‘No satisfaction without noodles’ this is a Chinese idiom that shows you the love for noodles by the Asian community. From a dish of noodles swimming in the soup to a tempting version of tangled noodles in salad and those glazed in a wok you can never get enough of it.
Most people, however, don’t know that there are different versions of Asian noodles. They believe that they are the same. To an Asian telling them that noodles are the same is like telling the Americans that all burgers are the same.
Despite all this, it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes because they almost look alike. What causes the difference is normally the ingredients used to make the noodles.
It’s true to say however that the Chinese believe that each meal should balance between fan, grain, fruits, veggies, t’sai and starches. In this case, the noodles help to bring the harmony needed in any meal.
We all know that Spaghetti and meatballs or macaroni cheese are popular in the world. Nevertheless, Chinese noodles have been in existence for over 4000 years. Noodles became popular during the Han dynasty (206 BC-220AD).
There is a disagreement as to who first invented the use of noodles. Like the Arabs claim that they were the first to use dry pasta, this was their means of preserving flour during the forays across the desert.
Well, the origin doesn’t matter as much but looks like it’s important to many countries. The Italians also believe that they were the inventors of noodle. They are other Chinese rivals when it comes to preparing the noodles.
Some historians believe that Italians started using pasta when Marco Palo returned home from his long walk in China. He went back home with several exotic foods.
There are a variety of noodles from different parts of Asia which include the Philippines, China, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam and other countries. They are made using different kinds of flour-the rice flour, wheat flour, buckwheat and mungbean.
You can either sold in dry version or fresh one which you may find in the refrigerator of the Asian markets.
ASIAN NOODLES VS ITALIAN PASTAS
We can’t discuss this topic without highlighting that as much there are similarities between the two, the differences are equally clear. A good example is the fact that the noodles have their origin in China while pasta is said to have originated in Arabia and Italy.
The pasta is supposed to cook to an almost ready level (al dente) but the noodles sometimes don’t need you to boil them.
There’s a difference in texture when it comes to noodles whereby some are soft and firm while others have the springy resistance.
Asian noodles are made using rice yam, wheat flour and mung bean. Unlike the pasta which uses durum pasta.
With all these differences, therefore, you can’t substitute pasta for Asian noodles. With noodles, you will enjoy a flavor full and filling dish at a cheap price.
THE NOODLES SYMBOL
While you may think that noodles are just comfort foods they are not. They symbolize something to the different countries they are from.
In China noodles symbolize longevity
In Japan noodles make you slurp loudly which is a good sign of enjoying your meal.
Besides these two countries, there are many other countries that enjoy noodles because of its convenience and taste. They are mostly chewy, yummy and crunchy and are generally used when stir-frying or in soups and salads.
Depending on the taste and flavor you are after, the different noodles are used in the company of other proteins and carbs.
TYPES OF NOODLES
There are 4 famous categories of noodles as you will see below
- WHAT ARE EGG NOODLES?
Egg noodles are noodles made using wheat/rice flour and eggs. They are either sold fresh or dried and they are usually yellow in color. They are commonly used in restaurant takeaways around the world and there are different varieties of egg noodles.
The difference is determined by the noodle’s shapes. These noodles closely resemble the pasta used in the West.
You can have them in different shapes and widths. From a flat thick kind to the thinner vermicelli. They are either wide and flat or thin and round. The egg noodles are famously used in China, Malaysia and Singapore.
To cook the noodles boil them for 2-4 minutes when fresh or take 5-7 minutes for the dried egg noodles. Understand that they will be chewy. The noodles are used for soups and stir-fries. Such noodles include Chow mein and Lo mein.
You can also garnish your Chinese chicken salad with egg noodles. The egg noodles exist in 4 varieties: wonton noodles, wide wonton noodles, Hong Kong noodles and lo mein noodles.
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Types of Chinese noodles
- Chinese egg noodles
These feature the long noodles made with wheat flour and eggs. Although they appear in different thicknesses, they are round noodles. They are also the flattened noodles and they assume a golden yellow color.
Check out my Chinese Egg Noodles ultimate guide.
Don’t assume that because the noodles are yellow they are egg noodles. Confirm that the noodles are made using real eggs when buying the noodles.
If you know how to cook Italian past then cooking Chinese egg noodles is a breeze. These are the noodles that make the famous chow mein and lo mein among other common Chinese dishes.
- Hokien noodles
These noodles are used fresh and are chewy with a robust texture as well as a deep yellow color. They are hawker dishes that are used in Singapore and Malaysia. You need not boil them rather just blanch then add to your stir-fries.
Is a wheat noodle that is famously used in Japan? They are deeply colored and chewy. These noodles are like the Saang Mian from Hong Kong. It’s crunchy and they both come in various sizes.
