My initial plan was to write about one country’s types of noodles, do a few recipes, and then move on to the next country. But I soon discovered that the plan was impractical due to the fact that much of east Asian noodles have taken up residence in more than one country. Yes, Japan has Udon, but they also use a fair amount of Chinese-style noodles in their dishes. I had to rethink my strategy.
The result? The below list of about 20 different types of noodles prevalent throughout east Asia.
If you’re looking for any historical context here, it’s best if one thinks of the regioins of China as the epicenter of the noodle world, with other regions of Asia revolving around that epicenter. A bit oversimplified, I know, but it’s a position with merit.
Wheat Noodles: Kon mein is the Cantonese name, while gan mein is the Mandarin one. This is the noodle that has influenced the Japanese varieties of noodles, as well as the Korean, Thai, Vietnamese and several other regions. It is the simple, yet endlessly versatile, wheat noodle. Picture Chinese noodles in your mind. Chances are good you are thinking of the wheat noodle.
Egg Noodles: Think wheat noodles, with eggs added. This is as close to pasta as the Asian noodles get. These noodles provide a different texture than the standard wheat noodles. In my brief research, I find that egg noodles tend to be used in soups more often than their wheat cousins.
Hokkien Noodles: Egg noodles with a bit more girth to them, and a little more oily. Originally a Chinese noodle, most folks associate Hokkien with Malaysia. Used in many a stir fry.
E-fu Noodles: If you hear anyone talks about the legend of the longer the noodle, the longer the life, they are talking about E-fu noodles. Also known as Yi Mein, shi dan mian, or pancit canton, E-fu noodles are a traditional birthday or New Years meal. They are thick, and often deep fried.
Shanghai Noodles: Hokkien noodles, but as a rougher version. If you’ve had Brown Sauce Noodles, chances are good that they were Shanghai noodles. Not as oily has Hokkien, and offered up raw and flour dusted before cooking.
Rice Sheet Noodles: Think of these as the Lasagna noodles of East Asia, except used in soups and stir-fries rather than casseroles. Much like Lasagna noodles, Rice sheet noodles are apparently better when fresh.
Rice Noodles: Known as Rice sticks in China, or rice vermicelli elsewhere, these are the noodles most often associated with texture rather than taste. Almost translucent when dry, they are used in everything from Stir-fries to salads. They are also known to be deep fried.
Thick Rice Noodles: A round rice noodle, with a thick strand. Much like most rice noodles, these are better fresh. Popular in Malaysia, and often used in dishes where Hokkien noodles are used.
Rice Sticks: Known as rice sticks in Thailand and Vietnam, these should not be confused with Chinese rice sticks which will be thinner. These are the flattened version of rice noodles, but much less delicate. If you’ve had authentic Pad Thai, you’ve likely had rice sticks.
Bean Noodles: Made from mung bean and tapioca starch, these ultra fine noodles have a somewhat gelatinous texture about them. Also known as Bean Thread Vermicelli, they are used in everything from soups to desserts. They also can be deep fried.
Soba: One of a few truly Japanese noodles, Soba noodles are made with buckwheat flour and are rich in protein. If you’ve had noodles in Tokyo, it’s likely that they were soba noodles. Often served in soups, or by themselves with dipping sauce on the side.
Udon: If Soba is cosmopolitan, Udon is workman-like. Big, bulky, and very filling. It comes from the southern areas of Japan and is often associated with the Osaka region. It is perfectly reasonable to slurp these noodles.
Somen: Japanese wheat noodles that has been softened (and flavored) with either sesame seed oil or cottonseed. These are quite thin. If you’ve had Cold Japanese noodles at a restaurant, you’ve likely had somen.
Ramen: The joy of college students everywhere, ramen noodles are actually Chinese in origin, but made popular by the Japanese.
HausmameTranslucent noodles made from potato and corn starch. Chewy. Originated in Japan but popular in Korea.
Shiratake Though used as a noodle, especially in Sukiyaki dishes, technically these are strands from the roots of a Japanese yam.
Naeng Myun: Korean noodles, sort of their version of Soba noodles, but made with potato starch in addition to the buckwheat.
Dang Myun: Another Korean noodle, this time it’s their version of the Bean noodle, but thicker and heartier. Made from Sweet Potato Starch. Translucent and chewy. Often called glass or cellophane noodles at some Korean restaurants.
Gooksu Korean Wheat Noodles. There version of Udon, if you will.
There’s probably several other varieties out there. The thing I learned? Noodles don’t have to come from a flour. It seems obvious now, but I’ve never really given Asian all that much thought.