Many people’s first association on hearing the word 'noodles' is probably Italy and Italian cuisine. And although Italy may be responsible for noodles’ near ubiquity in much of the world today, other peoples, like Arabs and the Chinese, have strong cultural claims to these long, starchy strings. The oldest archeological evidence of noodles (4000 years old) and the oldest written record of them (2000 years old) are both in China, cementing the status and storied history of the noodle in the orient as well. Noodles are also the workhorse of Japanese cuisine and the foundation of many iconic dishes from that archipelago.
Whether you've fallen in love with comforting bowls of ramen or are experimenting with icy bowls of somen, here's a quick guide to identifying seven commonly found types of Japanese noodles:
Ramen noodles are made from wheat, are much thinner and longer than udon and have a nice chewy bite when cooked. You'll usually find them served in a tasty broth. See the best ramen in Japan if you're a fan of this type of noodles. If you think ramen is lowbrow, think again and check out this Michelin-starred ramen cup. And to work up an appetite for this delectable dish, first watch Tampopo, a Japanese film that celebrates the soup with an almost cult-like mixture of veneration and irreverence and is sure to get your salivary glands going.
Chewy and soft, these thick wheat Japanese noodles are usually pale white by comparison to ramen. Udon has a neutral flavour, so they make a good choice for strongly flavoured dishes.
Somen noodles are stretched thin wheat noodles, comparative to vermicelli and can be served both hot or cold, and absorb other flavours well.
Never heard of this type of Japanese noodles? Thin light wheat flour noodles, hiyamugi are somewhere in between somen and udon noodles in terms of size, although they are eaten in the same types of dishes.
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour or a mixture of buckwheat flour and wheat flour in equal parts. Try our delicious recipe for soup with soba noodles, spinach and poached egg. See how to hand-make soba noodles if you want to try and make them at home. Or for a fresh, cool dish for summer afternoons, try a cucumber and sesame seed salad starring these noodles.
Harusame, sometimes called cellophane noodles, glass noodles or mung bean threads, are translucent dried starch noodles, originally made from mung beans.
Whilst they are flavourless they are perfect for adding extra texture to soups, salads and stir fries. Try our refreshing recipe for glass noodle salad.
So, what about these types of Japanese noodles? Did you know them all already? If you feel like reading something else, read the article on types of stuffed pasta or the one on Myoga, Japanese ginger.