Author: Francesca - Mr Lee's Team
Noodles are one of Asia’s most popular foods and have also become increasingly popular in the western world in the past few years. According to the World Instant Noodles Association, “116.6 billion servings of instant noodles were eaten in 2020”.
There are more than 3,000 varieties of noodles out there with different shapes, colours, textures and sizes, endless ways of cooking them and many forms of serving them. Whilst some noodles work best for soups, others are great for stir-fries or stews and some are better served cold.
We’ve put together this guide to help you understand the differences between 9 of the main types of Asian noodles. From udon to glass noodles, passing by vermicelli and soba noodles, you can take your pick.
1. Ramen noodles
Ramen are Japanese noodles which have been adopted by many other cuisines around the world. The first bowl of ramen originated in China and made it’s way to Japan around 1860. These wheat-based noodles are mostly served in soups with a broth and veggies as well as some form of protein.
“In Japan these are normally served fresh from a trolly. The chef cooks the ramen behind the counter and serves it to the two or three customers sitting on the other side" explains Andy Chu Executive Chef at Mr Lee’s.
At Mr Lee's, we might soon be launching some very exciting new products made with ramen noodles but you'll have to wait to find out what they are! In the meantime, why not try our Seafood Ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper Paste recipe? A Japanese favourite with a slight Korean twist which will not disappoint.
2. Udon noodles
Udon is another type of Japanese noodle which is known for being thick and chewy. Very typical in the south of Japan, they are traditionally served as a noodle soup, although in the West it's become increasingly popular to stir-fry them into what's known as Yaki Udon. Just add a variety of vegetables and some protein and whip up a sauce made of soy sauce, mirin, oyster sauce and sugar and your good to go.
"Udon noodles are best bought fresh but nowadays you can also find dried versions in most supermarkets, which are a good option if you can't find fresh ones." says Andy Chu.
3. Soba noodles
These Japanese noodles are made with buckwheat flour (soba is actually the Japanese word for buckwheat), which gives them a different texture and flavour to those made with wheat. However, some soba noodles also contain some wheat flour in order to make them easier to work with. There isn’t much time needed to cook them as they are normally ready withinwithing 3-4 minutes.
They can be served hot or cold, either in a soup or in a salad and they are also good for stir-fries. Andy Chu tells us that “In Japan a really popular dish in the summertime is serving the soba noodles cold with an iced tea and soy sauce mixture. It’s really refreshing.”
4. Chow mein or lo mein noodles
They are the most common Chinese types of noodles. Both made with wheat flour and eggs, they are similar to Italian spaghetti.
The difference between these two types of noodles is the way they are prepared. Whilst lo mein noodles are first boiled on their own and later tossed together with the sauces, meat and veggies, chow mein is prepared by boiling the noodles and then frying them with the vegetables and sauces in the wok.
5. Glass noodles
This type of noodle is not made from wheat or rice, it’s typically made from sweet potato starch or mung bean. Once cooked they look like glass, hence their name, and their light flavour makes them perfect to soak up the flavours of the sauces. They are used in many Asian cuisines and are very versatile, they work well in soups, stir-fries and salads and you can also deep-fry them and make them really crispy.
6. Flat rice noodles
Flat rice noodles are the second big noodle category in Asia, after wheat noodles. They are made with rice flour and water and are available in many different versions. They are great flavour absorbents and you can normally find them in stir-fries and soups, such as Pad Thai or Vietnamese Pho.
As they don’t contain any wheat, they are perfect for coeliacs who are looking for gluten-free noodles. You can check out Mr Lee’s range of rice noodles, available in 6 different flavours on our online store, Amazon and Ocado.
7. Vermicelli noodles
Vermicelli noodles are a soft and silky variety of noodles very popular in China and Southeast Asia. They are a rice-based noodle available in different degrees of thickness. The dried version is perfect for soup, stir-fries, stews and they are also good to fry and serve as crispy noodles.
One of the most notable dishesmadewith vermicelli noodles is singapore-style noodles. You can find the recipe for these in The Noodle Cookbook which also includes the steps to make our fragrant Lobster Laksa Curry
8. Cheng fun noodle
Cheng fun are rolled up rice noodle sheets often cut into bit-sized pieces which can be steamed, pan-fried or added into a stir-fry. These smooth and firm noodles are traditionally consumed as a breakfast in China but you can also find them in a dim sum selection or served as a snack.
They are usually consumed plain with some toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on top and a drizzle of hoisin, sesame or chilli sauce and sometimes they are served with a meat or fish filling.
9. Wonton noodle pastry wrappers
Wonton noodle wrappers are like thin sheets of fresh pasta. They are made from wheat and most times also include egg. They are either round or square shaped and they are perfect for dumplings, noodle soups or to have as crackers if you lightly fry them.
The word 'wonton' in Cantonese rougly translates to 'clouds', as once they are cooked they resemble clouds floating in a soup.
This is only a small selection of all the different noodles you can find out there but we hope this list helps you get to know a little more about the most popular ones across the globe.
You can check our recipes section to find a variety of dishes made with different types of noodles.