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Japanese Noodles 101 – Different Varieties & How to Eat Them

  • 7 lectura mínima

If you don’t know your kitsune udon from your nagashi somen then read on to learn about the main kinds of Japanese noodles and the most popular ways to eat them.

What kinds of Japanese noodles are there?

In this article, we’ll introduce the following types of Japanese noodles, covering the most popular dishes you’re likely to encounter both in and outside of Japan:

  • Ramen 
  • Udon
  • Soba
  • Somen
  • Shirataki 
  • Yakisoba

You can also learn about which types of noodles are best if you have special dietary requirements such as gluten free or vegan, why the Japanese slurp their noodles loudly, and other interesting noodle facts!

Ramen Noodles

Ramen noodles are a popular Japanese dish originally imported from China. An early mention of ramen was in a Chinese book called Shidaifang Jiezi from the 1880’s. It described ramen as “a kind of wheat-flour cake, made either into noodles, or into small cakes boiled, and much esteemed by the lower classes.” Whilst it is not clear when the first ramen noodles were created, since the end of World War II their popularity in Japan has grown exponentially, making them one of the nation’s most loved dishes. In the 1950s, instant ramen noodles were also invented in Japan, a quick and tasty snack that can be eaten almost anywhere.

Ramen

As one of Japan’s most popular, affordable, and widely available dishes, you can find ramen restaurants in almost every town. Many ramen restaurants use a vending machine system to place and pay for orders. You choose what kind of ramen dish you want by pushing the corresponding button before making payment. Once the payment has been made you will receive a ticket which you should then hand to the staff inside who can place your order and show you to a seat.

Ramen Shop

Ramen noodles are often categorised according to their broth base, with the most popular kinds being shoyu ramen (soy-sauce based), miso ramenshio ramen (salt-based), and tonkotsu ramen (broth made with pork bone). Popular ramen toppings include sliced pork, bamboo shoot, dried seaweed, boiled egg, green onion, bean sprouts, and fish cakes.

How to prepare and eat ramen noodles

Choose your toppings and broth base before you begin. To prepare the ramen noodles, add them to boiling water and cook for two to three minutes. Whilst the ramen is cooking prepare the soup broth separately in a bowl with hot water (approximately one cup) and add more water as necessary to adjust the taste to your preference. Finally, put your soup and noodles together in a bowl, then add your toppings to finish.

Eat your ramen noodles immediately after cooking so they don’t get soggy. If they are very hot, try the Japanese method of slurping, it helps to cool the noodles as you eat them!

Udon Noodles

Udon noodles are a traditional Japanese dish made from wheat flour and water. They are said to have first been introduced to the Japanese island of Shikoku during the Heian period (794-1192) by a famous Buddhist priest calledKūkai and grew quickly in popularity as they are easy and inexpensive to make.

Udon Noodles

Today the small prefecture of Kagawa is considered the home ofudon, although they are widely eaten throughout Japan with many cities having created their own variations of udon dishes. Some of the most popular variations of udon dishes includecurry udon (udon mixed with Japanese curry sauce),kitsune udon, (dashi broth, topped with fried tofu), andkake udon,(hot broth topped with green onions).

How to prepare and eat udon noodles

Udon noodles are thicker than other types of Japanese noodles such as soba or ramen and have a slightly chewy and salty texture. The noodles are made from wheat flour dough which is then cut into strands or rolled into small squares and either boiled or deep fried before being added to the soup or stir fried with other ingredients. They are also typically served warm with a dipping sauce and side dishes such as vegetables, seafood, meat, and tempura.

Soba Noodles

In Japanese, soba means “buckwheat”, referring to the main ingredient used to make these noodles. Buckwheat is a natural source of vitamin B2 and can help promote healthy digestion. Soba noodles first become popular in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868), and today you can eat them throughout Japan at specialist soba restaurants or buy them readymade in packets at the supermarket.

Soba noodles are also traditionally eaten in Japan on New Year’s Eve in a dish called Toshikoshi Soba which consists of soba noodles served in a hot dashi soup with finely chopped spring onions.

Soba Noodles

Soba noodles contain high levels of protein and carbohydrates which make them taste delicious without any sauces or toppings. They can be eaten hot or cold depending on your preference and are generally served with a dipping sauce such as soy sauce or dashi broth.

Some popular variations of soba dishes includemori soba,(chilled soba noodles served with a dipping sauce),kake soba,(soba noodles served in a hot soup), andtempura soba,(soba noodles in soup or with dipping sauce served with several pieces of tempura). 

