with beef, boiled egg, and pickled radish, it is a summer dish.

 

From Southern Asia, Idiyappam or string hoppers is a South Indian and Sri Lankan rice noodle variety made with coconut milk, pressed into ultra-fine strands, and steamed.

 

Vermicelli Kunafa is a traditional Middle Eastern dessert, Kanafeh. It is made with roasted vermicelli and sugar syrup and layered with cream cheese, cream, nuts, and dried fruit.

The traditional sweet and savoury breakfast dish Balaleet from the Persian Gulf region consisting of sweetened vermicelli, cardamom, rose water, and saffron, and served with an egg omelette or with sauteed onions or potatoes.

 

Macaroon Bil Toum, a rustic dish from Lebanon’s mountain villages, contains little pasta dumplings boiled until soft and tender then dressed in lemon garlic sauce.

 

In Europe, most food historians credit Arab traders with introducing Italians to pasta during the Arab conquest of Sicily in the 9th Century. Pasta is a combination of wheat flour mixed with water or eggs, which is cooked by boiling or baking. Spaghetti, the long and thin pasta, has the closest resemblance to noodles and is typically made from durum wheat, semolina and water. They usually accompany tomato sauce, meat, and vegetables.

 

Spätzle is a German pasta made from flour, eggs, water, and salt. Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Slovenia, Alsace, Moselle, and South Tyrol all have versions of this pasta variety.
In Eastern Europe, Zacierki is a Polish Jewish pasta variety made by chopping or grating the dough. Kluski is the Polish noodle and pasta version, often served in soup.

 

vegan-friendly noodle options

Rice noodles, soybean noodles, and eggless wheat noodles are vegan-friendly. Rice noodles are also gluten free. Pairing a miso broth with vegetables and nuts can create a beautifully nutritious and vegan-friendly meal.

 

our favourite noodle recipes

 

Gok’s chicken ramen

Goks chicken ramen - Itsu

mapo tofu noodle bowl

mapo tofu noodle bowl - Itsu

seared beef pho

seared beef pho recipe

mushroom & tofu soba

mushroom and tofu soba