What kind of Japanese noodles exist?

For some Japan seems to be a land of noodles: Ramen, udon, soba, somen and some even mention Yakisoba. Based on Asahi’s research from 2014 the ranking of the favorite top 10 noodles in Japan are:

  1. Ramen
  2. Udon / Kishimen (wide Udon)
  3. Pasta
  4. Yakisoba
  5. Soba
  6. Instant or Cup Ramen
  7. Somen
  8. Hyashichuuka (cold Japanese style Chinese noodles)
  9. Nagasaki Chanpon, Osara-Udon
  10. Udon-Hotpot

Because Udon are most likely the most versatile noodles, pequeñITO is focusing on this Japanese delicacy. Udon can be chewy or soft, thin or thick, square or thin/wide, short or up to 1m long, all depending on the region the noodles come from. Udon are still made today the same way like 1300 years ago: Saltwater is added to flour and extensively kneaded to allow gluten to build. The secret lies in the kneading technique and the resting periods. Of course these noodles are best when you eat them fresh, best made by hand. If there are no fresh Udon available, frozen ones are recommended. Dried Udon can be still good, but note the texture changes a lot, plus only a limited variety of shapes are available (commonly only square Udon or Kishimen). Udon has a neutral flavor, so they can be used for a wide variety of dishes. Below’s picture shows freshly hand made Udon.

hand made Udon

Ramen became popular in Japan after the WWII. Commonly Ramen noodles is made of 4 ingredients: Wheat flour, water, salt and kansui (can be described as brine, lye or a mix of alkaline salts commonly in a phosphate form). The color of the Ramen noodles is yellow due to the chemical reaction of the alkaline salt with the flower (no eggs are added to the dough!). Basically four types of soups exist in Japan: Shio (salt), tonkotsu (broth from pork bones), soy sauce and miso. Depending on the region in Japan the popularity of the soup type changes.
Again the flavors are completely different if the Ramen noodles are fresh, frozen or dried. Even a wider gap exists then between the flavors and texture of Instant Ramen and its original made in the Ramen shop.

ramen noodles

Soba noodles are originally made only of buckwheat flour. The darker brown the color of the noodles are the less flour had been added and the earthier the flavor. Commonly Soba is eaten in a warm broth in the winter, or during the warmer period cold with a soy based dipping sauce. These types of noodles are available fresh or dried. Most likely there is no Japanese household without some dried Soba stock, because it is an easy, healthy, quick dish. Traditionally Soba is eaten at New Year’s Eve or given as a present to immediate neighbors after moving into a new home. The picture below shows cold, truly tasty Soba from the Shrine Izumo Taisha.

izumo taisha soba

Somen are thin wheat noodles with roughly 1mm diameter that are commonly eaten cold in the summer. They are a delight during the truly hot and humid weather in Japan, when the appetite for hearty food is gone. Commonly Somen are eaten with a light dipping sauce. Most likely the most refined and elegant noodles in Japan.


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