- The wide noodles
It’s called Shan Shui Ho fun/ Sha Ha fun in Chinese.
They are as wide as the pappardelle and are normally used for your stir-fries. This is best used to prep the chow fun. They are short and flat noodles that are mostly made using eggs and flour. They come in varying widths. Sometimes they are slightly wide, other times they are medium wide or extra wide.
- Wonton noodles
These are Cantonese kind of noodles. They are thin Chinese egg noodles that are mostly used for soups. They are divided into two
Thin wonton noodles
Have you ever seen thin noodles in a soup? These are most likely the wonton noodles. They are used when making dishes like wonton noodle soup with chicken. The noodles work well where the broth is light and delicate.
You can also use them when making dishes with ginger, scallions, oyster and other dishes that require the use of noodles.
Wide wonton noodle
These are just the wider version of the thin wonton noodles. You can use them when you need to make a hearty soup like beef noodle soup.
How they are cooked
Bring your water to boil and add salt to it then add the noodles. Since the noodles tend to stick together, spread them out then using your tongs. Both the wide and thin noodles take about 30 -40 seconds to cook.
Once its cooked drain the excess water using a colander. Rinse the noodles in cold water to prevent further cooking especially if you intend to use them in soups. Never overcook these noodles rather let them retain their springy and nice texture.
- The lo mein noodles
These noodles are reserved for your stir-fries where you will also use a rich sauce. The difference is that they are thicker, less springy and denser than the usual wanton and Hong Kong style noodles. This means that they don’t lose their quality.
They can sit for long periods or be reheated and still maintain the quality. I always prefer it when I intend to use the noodles for a longer period.
Try these Authentic lo mein recipes from China.
Preparing lo mein noodles
Since the noodles are thicker and denser they take longer to cook. Boil in water for between 3-5 minutes. If you won’t use them immediately consider rinsing them in cold water.
This feature a smooth and easy to cook noodles of the Asian community. it’s an original Japanese style noodle. For perfect results serve them hot.
- WHEAT NOODLES
The wheat noodles are so many in the market. It has noodles of all widths and lengths plus the ones sold fresh and those sold dried. Below are the common ones.
- Hong style noodles (chow mein)
The noodles are sometimes called Hong Kong style noodles or chow mein which basically means stir-frying the noodles. This happens because the noodles come to your table when parboiled and crispy ready for stir-frying. They are noodles that when cooked should retain their firmness and texture.
Though popularly stir-fried, you can also deep fry them when you need to. This is common with the Cantonese of China.
For it to reach the essence needed to consider cooking them until they become hard and crunchy in texture. They are just double the size of vermicelli yet thin and round. If you have a recipe that requires the use of Hong Kong style noodles and you can’t seem to get them, substitute them with wonton noodles.
Cooking Hong Kong noodles
These noodles are ready to fry. Open the package of the noodles and loosen the noodles then place them in your wok to stir fry with a thin sauce. Alternatively, shallow fry the noodles in more oil.
These are chewy, one of the thickest noodles in the market yet pale noodles that originate in Japan. You can use them for your soups or stir-fries. They have a neutral flavor which is best enhanced with soy sauce and ginger. They must be soaked in boiling water for 2-3 minutes before you begin to use them. Here is One of my favorite udon Pan Fried Japanese Udon Noodles.
- Shanghai noodles
The noodles are chewy and thick. They are also cream in color and you can use them fresh or dried. They work best for your stir-fries and soups. You must want to try the delicious Scallion Oil Noodles from Shanghai.
- La mien/pulled noodles
The noodles are made by using some specific skills. You must skilfully twist, fold or stretch the dough to strands you will find them in northern Chinese restaurants since it’s hard to make them at home. They also assume a chewy texture but never confuse them for lo mein even though they sound similar.
Notice that, best la mien is made by hand and they symbolize longevity. They are usually a little slippery and they are boiled then added to your soups and stir-fries.
Try the famous hand pulled noodles Biang Biang Mian from China.
- Knife sliced noodles
The Chinese noodles are also called ribbon noodles and they are flat and broad dried noodles. They emulate the dao xiao mian that’s handmade and loved in northern China. Find these noodles in northern China restaurants.
- RICE NOODLES
This is another large category of noodles that come in different shapes and sizes. They are made using the rice flour and water. They are normally soft in texture and mild in flavor. Note that, they cook fast so be careful lest you overcook. Some noodles, in this case, don’t require cooking.
This is one of the many rice noodles on the market that is very easy to cook. It suits those who love natural foods because it’s gluten-free and contains no fat. It gets even better because you need not fry it just steam.
- Rice vermicelli
It’s also known as Mie Fen in Chinese and Sen Mee in Thai. Its appearance may confuse you with the bean thread noodles because they are thin and dried. They assume a neutral flavor and is often used for soups, the base for your sauces, stir-fries and salads.
