Classic noodles are usually thin, round, long strands of dough, that are boiled in water or stock, and then tossed with sauces, meats and vegetables, or added to soups. However, Asian noodles are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, flavours and textures, and each are cooked with its own specific condiments. Different countries in Asia have a distinct ‘staple’ noodle for their region.
The variety of available Asian noodles is far greater than our list below. Our list gives a clear overview of the most common noodles, but each variety has further local regional variations.
Quintessentially, the wheat noodle is the simplest and most versatile noodle made from just two ingredients, wheat flour and water, making it completely vegan. It can be prepared in hundreds of different ways with practically any combination of meats, vegetables, spices and sauces.
These noodles are one of the most traditional noodles found in Asian cuisine, and like Italian spaghetti. Made with egg and wheat flour, they tend to have a yellowish tone and are slightly chewy. Two main variations of egg noodles are Chow Mein and Lo Mein, with the former being crispier and the latter softer. Most often the preparation for Chow Mein involves boiling the noodles and adding vegetables, meats or seafood, and relevant sauces into a wok stir-fried dish. Being quite versatile in their use, the Lo Mein egg noodles are used in traditional noodle soups as well.
These are often called ‘glass noodles’ due to their transparent, glassy appearance. Vermicelli noodles are thinner than regular egg noodles and are often gluten-free as they are made with rice, or root starch such as potato starch or mung beans. Glass noodles tend to be chewier and may be eaten in hot and cold preparations. Apart from the usual dry noodle recipes, like japchae in Korea, vermicelli noodles are used in refreshing Thai yum woon sen salads, or as fillings in Vietnamese spring rolls. In India, a variant of vermicelli is made from wheat flour and used in savoury and sweet recipes.
Originally from China, ramen became popular when imported to Japan in the early 1900s. In Japan, these noodles were called “Chinese soba” noodles up until the 1950s. The term ‘ramen’ signifies both the noodles and the dish. Prepared as a wheat noodle, ramen noodles are distinctly different as they contain Kansui, a special alkaline water which gives elasticity and hardness to the dough as well as the typical yellow colour. Nowadays, across the world, one of the most popular dishes is ramen cooked in an intense umami broth and served with slices of pork, seaweed and boiled egg.
Udon noodles, originated in Japan, are a thicker variety of ramen and can be flat or round. The best udon noodles are the fresh ones, although the dried or frozen options are also available for easy and quick use. They too can be prepared as wok noodles or served in a soup, and during the warmer summer months they are also served in cold preparations.
Soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat. Soba noodles are a shade of brown and have a nutty flavour. These noodles are most often served cold, along with a dipping sauce. Nowadays, there are varieties of soba noodles with naengmyun found in Korea, which is made from a mix of buckwheat and arrowroot starch.
Less known in Western countries, sōmen noodles are used extensively in East Asian cuisines. Japanese sōmen is made by stretching the dough with vegetable oil, forming thin strands that are then air dried for later use. The name sounds like soba, but the look of sōmen is closer to the vermicelli type noodles. They need to be soaked and rehydrated prior to use and the Japanese usually serve them in cold dishes.
Variations of rice noodles are available across the globe, from flat and broad ones, to long thin noodles. Nowadays, there are also brown rice noodles available. Served both hot or cold, they can be prepared in several ways. As they are made from rice, they have the distinct capability of absorbing varied flavours, and therefore it is the spices and seasoning used that determine the final flavour of the noodle dish. The list is long but here are a few uses. Thick long rice noodles form the base for the classic Pad Thai from Thailand. The thinner, longer variety is the core ingredient of the Vietnamese Pho. Singaporeans use various types of rice noodles. The super thin, almost thread-like rice noodles are a version of vermicelli called Bee-hoon, which are wok fried with vegetables, minced meat and sauces. Another popular version is the Hor-fun, which are flat, broad, short strips typically cooked with beef. We make a very easy version and just stir fry noodles with chicken.
Lamian are essentially hand-pulled noodles made by twisting, stretching and folding the dough. The length and thickness depend on how many times the dough is folded. These ‘longevity noodles’, also called long life noodles, or yi mian, are traditionally served in China on birthdays. The long noodles symbolise wishes for a long and healthy life and are to be eaten without cutting! Always made fresh, these noodles are chewy and absorb flavours to some extent, and are often eaten with beef and soup. Nowadays, there are pre-made, packaged lamian noodles available, because the Singaporian Laksa made them a worldknown dish.