Travel the breadth of Asia and you will see that what is labelled a noodle can be many shapes, thicknesses and sizes. They’re anything from hand-shaved to clever cut, hand-pulled or mechanically extruded; in the form of ribbons, squares, ears, lengths both thick and thin, rough or soft; stark white through to wholemeal brown and translucent. Made from wheat through to bean starch, the noodle plays just as an important part in day-to-day life as pasta does in Italy.
Asian cuisine excels at using noodles in all forms so they are hard to pass up, no matter the weather. Summer noodles can be shared plates and refreshing bowls to enjoy and they can be hot and spicy or mild and refreshing.
UDON – A thick and unctuous noodle, good udon is soft, yielding and very dense. They are Japanese in origin, but are similar to noodles found in other areas of Asia. Made from wheat but with no egg, homemade udon is traditionally (and literally) foot pounded or kneaded to create that dense and chewy dough. Look for good-quality frozen udon to stir-fry or eat in soups.
RAMEN NOODLES – Wheat flour, salt and water are mixed with kansui to create noodles whose sole use is in what has become a Japanese cult food – ramen. The addition of kansui (alkaline water containing small amounts of potassium carbonate and sodium carbonate) make this a very special noodle that can stand up to the high heat of flavoured stocks it also gives the noodle a yellowish hue. Dried ramen noodles won’t always have this crucial ingredient, so be careful when adding to super-hot broths.
BUCKWHEAT NOODLES – Sometimes labelled as soba noodles, especially in Japanese stores, the buckwheat noodle has the appearance of a wholemeal noodle and is a regular component of the cuisines of Korea and Japan, where it become popular in the 1800s. Buckwheat is gluten-free and labelled as tachi soba in Japan. However, many buckwheat or soba noodles are made with a mix of flours, so check your ingredient list carefully. Often a bit more pricey, this is a truly delicious noodle that can be served hot or cold and can be used in soups or stir fries.
WHEAT-BASED NOODLES – Made with just wheat and water, these noodles can range in colour from quite yellow through to white. More like fresh Italian pasta, they often are a mix of different types of flours to give different textures. Egg-based wheat noodles are known as mein in Chinese, somen in Japanese and hokkien mein in Singapore and Malaysia and are more like an eggbased pasta and come in many shapes and widths and can be used in many ways.
RICE NOODLES – A staple of Thai and Vietnamese cuisines, the rice noodle is made from not much else but rice flour and water. A very stable dried noodle, it cooks fast and has a distinctly less toothsome texture to wheat noodles.
BEAN NOODLES – Thin bean thread vermicelli is made from mung beans and cooks very fast, only needing to be soaked in hot water before being added to the other ingredients. One of the most common noodles throughout Asia, it has few calories and is an ideal food that can be eaten hot or cold.
KELP NOODLES – Japanese-produced kelp noodles have a similar texture to bean thread noodles but with a seriously good amount of natural goodness coming from 70 minerals, trace elements and enzymes coupled with 21 amino acids, as well as being gluten and grain free. Just rinse and drain well before incorporating this very textural, low-taste noodle into a dish.