by Emma Chow
There are so many types of noodles available on supermarket shelves and even larger varieties in Asian grocery stores. It can be a little overwhelming to decide which type of noodle is best for your dish with so much variety. So here is a breakdown of the common noodles you’ll find and what they are best used for:
Thick egg noodles –
Often sold as ‘Hokkien’ noodles. This is the type of noodle that would be found in dishes referred to as ‘Hokkien’, such as ‘Hokkien mee’ which is a type of fried noodle dish found in Singapore and Malaysia. This noodle can also be used in soups. Before you buy this, have a really good inspection of the noodles in the pack. Because they are packaged with some oil, occasionally these noodles can grow mould before the expiration date hits. Check for any white or grey spots. Also smell the noodles when you open the pack. If it smells a little funky, throw them out.
Thin egg noodles –
Similar to the above noodle, only thinner. Sometimes dubbed ‘chow mein’, which actually means fried noodles. You can fry them and use them in soups.
Egg, lye-water, or alkalinised noodles –
This is the variety of wheat based, skinny, yellow egg noodle that is often packaged dusted with flour and found in the fridge. These noodles have chewy texture and a subtle ‘eggy’ taste and are often used in wonton soups.
Sold The Japanese actually copied ramen noodles from the above type of Chinese noodle. Ramen contains no egg, but is made from wheat and is also alkalised. They are distinctly chewy and very delicious in soup ramen dishes. Ramen can be purchased dried or frozen.
Shanghai noodles or Chinese style dried noodles –
You can buy this sort of thin wheat based noodle in large 1kg or 2kg packs in Asian Grocery stores. Usually there is a picture of thin white noodles in a bowl of soup on the front. An important thing to note with this sort of noodle is not to cook it in the soup. You need to simmer these separately in water as they are covered with starch and instantly thicken any soup you try to cook them in.
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat. Traditionally soba is made from all buckwheat but these days wheat is often mixed in; check the pack to make sure you’re buying the type you want. Generally all buckwheat soba is more expensive. Soba is traditionally cooked, blanched and served with a dipping sauce in a dish called ‘zaru soba’. You can also find varieties of soba that have been flavoured with green tea. Soba is sold dried.
Similar to soba in size, somen is made from wheat flour and vegetable oil which aids the dough’s ability to stretch and achieve such thin noodles. It is served cold like soba, but also with hot soup. Somen is sold dried.
These are Japanese thick white wheat noodles. You use udon in stir fried dishes, soups and it is also eaten cold like soba, in ‘zaru udon’. You can buy udon in little ‘shelf fresh’ packs and also in larger refrigerated packs. I find the former to be oily and it has a funny sort of preservative taste, while the latter tastes better. But both these types are fragile and lack the chewiness of the udon you’ll be served in a restaurant. The best udon can be found in large frozen packs in a Japanese grocery store.
Rice Noodles –
These can come in different forms, from thin vermicelli to fat wide noodles. These are made from rice flour or pounded rice. Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai cuisine use rice noodles. Dry rice noodles first need to be soaked in hot water or simmered before using. Thai and Vietnamese version of this are often packaged as ‘rice sticks’. After this process, they can be stir fried or added to soups and used for salads. With fresh rice noodles that you find in a refrigerated section, you need to make sure you buy the right type for the dish you’re making. Some are made specifically for stir fries, and so are sturdier and have less water, while others are intended for soup and are more delicate. The picture on the pack will generally tell you which one is which.
These look similar to thin rice noodles but are also known as vermicelli, glass noodles and bean threads. These are actually made from mung bean starch or sometimes potato or cassava. First boil these and then drain before using. In the last decade there have been several controversies involving Chinese produced cellophane noodles being contaminated with lead or aluminium. For now, I would avoid this type of noodle.
Sweet Potato Noodles or Korean ‘Dangmyeon’–
These look like a hard grey version of rice or cellophane noodles, but are always sold dry and in packs much longer than most. After cooking these noodles turn from grey to clear. They are chewy in texture and often used in a Korean dish called ‘Jap Chae’; sweet potato noodles fried with vegetables and sometimes beef in a sweet and salty sauce.