Just about every eastern Asian culture uses some type of noodle in its cooking and there are almost as many types of Asian noodles as there are Italian pastas. Noodles in eastern Asia are used for soups, salads, stir-fries, and even as a filling for spring rolls. Many different flours are used to produce pasta and noodles, and nowhere is this truer than in Asia. Each different starch base produces its own unique flavor and texture. The Asian noodles that are the most similar to Italian pasta are egg noodles, which are made by mixing wheat flour, eggs and water. Most commonly, Asian noodles are extruded into different shapes and sizes. Egg noodles are available dried and fresh, but are more readily available dried.
Types of Asian Noodles
Rice noodles are the most used noodle in eastern Asia and can be found everywhere from China to Japan to Thailand. Made with rice flour and water, they are transparent in appearance and somewhat chewy and sticky in texture. Rice noodles are available dried, frozen, and fresh. Dried rice noodles need to be soaked in water for about an hour before using them. Once soaked, they can be tossed directly into stir-fries and soups as is, or they can be boiled until they are cooked to perfection and then used in a number of other preparations.
Bean Thread Noodles
Bean thread noodles are made from mung bean flour and are used in much the same way as rice noodles. They are also known as cellophane or glass noodles because they are shiny and transparent when they are cooked. If dried cellophane noodles are dropped into very hot oil they puff up dramatically and offer a unique and delicious twist to Asian noodles.
Soba, or buckwheat noodles, are extremely popular in Japan and are served chilled with a dipping sauce or chilled broth or in hot soup. Soba noodles have a mild, nutty flavor, are very high in vitamins, nutrients, and protein and offer health benefits that range from reducing fat to lowering cholesterol. It is a tradition in Japan to eat soba noodles on New Year's Eve because they symbolize long life and the year passing.
Here is a helpful cheat sheet for you to better understand some of the other Asian noodle varieties:
- Ramen: These classic noodles originated from china and are now a staple of Japanese cuisine. Ramen noodles tend to have a tender texture and are traditionally made from wheat flour, egg, and salt.
- Sweet potato noodles: These noodles are common in Korea and are characteristically long, slippery and chewy. They are fairly neutral in flavor and porous in texture and tend to take on the flavors added to them.
- Lo Mein: These are classic noodles and a staple to Cantonese cuisine. The exact translation of the word lo mein means tossed or stirred so it is easy to remember that these noodles are often tossed with sauces and other ingredients right after being boiled
- Udon: These noodles had a thick, long noodle shape and are common in Japan. Udon noodles are traditionally made from wheat flour, salt, and water and have a distinctive chewy texture and are served in soups, and stews and dishes with a lot of broth and other vegetables and meats.
Tips and Tricks for Cooking Asian Noodles
Cooking noodles is a simple process, but certain procedures ensure perfectly cooked noodles each time. All noodles cook differently, so it is important to read the package instructions for each type, however generally speaking noodles needs to be cooked in the proper amount of rapidly boiling water or broth and in a vessel that is large enough to allow it room to expand as it cooks. Oil should never be added to noodle water because sauces will slide off the noodles. The cooking water can be seasoned with salt if necessary to give it more flavor, although this isn't always needed especially if the dish that you are preparing is flavorful and salty enough. It is important to remember that most noodles should be stirred immediately upon being placed in the water and then occasionally while they cook, to prevent them from clumping together and to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. When the noodles are done cooking, you can shock them in ice water or run it under cold water to keep them from cooking. If enjoying right away, noodles should be immediately removed from the pot and then tossed in your soup, stew, sauce or dish, or placed in warm bowls and sauced immediately thereafter. It is always a good idea to keep a little bit of the cooking water to loosen up the noodles if they become too thick before you serve them. Once plated, the noodles should be eaten right away while it is fresh and piping hot for the best flavor.