The Delicious Goodness of Japanese Noodles

Aside from rice, noodles are the most common carb in the Japanese diet. Ramen, soba, udon to name a few are staples of Japanese cooking.

Carbohydrate-rich foods are an essential part of all diets worldwide. As nutrients, carbs are an amazing energy source, and besides – they’re almost always absolutely delicious.

Along with rice, noodles are the most common carb source in the Japanese diet. It’s no wonder why – noodles are easy to prepare, and with the addition of the right seasonings and toppings, they make for tasty, well-rounded meals. And with the many diverse options out there, Japan really has to offer a noodle to suit all tastes.

So, read on to learn more about Japanese noodles and get ready to slurp (because it’s a bit rude if you don’t)!

Udon

Udon (饂飩)

Thick, long, neutral in taste, and with a lovely chewy consistency, udon noodles are traditional Japanese comfort food. These white noodles are made of wheat flour, which makes them very filling.

Udon noodles are easy to recognize – they’re unusually thick. They’re often served in simple, quick meals that don’t require many toppings. The most common soup stock used for udon noodles is dashi.

Japanese people love their udon noodles in both hot and cold dishes. While more frequently served in hot soups, cold udon noodles are a popular summer treat. That’s due to their uniquely refreshing and light taste. Cooked udon noodles are chilled with cold water and topped with dipping sauce.

Popular Udon Recipes

Considering that udon became popular over 500 years ago, quite a few ways to prepare it emerged over time. Udon recipes differ wildly, but a few well-known specialties are enjoyed by Japanese people far and wide:

  • Kake udon – Udon served hot with kakejiru – a broth made of dashi soup stock, mirin, and soy sauce. It’s often topped with a few thin pieces of scallion, tempura, or fried tofu.
  • Kitsune udon – A vegan specialty, kitsune udon is served both hot and cold. Udon noodles are served with dashi broth and aburaage (deep-fried tofu), and seasoned with mirin, soy sauce, and sugar. The name of this meal stems from the belief that foxes (kitsune) love eating deep-fried tofu.
  • Chikara udon – Love rice cakes AND noodles? Look no further! Chikara udon is a dashi-based soup topped with the traditional rice sweet mochi – which melts in the warm broth giving you an amazing carb-load meal.
  • Tanuki udon – This marine-food delicacy includes kamaboko (fish cakes), wakame seaweed, and tempura flakes. Eaten both hot and cold.
  • Curry udon – Noodles served in hot Japanese curry. This spicy dish is a great way to get warm in the winter. Be careful during dinner or wear old clothing because eating this dish gets super messy and leaves lasting stains on fabrics!

 

Ramen


R
amen (ラーメン)

Perhaps the single most popular Japanese delicacy after sushi – ramen is a wildly popular Japanese meal.

Hand-pulled out of wheat flour, ramen comes in a few thicknesses. The noodle can be crinkly, which makes it soak up soup better, or straight, making it easier to slurp and eat. Ramen is served in soup with a variety of toppings, which makes for an affordable, filling, quick meal.

It’s said that over 20,000 ramen shops exist in Tokyo alone. That staggering digit is a great testament to this noodle soup’s incredible popularity in Japan. Ramen restaurants are widespread across the country, and best of all – each ramen shop makes their unique variation of the recipe. No wonder being a ramen nerd is a viable and exciting hobby!

Ramen noodles have their roots in Chinese lamian, which were brought to Japan in the 17th century. The original Chinese recipe was based on pork broth, which didn’t really sit right with the Japanese predominantly vegan diet at the time. So, the Japanese put their own twist to it: instead of meat-based soup stock, they used well-loved ingredients like soy sauce, seaweed, and fish. And so the uniquely Japanese ramen was born!

Ramen Broth, Seasoning, and Toppings

Like most other noodle dishes, a ramen meal consists of cooked noodles, soup, seasoning, and toppings.

You will most often find ramen in a clear broth. It may be made of animal bones, vegetables, dried sardines or other fish, seaweed, or a combination of fish and chicken stock.

If you want to try something different, go for the traditional milky broth called tonkotsu (豚骨). It’s made of pig bones boiled for a long time (as much as 20 hours), which breaks down the collagen in the bones, making for a healthy meal with a milky consistency.

Ramen ingredients are usually prepared separately and eventually mixed in the serving bowl. Seasoning goes first, to the bottom of the bowl – so it creates a flavor base. The most common seasoning choices are ramen, miso, kombu kelp, or salt.

Then comes the broth, poured over the seasoning. In the end, it’s topped with noodles and toppings.

