By Director of Culinary Enrichment & Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly
Anyone who has ever set foot in an Asian grocery store realizes that the world of Asian noodles is vast. They’re also an essential part of the culinary culture with a history tracing all the way back to the third century BC during the Han dynasty. My favorite thing to do in Asia is to visit the local markets and explore all the various noodles on offer – I always learn something new.
Wherever you travel in this fascinating continent, you’ll find the daily staple of noodles in soups, salads, in stir-fried and deep-fried dishes, in spring rolls and in so many other dishes. You’ll also find that the noodles you’ll try while traveling will probably be remarkably different than those you’ve enjoyed in Asian restaurants at home.
Since I know how dizzying it can be, here’s my guide to the top types of noodles you’ll encounter while exploring Asia.
Native to Japan, these noodles are made from buckwheat flour and have a nutty flavor and slightly chewy texture. They are a staple in this country but are also traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve as a symbol of longevity. These are great chilled or in soup.
Also a Japanese noodle, these are thicker than soba and are made from wheat flour, salt and water. Udon is typically served in a broth soup, flavored with mirin and soy sauce.
These noodles include vermicelli, thin, medium and wide varieties. Since they don’t have gluten to hold them together, they are more delicate than those with wheat and typically only need to be soaked in hot water (not boiled) before adding them to your soup, salad or stir-fry.
The instant type aside, ramen noodles have a yellow hue and a springy texture due to the mixture of wheat flour, egg and salt that they call for. You can find these iconic Chinese noodles fresh, dried or frozen.
Also known as cellophane noodles or bean threads, these delicate noodles become translucent when cooked. They are naturally gluten-free since they are made from mung bean, yam or potato starches and are used across East Asia in Korean, Thai and Vietnamese dishes.
One of our popular Culinary Center classes, Red Ginger Favorites, is devoted to Asian cuisine – you can learn all about high-heat cooking, how to work with pad Thai noodles and much more. I hope to see you in The Culinary Center soon!