The world of Asian noodles is extensive and at times mind-boggling. Visit any Asian market and you’ll see aisle after aisle of noodles with various shapes, lengths, and textures from China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia.
The number of varieties is heightened by the lack of any nomenclature or classification. This can make it difficult to know how to choose between the various types. The following is a guide to help you identify some of the types available in Asian groceries stores.
Wheat vs rice noodles
The broadest category of noodles, wheat noodles are made with some form of wheat flour, water, and sometimes eggs. Wheat noodles are referred to as “mien” and can vary in taste, texture, and firmness.
Rice noodles or fun or fen are made with rice flour and water. Most are bland and thus are a carrier for bolder ingredients in a dish. Rice noodles cook up fast taking just a minute or two for fresh noodles and even less time for some dried versions thus be sure to have everything else ready to do so they don’t sit and bind together.
Know your noodles
Most Asian markets group noodles by country of origin, but given that noodles are used in multiple cuisines, you’ll often see them under different names.
China/Hong Kong — Wheat: Yaka Mein (U.S. adaption), Lamian, Misua, Mee Pok; Rice: Rice Vermicelli, Chow Fun, Mi Xian, Chee Cheong Fun, Lai Fun, Silver Needles; Egg: Lo Mien, Chow Mein, Wonton Noodles
Japan — Wheat: Udon, Ramen, Soba, Somen; Japanese yam: Shirataki
Korea — Wheat: Naengmyeon; Sweat potato: Jap Chae; Rice: Ddeok
Southeast Asia — Rice: Kway Teow, Rice Sticks; Mung Bean: Mung Bean Threads
When you determined the origin(s) of your dish, check out the corresponding noodle by country and make your selection.
Storing your noodles
Most noodles will be fine in a cool, dry place, though they can grow stale in a matter of months. Fresh noodles should be kept refrigerated in their original packaging for not more than a few days.
Cooking your noodles
Once you have your noodles, it’s time to cook them. It’s important not to overcook your wheat noodles and it rarely takes more than a few minutes while rice noodles cooking even faster. Mung bean and yam noodles cook very fast, so just immersing in hot water is best.
It takes a little know-how to cook noodles just right and the following 4 tips are worth your consideration.
1. Adding a pinch of salt, vegetable oil, or rice wine to the water will help prevent the noodles from sticking together.
2. When cooking egg noodles, add a few drops of vinegar to eliminate any brackish flavor.
3. When cooking fine dried noodles, the noodles should be put into the water as soon as it starts to boil while stirring a few times. After the water re-boils, add a little cold water and bring back to a boil on medium heat, and shut off. The noodles should remain in the pot with the lid on for about 5 minutes to make them soft.
4. For freshly made noodles, they should be turned with chopsticks a few times while boiling to prevent them from sticking together. Once the water is boiling, add a little cold water and re-boil. This process should be done twice.