Toppings for ramen are truly diverse. They can include anything you like, but most often, it’s:

  • Narutomaki (fish cake)
  • Hard-boiled eggs (cut in half)
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Chopped scallions
  • Bean sprouts
  • Boiled eggs
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Sliced Meat
Soba Noodles

Soba (蕎麦)

If you dine in Japan, you may come across unusual-looking grayish-brown noodles. Those are soba, the Japanese buckwheat noodles.

Soba is very long and roughly the thickness of spaghetti. This filling and healthy noodle is used in a variety of hot and cold recipes. Soba is a traditional New Year’s celebration dish, when it’s served in hot tsuyu broth and symbolizes longevity.

100% buckwheat soba is gluten-free, but this noodle is too brittle for commercial use. That’s why soba is normally made of mixed buckwheat and wheat flour. Buckwheat gives them their characteristic brown color. Since flour type ratios differ between manufacturers, you can find soba in a wide variety of color shades.

In fact, in addition to wheat and buckwheat flour, other ingredients may be added to soba, so they come in many different styles and colors:

  • Ni-hachi soba – literally translated as two-eight soba, this common recipe uses 8 parts buckwheat and 2 parts wheat flour for noodle production.
  • Sarashina soba – This delicate, translucent white noodle is made of the innermost part of buckwheat seeds, giving them a high quality and a sweeter taste.
  • Inaka soba – dark brown and firm, inaka soba is made of unhulled buckwheat flour, giving them a coarser texture.
  • Dattan soba – Made of tartary buckwheat, this soba noodle is considered a healthier option. Tartary buckwheat seeds are also used as a delicious tea.
  • Matcha soba – The most unusual noodle color reward definitely goes to the light-green matcha soba. As the name suggests, this specialty is buckwheat mixed with powdered matcha tea. They’re usually eaten cold, paired with tsuyu or wasabi.

Soba in food names

Soba is, in fact, the Japanese word for buckwheat, so this name is also used for other buckwheat foods. For example, soba-gakiis a popular kind of buckwheat dumplings.

On the flip side, not all noodles that have “soba” as part of their name are necessarily made of buckwheat. For example, yakisoba noodles are often made of wheat alone, and Okinawa soba look and taste more alike to ramen than typical soba noodles.

Shirataki Noodles

Shirataki (しらたき)

If you’re after a low-calorie meal that will leave you feeling full, shirataki noodles are a great pick.

Made of konjac plant starch, shirataki is a delicate, translucent noodle. Low in carbs, these noodles are quite fibrous.

The unique plant material they’re made of is responsible for their chewy texture. Shirataki is often added to sukiyaki, nikujaga, and oden.

Somen

Somen (素麺)

Somen are the thinnest, most delicate noodles out there! In fact, the hand-pulled wheat noodles are often less than 1.3 mm thick in diameter. That makes them a treat that gives you a unique eating experience.

Somen noodles are made of wheat alone, but specialty noodles with ingredients like carrots, shiitake mushrooms, and plums are available on the market too. Due to the diverse ingredients, somen noodles come in many colors!

Unlike other types of Japanese noodles, somen are most frequently served cold, along with tsuyu sauce for additional flavor. Cooked and chilled in ice water, somen noodles make for a refreshing summer meal or snack.

Harusame Rice Noodles

Rice Noodlesー Harusame (はるさめ)

If you want to eat noodles but you’re on a gluten-free diet, rice noodles are a great choice!

Rice noodles are often flat and clear white in color. They come in many thicknesses and can be cooked quite quickly, which makes them a very versatile ingredient.

Rice noodles are often used in soups and stir-fries in Japanese cuisine.

What’s the difference between real Japanese noodles and instant noodles?

Throughout history, noodles were a popular meal in Japan. However, a real noodle boom happened with the invention of the instant noodle. The meal became widely accessible, cheap, and easy to make with almost no kitchen equipment.

However, instant noodles are very different than your traditional, restaurant-grade dishes. Instant noodles need to be dehydrated, usually by deep-frying. The hot oil makes the dough porous, and the little holes in its texture make it possible for the noodle to be ready within seconds after you put them in water. That makes instant noodles convenient, but also quite unhealthy.

Sometimes, instead of deep-frying, instant noodles are blow-dried, which is a healthier option. However, blow-dried noodles are made using different recipes to make sure they don’t get rubbery or too sticky.

Of course, instant noodles can be a great treat or a quick, accessible meal. However, there’s a world of difference between instant and authentic Japanese noodles taste and texture-wise!

Curry Udon

Simply Delicious

It’s hard not to love Japanese noodles – especially with so many kinds to choose from. What I love about noodles in Japan the most is that they come in such variety. Along with the basic kinds of noodles, specialty recipes that include unusual ingredients like mushrooms or fruit are readily available too.

I hope I managed to bring the tasty world of Japanese noodles closer to you, wherever you might be. If you have any ideas or questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

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