The Ultimate Guide to Asian Noodles
World Pasta Day was earlier this week, and beige carbs is one thing we cannot get enough of on a global level. But just how much do you know about pastas trendier, healthier cousin, the noodle? Arguably one of the most popular foods in Asia, you’d find it difficult to visit the oriental corner of the world without noodles featuring in your diet in one way or another. They are a core element of various soups, salads and stir fries and continue to delight people from all over the world. We’ve created the ultimate guide to three of the main noodle groups to help you distinguish between the various kinds of noodles and understand the key differences between each type, so you know which to order next time your browsing our oriental supermarket online.
Rice noodles can be bought fresh and dried and are available in many different shapes and sizes. They are usually made form rice flour and water, and their soft texture and mild flavour lends them to use with an array of flavours, be them bold or subtle. They cook incredibly quickly, much of the time requiring a soak as opposed to boiling and if they are made with 100 per cent rice flour, they are gluten free.
Known by various different names depending on what part of Asia you’re in, this thin, dried rice noodle is neutral in flavour. They are fine, brittle and packaged in bundles and can be used in soups, salads and stir fries, a base for curries or an accompaniment to grilled meats. Soaking in boiling water for 7 minutes and then briefly boiling for as little as a minute will be enough to prepare these noodles, but you can also deep fry them raw to make a crunchu garnish.
Fresh, flat and wide, these noodles are particularly popular in Cantonese cuisine, and are great for stir-frying. Try to buy from sections where they are not refrigerated to avoid breakages during the cooking process, and while they don’t need pre-cooking, we recommend a quick rinse in boiling water to separate the strands.
Rice StickRenowned for its role in pad Thai, rice stick noodles are elastic and strong, lending themselves for use in stir-fries. Adjust your cooking time depending on how you are eating the noodles, using them straight from soaking for soups and stir-fries or boiling for a few minutes first for slightly softer noodles.
Egg and Alkalised Noodles
All wheat-based, these noodles get their name from either containing egg, or looking like they do. The higher alkaline levels encourages greater water absorption into the flour and strengthens the proteins which results in a firmer bite, and yellow pigments in the flour create a golden hue, which is why it is often associated with egg noodles.
Fresh ramen are thin, long and, again, yellow in colour. It can be brought fresh in bags in the refrigerated section of an Asian food store ore died in plastic or cellophane packs. They are typically thin, although come in an array of sizes, and if you’d like to know more, check out our recent blog post, 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Instant Ramen.
Not dissimilar to thick, yellow spaghetti, this robust noodle is popular in Singapore and Malaysia. They are a core part of dishes such as curry mee and hokkien mee and need a brief blanch in boiling water before being added to soups or stir-fries.
The literal translation of this name is ‘thin noodles’, but conversely they are actually available in an array of forms and thicknesses. The most common variation are ‘oil’ noodles, and they can be used in soups, salads and stir-fries. Wonton noodles also classify under You mian, featuring a floury appearance and regularly used for family-favourite chow mein.
Otherwise known as E-fu noodles, the Cantonese wheat flour noodles get their pale, golden colour from the use of soda water. They are also called ‘longevity’ noodles and served on birthdays for luck. As with other noodles, they are boiled first, before being added to soups, salads and stir-fries.
This category of noodles is broad and can be confusing when it comes to categorising the different varieties as it includes both dried and fresh versions of every length and width you can imagine. The main types are:
Not to be mistaken with Somen, these thin, long and dried Korean noodles are also known as Mak Guksu. They’re used in hot and cold dishes but are most prominent in soups – perhaps because of how quickly they can cook in boiling stock or water. Interestingly, it is widely considered as bad luck to cut these kinds of noodles because of their association with longevity.
A Japanese noodle that is thick, pale and very chewy, Udon noodles tend to be served hot in soup-like dishes, although they are also a popular choice for stir fries. They usually come precooked and just need soaking for 2-3 minutes in boiling water, making them convenient for those on the move, while the neutral flavourings lends itself to use with soy and ginger.
The chewiest of them all, this Korean noodle is made from wheat flour and corn starch. They are usually served cold with raw vegetables a boiled egg and a sweet and spicy sauce along with lots of gochujang. Remember to rinse these noodles straight after boiling to remove any excess starch and cool them down as quickly as possible.
Dried noodles that are made from stretched dough and via the use of vegetable oil, the 21st-century sees most handmade processes replaced with machine routines. The noodles are air dried and are most commonly served with a light dipping sauce. Some eateries and establishments have got experimental with and coloured the noodles green with macha powder or orange with egg yolk.
Known also as ‘pulled’ because of the skilful way they are created through twisting, stretching and folding the dough, the thickness of these noodles varies depending on who is making them. They are most commonly find it restaurants, after being created by professionals, but there’s nothing stopping the more adventurous amongst you giving it a go at home.
Thick, chewy and creamy in colour, these noodles are particularly prevalent in Chinese recipes. They are renowned for being in spicy pork noodles, one of the nations’ most loved dishes.
We hope you've enjoyed our ultimate guide to Noodles and that its opened your eyes to a whole world of varieties available out there!