Noodles are a staple in Japanese cuisine and there are hundreds of delicious ways to prepare them in distinctly Japanese ways. Check out any Japan trip bucket list and it is sure to include a steaming bowl of ramen, or a filling serving of cold soba noodles. It is truly an experience that you could not miss when you visit this amazing country!
Here’s a quick guide to the different kinds of noodles you will encounter in the culinary mecca that is Japan:
With the thousands of ramen restaurants sprouting all over the city, it’s impossible that you haven’t heard of the current ramen craze. Foodies from all over the world have expressed their craving for this noodle dish, especially during chilly or rainy days. Ramen noodles are made from wheat, and have a nice, chewy bite to them. It is often served in a bowl, topped by Chāshū or sliced pork, soft-boiled eggs, and nori (seaweed). Though the possibilities are practically endless because ramen is a very versatile dish, the most common examples of ramen dishes you can find in restaurants are Shōyu ramen, Shio (salt) ramen, Miso ramen and Tonkotsu (pork based) ramen.
Soba noodles are made soba seed (buckwheat). Soba noodles are often served hot in a soup, or cold paired with a dipping sauce. Every New Year eve in Japan, people make sure to eat soba noodles because it symbolizes their hope for a long life ahead. It is also popular because it is healthier than other forms of carbohydrates because buckwheat contains more minerals and micronutrients. However some people have allergy on soba seed (it is said about 4.6% of Japanese), need to be careful.
Udon noodles are chewy and soft, and noticeably paler in color compared to ramen. These noodles are served cold with a dipping sauce in the hot, humid months and also in hot dishes and soups when the temperature is lower. Udon does have a milder flavor profile that is why it is often paired with dishes with much stronger flavors because it creates the perfect balance.
Somen is characteristic of very thin noodles similar to vermicelli. In the summer, some restaurants offer nagashi-somen or “flowing noodles”. Somen noodles are placed in a bamboo stem across the length of the restaurant where it floats on ice cold water. As the somen noodles pass by, diners have to fish them out using their chopsticks and dip them in a light-flavored sauce called tsuyu.
Kishimen is a broad and flat noodle often seen in the Nagoya area. This kind of noodle is 4.5mm or longer in width, shaped in the form of a band, with a thickness of less than 2.0mm. Kishimen-making involves water, flour and salt, just the same as your regular udon but the noodles get rolled out until thin and flat, making it faster and easier to cook. Comparing to four other noodles introduced earlier, Kishimen is not that so popular though.
Noodles in Japan might as well be an art form. With the development of sophisticated noodle-making machines, artisanal handmade noodles have become more rare and very much sought after. It is a skill that is honed, cherished and passed on from generation to generation and it will continue to live on as long as there are bowls waiting to be filled and cravings waiting to be satisfied.
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