Japanese cuisine is not fully defined without their special noodle delicacies. Their popular food is an easy make that’s enjoyed with salads stir-fried or with varieties of dipping sauces. Japanese noodles make varieties of dishes differentiated by the types, sizes or form of the noodles used during preparation, the toppings and way in which they are served (with dipping sauce, in hot broths or soups); from Ramen to Udon, we will be highlighting the most popular types of them all.
Going further, we will be run-through the seven different types of Japanese noodles with a focus on the recipes for two popular types, Udon and Ramen noodles.
We will also be touching down on the history of the Japanese noodles, while clearing the air on the involvement of the Chinese in its true origination.
Japanese Noodles History and Curiosities
Many believe that the origin of the Japanese noodles is linked to the Chinese immigrants in Japan, bringing in one of Japan’s popular noodles (Ramen) similar to the Chinese wheat noodles. However, others believe the origination of the Japanese-styled noodles came after World War II.
It is believed that in the early 19th century, the Chinese restaurants were popular for their noodle dishes served with toppings as hot broths. On reaching Japan, immigrants introduced the culture by setting up food stalls that served their Chinese wheat noodles, till the noodle dish became popular by 1910.
However, following the end of World War II, Japan had a record of low rice supply in harvest and production, because rice production needs during the war was met by other Asian countries.
The US met the demand, by flooding the Japan market with low-priced wheat to meetup. By 1948, there were three times more wheat-made food products such as bread, and hence wheat-based noodles introduced (such as the Ramen, Soba, Somen, Udon and Hiyamugi).
Also, the noodle dishes were served by local vendors within the black market, with the restrictions imposed by the US. By 1950, total control on wheat flour was taken back with the restrictions on local vending dropped.
With support from food firms, local vendors of the noodles multiplied giving prominence to the adaptation of wheat-based noodles within their rice-based culture.
Another contributing feature was Taiwanese-Japanese Nissin founder Momofuku Ando’s invention of the instant noodles, which enables diners to easily prepare their noodles in just two minutes with the addition of boiling water.
This took Japan’s Ramen instant noodles global across different continents, sold under different brand names. By the 1980s, Ramen was a national favourite in Japan with varieties, so much that in 1994 it had a museum named after it in Yokohama.
Till date, Ramen among other popular Japanese noodles is sold by several vendors around the country with only its capital hosting over 5,000 noodle vendors.
Japanese Noodles Types
Although there are varieties of Japanese noodles with each specific to a region or vendor, we will be highlighting eight of the most popular types of noodles below.
This noodle type is the most popular noodle variety in Japan. A thin curled noodle of yellow coloration, it is made from wheat, Kansui, water, salt and alkaline water, although the noodles can be imported from China (Chinese soba).
Once prepared it is served with a variety of soups (Miso ramen, Shio ramen, Shoyu, Tonkotsu) which defines the flavor it gives off and the color of the dish. These soups are made from mushrooms, pork, onions/garlic or chicken stock.
Udon noodles are the fattest of the noodles, made from wheat with a white coloration and often served with dip sauce or as broths with green onions or Kamaboko slices. It has about seven types differentiated by their toppings and soup such as:
- Hoto udon served with thick miso soup and lots of vegetables
- Yaki udon is prepared with soy sauce, stir-fried
- Stamina udon which has meat, veggies and egg toppings
- Kitsune udon has the toppings of a sweetened aburaage
- Tempura udon as it name implies is either topped with tempura or kakiage
- Tanuki udon is tipped with batter flakes
- Chikara udon is topped with mochi
The somen noodles are wheat-based thin noodles served in both winter (as nyumen) and summer. During the winter they serve it as a hot soup, nyumen, while in summer it is served cold with ice and a tsuyu dipping (a sauce type with ginger, Katsuobushi and onion).
When served in summer, it is served in a flowing soup, where diners have to catch the noodles with their sticks and dip in their tsuyu sauce to taste.
Buckwheat are edible noodles which can be served cold or hot like the Udon noodles. Often served as a main meal on Japanese New Year’s Eve, Zaru soba is the cold form of soba, served with dipping (tsuyu), green onions and nori seaweed.
