POPSUGAR Celebrity

From Ramen to Udon: An Asian Noodle Primer

Apr 22 2014 - 10:00am

Few foods are more versatile, come in a greater variety of styles, or are more prized in Asian cuisine (and our kitchens) than the noodle. Ranging in style from translucent, almost-rubbery cellophane noodles to fat, chewy udon noodles (and near everything in between), there's a noodle for every cuisine and palate. Keep reading for a breakdown of the most common types across Asian culture.


Soba — earthy, chewy Japanese buckwheat noodles — are frequently consumed chilled or at room temperature in noodle salads [1] or with a chilled dipping sauce (as pictured). Soba are sold dried and are typically made from a blend of buckwheat and wheat flour (ranging from 10-90 percent buckwheat), as buckwheat is nonglutinous and can be difficult to work with, though 100 percent buckwheat soba noodles are available as well.

Cellophane Noodles

Often referred to as glass or bean thread noodles, cellophane noodles are composed of mung bean starch and are used in a variety of dishes across Asian cultures — including soups, salads, spring rolls, and the like — where their mellow flavor, glossy appearance, and springy, slippery texture can shine. Sold in a dried, brittle form, they're often reconstituted by soaking in hot water — no boiling necessary.

Egg Noodles

Sold in a variety of thicknesses and in both dried and fresh form, egg noodles are based on an alkaline egg and wheat dough and are common throughout Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, and Singaporean cuisines. These chewy, mellow-flavored noodles are a component of many dishes including lo mein, chow mein, and dan dan mian and are also fried and used as a garnish for some Chinese-American dishes like Chinese chicken salad.


Fat, tender, and chewy, udon are a Japanese wheat-based noodle served up in a host of dishes like noodle soups, stews, and stir-fries, or in their most elemental preparation: chilled with a dipping sauce (similar to how soba is often presented). For the best quality, look for udon in the fresh, refrigerated noodle section, though they're also sold dried as well.


Though they share a similar dainty size and shape, vermicelli should not be confused with cellophane noodles. Mild in flavor, opaque, and tender, these white noodles are generally sold dried and are a key component to Vietnamese vermicelli bowls (like pictured) where they're boiled, then typically served with a sweet rice-wine-vinegar-based dressing, nuts, herbs, and meat.

Sweet Potato Noodles

Sweet potato noodles — a Korean favorite that star in japchae, a chilled salty-sweet noodle dish — are made with sweet potato starch and are similar in appearance to bean thread noodles. Sold dried, these light-gray, brittle noodles cook up exceptionally fast and are prized for their glossy, translucent appearance and firm, chewy, slippery texture once cooked.


While ramen may have a reputation as a cheap, dorm-food staple stateside, in Japan (and increasingly throughout the States) it's a much-revered noodle soup dish that comes in a vast range of varieties — heck, Lucky Peach even devoted its inaugural issue to the subject [2]. Sold fresh or (more commonly) dried, alkaline, wheat-based ramen noodles transform from brittle (in dried form) and crisp to tender and slightly chewy when cooked.

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