How to prepare and eat soba noodles

To prepare soba noodles you need to cook the noodles for about four minutes or until the water is absorbed. Then, you can add your sauce which is usually made from soba dashi (a Japanese soup stock) and soy sauce. There are also other ingredients which can be added to the soba noodle dish such as sesame seeds, green onions, and mustard greens. One thing that sets this dish apart from others is that it does not use any oil in its preparation process – just water.

After preparing your soba noodles, you'll want to add a dipping sauce or a broth. One popular combination is adding soy sauce and dashi (or kelp or bonito flakes) to your soba noodles.

Somen Noodles

The name comes from the word sōmen which means “thin wheat” in Japanese. Somen noodles are a type of Japanese noodles that are thin, white, and oval-shaped. They can either be served cold or hot and have a light texture.

Somen Noodles

Somen noodles are usually eaten cold in summer because they are light and refreshing, but they can also be served as an accompaniment to other dishes. During the summer months in Japan, you can also visitnagashi somen (flowing noodles) restaurants, these are seasonal restaurants where cold somen noodles are placed on bamboo flumes that diners catch with their chopsticks before eating.

How to prepare and eat cold somen noodles

Cook the somen noodles for three to four minutes in boiling water and drain immediately afterwards. Put the noodles in a colander and run them under cold water. Put some ice water in a bowl and add the somen noodles. Serve with side dishes of dipping sauce, chopped onions and ginger.

Shirataki Noodles

Shirataki noodles are made from the konjac plant, which is native to Asian countries like China and Japan where it grows year-round.  They are a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate food, often sold and marketed as “zero calorie pasta,” and can help to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Shirataki Noodles

Shirataki noodles have been around in Japan for nearly a century and have only recently gained popularity in the United States, but they’re quickly becoming more of a staple food and seen as a healthier version to traditional noodles or pasta. The plant produces something called glucomannan fiber, which is what gives shirataki noodles their shape and texture.

How to prepare and eat shirataki noodles

Shirataki noodles can be eaten just like any other pasta – boiled or sautéed with garlic and olive oil or used in stir fries with meat and vegetables. Shirataki noodles have little flavor by themselves, so will get most of their taste from whatever sauces and seasonings you decide to use with them.

Yakisoba Noodles

Despite the name, yakisoba noodles are not the same as soba noodles, and are made from wheat flour or egg instead of buckwheat. Similar to Chinese style noodles, yakisoba is a stir fry style dish, usually served with slices of pork or seafood and vegetables such as cabbage, onions, and beansprouts, and seasoned with a sauce that resembles Worcestershire sauce.

Yakisoba Noodles

Yakisoba noodles first began to appear as a fast food in Japan following World War II. At that time, only beef was used in the recipe, but over the years other meat varieties have become available, including pork and even vegan versions. Yakisoba is a particularly popular street food at Japanese festivals where you’ll see vendors cooking them up onteppan iron plates. You can also findyakisoba panin convenience stores; these are yakisoba noodles served in a hot dog bun.

How to prepare and eat yakisoba noodles

Stir fry the meat and vegetables in a pan, skillet, or wok, and once ready, add the noodles and mix together with yakisoba sauce. When the noodles are cooked, serve immediately and garnish with dried seaweed and pickled ginger.

What Japanese noodles are gluten free?

For gluten free options, soba and shirataki are your best choice of Japanese noodles. Shirataki noodles are made from the konjac plant, which looks like a yam. The noodles are made from the konjac starch and mixed with water before being shredded into noodles. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour, which is gluten free, however some ready-made soba noodles also include wheat flour, so be sure to check the ingredients before you buy. 

Harusame are another type of gluten free Japanese noodle, usually made from potato or sweet potato starch. Once cooked they turn translucent, so are often referred to as Japanese glass noodles, and are used in dishes like salads and soups.

What Japanese noodles are vegan?

You can find vegan variations of most Japanese noodle dishes, and the noodles themselves are usually made of vegan friendly ingredients. Any non-vegan ingredients usually lie in the soup or broth, and meat and seaweed are used quite often as a topping. For example, ramen broth often uses pork bone, whilst dashi stock is also a common ingredient in many noodle soups containing bonito (fish) flakes.

Why do people in Japan slurp their noodles?

If you’re from a western country and have visited Japan, you may have noticed that many people slurp their noodles loudly in restaurants. Whilst it may take a little getting used to, there are actually good reasons behind this custom. Slurping enhances the flavor of the noodles and allows you to eat the noodles immediately before they start to soften by inhaling cool air at the same time. Next time you eat Japanese noodles, give slurping a try and see how it affects the taste!