Although grated daikon, yamaimo and tororo are common toppings used for cold soba, Tempura and mountain veggies (sansai) are used for the hot soba. It is also a common practice for diners to drink the soba stock left with the tsuyu dipping sauce.
For quick reference, Yakisoba differs from soba but its content and preparations process. It is made from wheat flour and prepared by simply stir-frying similar to Ramen noodles prepared with some veggies, and seasonings added (yakisoba sauce, pepper and sauce). Common toppings have included, greenseawood powder , shoga beni (red picked eye.), bonito flakes and more.
Light white wheat-based noodles, not as thin as udon but served in similar ways to the Somen and Udon. So we can have Hiyamugi in its cold or warm forms, served with similar toppings highlighted earlier.
Made from potato starch, these translucent noodles are often served with salads and a variety of sizzling dishes. It is the most popular glass noodles among the Japanese noodles.
The favorite of the noodles for stewed dishes (nikujyaga, sukiyaki) in Japan. Shirataki is made from Konjac yam and is widely preferred for its low carb and calories content, as well as its high dietary fibre content.
Japanese Noodles Udon Recipe (Yaki Udon)
In just 25 minutes, you will have a protein rich and vegetable seasoned meal. Choices vary based on proteins, vegetables and toppings preferred.
Protein choices: Shrimp. Pork, chicken, beef
Vegetable choices: Mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, zucchini, snap peas, bamboo shoots
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
2 servings (Udon noodles)
1 tablespoon flavoured oil (canola)
½ onion (thickly slides)
½ lb pork belly (sliced)
3 cabbage leaves (sliced)
2 scallions (alternatively, green onions)
2 Shiitake mushrooms
Black pepper (grounded)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
3 tablespoon Tsuyu (noodle soup)
1 tablespoon Beni shoga (pickled red ginger)
3 tablespoon Katsuobushi (Bonito flakes, dried)
- Using a large pan sauce boil the udon noodles for 1 minute (follow package instructions if udon noodles are dried).
- Thinly slice the mushrooms with stems taken off, and cut the scallions into pieces. Cut the pork belly slices into pieces.
- Pre-heat a frying pan using medium heat. Pour in the pork pieces and heat until semi-cooked. Pour in the onions and heat again to a soft texture and translucent form.
- Pour in the sliced carrots and cabbage leaves and stir-fry until color forms with the oil
- Pour in the cut mushrooms, scallions and stir fry to a light cooked form
- Add the cooked udon noodles and stir well
- Add all seasonings and mix well for a uniform taste. Pour in the Tsuyu according to the seasoning added.
When serving, garnish with Bonito flakes, green onions and some Beni shoga (if you would like). Enjoy
Japanese Noodles Ramen Recipe
This Miso Ramen (soybean paste) recipe is a flavour of pork and chicken broth with Ramen egg and Chashu, all-in-one prepared within half an hour.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
For Ramen with optional toppings
2 servings Ramen noodles
Seaweed (Nori, cut into halves)
Bean sprout salad
¼ tsp white pepper powder
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 ginger (grated)
1 tsp salt
1 shallot (minced)
4 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp sake
1 tbsp sesame oil (roasted)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp white sesame seeds (toasted, ground)
3 tbsp miso
¼ lb pork (ground)
1 tsp Doubanjiang (spicy bean paste, purchasable)
White pepper powder
Beni shoga (pickled red ginger)
Japanese chili oil
- Using a medium pot, heat the sesame oil with medium heat
- Add in the minced shallot, ginger, garlic and stir fry
- Pour in the pork with high heat and cook to a light brown
- Pour in the Doubanjiang with miso and immediately mix with the meat to avoid burning
- Add the sugar, ground sesame seeds and mix well
- Pour in the chicken stock, sake and seasonings (white pepper, salt) for a taste and allow to simmer
Toppings should be ready and placed aside: A sheet of nori, chopped green onion, Chashu, ramen egg, spicy & blanched bean sprout, shiraga negi and corn kernels to go along with some white paper and red ginger and chili oil (optional).
For Ramen Noodles:
- Using a large skillet boil the noodles and drain off water properly to avoid diluting the ramen soup
- Once ready, add the ramen soup and garnish with toppings to serve