In 2002, archaeologists found an earthenware bowl containing the world’s oldest known noodles. They proved to be roughly 4000 years old and were found at the Lajia archaeological site along the Yellow River in China. The noodles themselves were surprisingly well-preserved (though way past their best before date) and were described as resembling the traditional lamian noodle of China, which is made by repeatedly pulling and stretching the dough by hand.
Noodles have come a long way since then, and there is a huge variety to choose from. Below we pick out seven of our favourites and explore their origins and what they are best served with.
Predominantly known as a Japanese speciality, Ramen actually originate from China. These wheat based noodles are most commonly used in soup-based dishes. Made up of a meat or fish-based broth it is often flavoured with soy sauce or miso. You can also buy ramen noodles fresh, frozen or dried and for years dried packed ramen which is packaged with a sauce sachet has a been a staple of student living, due to its low cost.
Ever wondered what type of noodle is in the chow mein from your local Chinese takeaway? It’s this one. Made from wheat and egg, their firm bite and springy texture make them one of the most versatile types of noodle to cook with. Whether you are adding them to Wonton soup or frying them, their texture and subtle flavour works in a wealth of dishes.
Soak them in hot water and they become soft and supple, perfect for adding to soups, stir fries and spring rolls. To experience the wow factor, add them to hot oil and they puff up, making them the perfect ingredient for Chinese “bird’s nest” dishes or as a garnish.
Hugely popular in Japan, soba noodles are thin, grey-brown noodles made from buckwheat flour that are served either chilled with a dipping sauce or in a hot broth. The buckwheat used to make the noodles is harvested in Japan four times a year. If soba noodles are made with a freshly harvested batch of buckwheat they are generally sweeter and more flavourful. This freshly harvested noodle is called “shin-soba“.
5. Rice vermicelli
Like glass noodles, rice vermicelli only needs to be soaked in hot water to soften the strands up. Due to their lack of gluten to hold the noodle together, they are more delicate than wheat-based noodles.
Popular in Vietnam, these noodles are usually served cold and topped with grilled meat or as summer rolls (wrapped in rice paper with shrimp, herbs and lettuce).
Hokkien mee is a dish in Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine that has its origins in the cuisine of China’s Fujian (Hokkien) province. Made up of a combination of rice and egg noodles, these are commonly stir-fried and served with egg, slices of meat, prawns, squid and vegetables, and garnished with small pieces of lard, sambal sauce and lime.
Udon are thick, chewy Japanese noodles made from wheat flour and water. Sold fresh they are traditionally served submerged in hot soup and topped with thinly chopped spring onions, prawn tempura and aburaage (a type of deep-fried tofu seasoned with sugar, mirin and soy sauce). A thin slice of kamaboko, a halfmoon-shaped fish cake, is often added.
Noodles are a staple part of Asian cuisine. And for another authentic taste of Asia, try Cafe Asia’s range of frozen snacks. Find 10 of our products in branded freezers in Iceland stores across the UK from November 2015.
Egg noodles image: By jeffreyw (Mmm… lo mein) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Summer rolls: By Zoe Shuttleworth [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Udon: By No machine-readable author provided. Fg2 assumed (based on copyright claims). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons