In Western cultures, the term “fast food” conjures up images of hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, and tacos that are good to go. The concept involves the convenience of pre-cooked foods that are available when you are and packaged in ways that make it possible to eat while simultaneously doing other things. In Asian cultures, it’s the noodle that’s known as fast food, although that distinction is more for its quick and easy preparation. Long considered a staple in many Asian countries, noodles cook rapidly and are quite tasty and satisfying when combined with other ingredients.
Many Asian restaurants offer such a wide selection of noodle dishes that it’s easy to imagine there are just as many different types of noodles in existence to prepare those dishes. While noodles are known by an assortment of names, they’re made from just four basic flour groups: wheat, rice, mung-bean and buckwheat. Egg noodles, udon, kishimen, hiyamugi, somen, and ramen noodles are all made from wheat flour; rice vermicelli, rice sticks and bun noodles are made from rice flour; mung-bean flour is used to make cellophane noodles and buckwheat flour is used to make Korean buckwheat noodles (called naengmyon), soba and chasoba. The Korean dang myun noodle is one of the few Asian noodles not made from wheat, rice, mung bean or buckwheat. Instead, it gets its flavor and chewy texture from sweet potato flour.
Asian noodles can usually be found in Asian supermarkets or specialty stores. A good way to ensure the noodles you’re buying will have the best flavor and texture possible is to look for ones that have been imported from the country where it originated. For example, cellophane noodles originated in China, so when buying cellophane noodles, look on the package to find the location where the noodles were made. Noodles also come in a variety of shapes and width, but are customarily served long and uncut. Its length symbolizes longevity in the Chinese culture, and it is believed that the longer the noodle, the longer the life. Thus, it is considered unlucky to cut up a lengthy noodle strand. Noodle dishes are frequently and symbolically served at celebrations such as Chinese New Year, birthdays and weddings, occasions which desire longevity.
Some of the more popular noodles include:
Egg noodles – Originating in China, these noodles are similar to American noodles. Its sizes range from fine to coarse and can be pale yellow in color, the result of an egg and wheat mixture, or white if they were made without eggs. Egg noodles are commonly used in chow mein, which translates to fried noodles
Rice noodles – Made from rice flour, it has a variety of names, depending upon its shape and thickness, which can range in diameter from 1 cm to almost thread-like. Rice vermicelli is fine, while rice sticks are thicker and can be round or flat. It is opaque in color and its texture resembles that of rice.
Cellophane noodles – Also called glass noodles, bean threads, bean noodles or cellophane vermicelli, it is aptly named because of its transparent appearance when cooked. Cellophane noodles are long, slippery and soft, and because they are flavorless on their own, will readily absorb the flavors of the ingredients it is cooked with. They also do not need to be cooked, but merely heated and softened in warm water for best results.
Japanese Udon – Udon noodles are thick wheat noodles commonly found in the western part of Japan. Usually round in shape and white in color, it is used in soups like Kake Udon, a hot broth topped with thin slices of green onions and in dishes such as Yakiudon, which is udon stir-fried in soy based sauce.
Japanese Soba - Soba noodles are thin noodles made with buckwheat flour and is slightly brown in color. These noodles originated in eastern Japan and are often served chilled with a dipping sauce or as a noodle soup. You will also find Soba in Zaru, a Japanese dish that features chilled soba noodles topped with shredded nori seaweed, and Kake Soba, a hot broth topped with a slice of fish cake. The Japanese tradition of dining on soba noodles for longevity every New Year’s Eve is still practiced today.
Japanese Ramen – These are curly, long, brick-shaped noodles are often purchased as instant noodles.
Japanese Somen - Somen noodles are fine white noodles made from wheat flour, water and a small bit of oil. Like Soba noodles, they’re often served cold with a dipping sauce.
While most noodles are of China or Japan origin, it is not uncommon to find them in other Asian cuisines. The Korean dish, Chap Chee, consists of vermicelli noodles cooked with beef and Korean vegetables. In the Philippines, Filipino noodles, or Pancit, is made from wheat flour and coconut oil and is often used in soups and salads. Indonesians use noodles made from wheat flour and eggs in a local fried noodle dish called Bami Goring, while Burma’s most famous dish is Mohinga, or rice noodles in a rich fish soup. In Vietnam, combining rice noodles with beef or chicken creates a delicious soup.
Undeniably, the noodle’s versatility as a one dish meal or as an accompaniment to other dishes is what makes it appealing. Its ability to take on the flavor of added ingredients while maintaining its personality increases that appeal. To discover the delightful, adaptable noodle for yourself, start with Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen. We offer a selection of cookbooks to help you get started on your own culinary adventure with noodles. You may find yourself with a new recipe collection of dishes that can be served to any company on any occasion, or even better, a unique cooking creation you can truly call your own!
OUR 2007 NEWSLETTERS
Celebrating New Year’s Day In Japan
Holiday Gift: The 2007 Way
The Enlightening Truth
Noodles: Asian Fast Food
Weddings and Marriage in Japan
Bento: The Japanese Lunchbox
Tools of Asian Cooking: The Hibachi Grill
How to Make the Perfect Fried Rice
Asian Desserts: The Tastes and Textures of Japanese and Chinese Sweets
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