With hundreds of different varieties of Asian noodles and noodle dishes, from the spongy
and chewy to the glossy and silky in soups, stir-fries, curries, salads—you name it, put
noodles in it!—the magnitude of choices can be dizzying. If you’re a novice in the game
of Asian noodles, here’s my handy guide that breaks the noodle basics down into three
categories: wheat, glass, and rice.
If you’re a gluten-lover like me, you’ll love the versatile world of wheat noodles like soba,
ramen, and udon. “Mein” in Chinese refers to noodles made of wheat so all those late
night, or hungover, lo mein and chow mein you’ve ingested in the last while? Yup,
delicious wheat noodles.
Description: In Japanese, “soba” means buckwheat, which of course is the shining
ingredient in these noodles. Some soba noodles also incorporate wheat flour but you
can find gluten-free varieties made of pure buckwheat as well as green tea and seaweed
flavors, but the more buckwheat, the stronger the nutty flavor. Soba is amazing served
hot in soups, or cold in healthy salads or traditionally on its own with simple dipping
sauces on the side made from dashi, soy sauce, and mirin.
WDish Recipe: Soba Noodle Salad
Description: Invented in China and made extremely popular in Japan, ramen is usually
every one’s first Asian gateway noodle. The chewy instant ramen of our poor college
days—easy, super cheap and equally delicious and satisfying—still reins supreme today
but the onslaught of ramen restaurants that have popped up in the last five years or so,
plus David Chang’s championing, have made ramen as much as a staple in North
America as spaghetti. Best enjoyed in hot soup, either pork, chicken or fish based, with a
variety of toppings like dried seaweed, eggs and pork belly, and slurped as fast as
Description: Thick wheat noodles with a chewy bite, udon, like soba, can be served hot
or cold. I love the traditional Japanese way of enjoying udon in a hot broth on its own
with some sliced scallions or topped with tempura and vegetables. Like most things
delicious, udon noodles are nice and fat, making them ideal accompaniments for savory
uni or duck, and heavier sauces like curry.
Name: Lo Mein
Description: The go-to noodle at Chinese restaurants, lo mein has the body of spaghetti
with its dense texture being a perfect support for thicker sauces (thanks corn starch!)
and chunky vegetables, meats, and seafood- think the classic stir-fried beef and broccoli
noodles or Dan Dan noodles. You can’t escape lo mein. They’re the Kardashians of
Name: Chow Mein or Hong Kong-style pan-fried noodles
Description: Whereas lo mein noodles are boiled, raw chow mein noodles usually come
par-cooked, which makes them stir-fry ready (“chow” means to stir-fry); then served
gloriously fried and crispy. The crunchy texture makes these egg noodles popular as a
“bed” in many Cantonese dishes under heaps of fresh seafood or meat and vegetables.
Tip: go straight to the crispy edges of the noodle bed before the thick sauce softens the
Name: Wonton Noodles
Description: These fresh egg noodles typically come in two shapes in the refrigerator
aisle, thin and round like spaghetti and wider and flat like linguine, and commonly found
as the star noodles in wonton (duh) chicken noodle soup. The tender but springy texture
also makes wonton noodles great for dishes with simple ingredients like ginger and
scallions where the delicious noodle can really shine. Deep-fried, flat wonton noodles
are also addictive in my favorite Northern Thai curry noodle dish, Khao Soi.
Also commonly referred to as cellophane noodles or vermicelli, glass noodles are long,
thin and translucent, and made of vegetable starches like mung bean and sweet potato.
Slippery in texture, these noodles are quick and easy to cook- basically just a dip in hot
water for a minute or two and then rinsed in cold water.
Name: Mung bean threads, cellophane noodles, glass noodles, or bean vermicelli
Description: Made from mung bean starch, these noodles are great in salads, fresh
summer rolls, soups and stir-fries, and best served/eaten immediately to avoid the
noodles becoming mushy.
Name: Dang myun, chap chae, or sweet potato vermicelli
Description: Glossy and a bit rubbery, these noodles are made from sweet potato
starch and best known in the refreshing classic Korean stir-fry dish, jap chae, served hot
or cold. The neutral taste of these glassy noodles picks up strong seasonings and oils,
like sesame, incredibly well.
The rice noodle is the workhorse of the noodle world- whether thin, medium, or wide,
they can be fried, boiled, stuffed, wrapped, and if I had to choose, of all my noodle
children, I would probably choose rice as my favorite. Yes, I said it.
Side-note: In Chinese, when “fun” is mentioned during noodle talk, it refers to noodles
made of rice flour or mung bean starch. I guess gluten-free and fun can be dropped into
the same sentence after all.
Name: Rice vermicelli
Description: Sometimes confused for mung bean threads, cellophane or glass noodles
because of its similar uses and appearance (super thin, round noodles packaged in
small bundles). Rice vermicelli is the noodle of choice for fragrant dishes like
Vietnamese bún with grilled meat and fresh herbs, summer rolls, Singaporean crab bee
hoon or maifun with curried shrimp, pork and vegetables, and Filipino street food staple,
pancit bihon stir-fry.
Name: Rice sticks or rice noodles in thin, medium, and wide sizes
Description: Like its vermicelli sister, these rice noodles, which come in three sizes, are
very popular in Southeast Asia and featured in wonderfully flavorful dishes like
Malaysian laksa, Vietnamese phở, Thai boat noodles, pad thai, and Burmese mohinga.
Chinese chow fun or ho fun also uses these soft, when cooked, rice noodles. All praise
the rice noodle.
Name: Chee Cheong Fun or rice noodle roll
Description: These extra-wide rice noodle rolls, about 6 inches in length, are steamed
into silky smooth perfection and best eaten fresh at dim sum, either stuffed with bbq
pork, beef, shrimp, or deep-fried cruller-like donuts called youtiao, and drizzled with light
sweet soy sauce. These rice noodle rolls are so damn addictive that my dim sum legacy
has become hoarding the entire dish all to myself. So make sure to order a few. No
sharesies, no regrets.