To cook them, soak in boiling water then briefly boil it. Otherwise, deep fry them to maintain a crunchy texture.
This features the flat, wide and fresh noodles that are famously used in Cantonese cuisine. They are best used in stir-fries or soups. Its advisable to avoid the refrigerated ones as they will tamper with the texture.
You don’t need to pre-boil them instead, rinse with boiling water to separate the strands.
- Chee Cheong fun
This comes close to the name chow fun and it features an extra wide version of chow fun. It rolls around itself like the common swiss roll cake. You can describe them as silky soft and smooth don’t forget its chewy texture.
They are mostly sold fresh although you can find the packaged version. Your dim sum dish is made using these noodles. You could also consider serving them as a snack.
- STARCHY NOODLES
These are all noodles that are translucent and have a polished sheen. They resemble a plastic and are normally made using vegetable starch which includes mung bean, sweet potato, potatoes, yams or cassava but never flour.
- Cellophane noodles
They are transparent noodles that look like fishing line coils. They are also known as bean threads, beans vermicelli. It’s made using the mung bean flour. When you wish to use it, soak it first in hot water but not boiling one.
Before you begin to cook, soak the noodles in hot water to become soft and ready to use for your stir-fries and soups.
These are Korean noodles that are a thicker version of cellophane noodles. They are however thicker and tougher but also made using sweet potato. Before you begin cooking, soak them in water and rinse under cold water.
The crunchy noodles
The crunchy noodles are also referred to as mein gon and they assume the texture of dried biscuits. Some people refer to it as crunchy chow mein. These are mostly used in America because of the love for crunchy dishes.
The Americans sprinkle the mein gon on the normal chicken mein gon for the enhanced crunchiness. They work the same way as the croutons and you can use it in your salads.
They are normally served with the Chinese hot mustard and duck sauce to act as an appetizer.
WHERE TO FIND NOODLES
Noodles are found in most Asian markets and while there are many types of noodles, you will find the noodles from different nationalities in the market. Take note of the dish you intend to make then find the appropriate noodles from the nationality section of the Asian supermarket.
Alternatively, go online to shops like Amazon and source them from there. Don’t you sweat when searching because many noodles are used in different cuisines.
THE NOODLES STORAGE
The good news about noodles is that they are mostly sold in dry version. As you buy the noodles check the expiration date to calculate how long they will last. Storing noodles require a cool dry place nevertheless if you aren’t careful they will grow stale over time.
The best way to store them is to place in a clean and airtight container to avoid too much moisture and flavor loss. Remember, your pasta shouldn’t be exposed to air.
However, for your Chinese egg noodles, restore the remaining uncooked noodles in their original container and keep refrigerated. These fresh noodles when opened should take anything between a few days or weeks.
If you made your noodles at home, consider keeping them refrigerated to avoid the possibility of moulds presence. Remember to keep the container sealed as this increased the shelf life.
Can uncooked noodles go bad?
Uncooked noodles like any other dry food will go bad if you don’t store them properly. How you get to know this is if it has lost its authentic flavor. This happens if you have stored the noodles for so long maybe even years.
Other tell-tell signs that the pasta has gone bad is when you notice that they have melds which will occur if you didn’t store it properly. The noodles may also appear slimy if they are rotten.
Do you know the color that the noodles should assume? Have they discolored or do they have a bad odour these are the obvious signs that your noodles are spoilt?
To be on the safe side, practice safe hygiene and proper storage methods.
NOODLES COOKING TIPS
- Just like pasta, never overcook your noodles if you want the perfect results.
- Consider buying the freshly made noodles or go ahead and prep yours at home
- Adding some drops of oil is essential when you are boiling the noodles because this avoids the tendency to stick together.
- Even when in a hurry just boil your noodles in a medium flame never high flame. This is because noodles will stick over the high flame.
- Just before your noodles are fully boiled add some cold water to avoid sticking together. It also avoids overcooking.
- Another way to avoid sticking is to run the water into the noodles once you finish boiling most people don’t encourage it but it does works although it drains all the nutrients needed.
- Whenever you are cooking Chow Mein, mix them every after 4 minutes to prevent the sticking or allow the noodles to cook evenly fast.
- On medium flame, the noodles cook for roughly 6-10 minutes. To check if the noodles are cooked, you can remove a small piece then press with your fingers to see if they are soft.
- Lastly, take note that rice noodles boil faster than wheat noodles. Mung bean and yam noodles also cook fast and some noodles aren’t boiled they are just blanched in hot water or stir-fried directly.
HOW TO ENJOY THE NOODLES
- There are various ways to enjoy the noodles which include eating them hot or cold, stir-fried, boiled, deep fried and steamed.
- Noodles are a bunch of proteins. highly complex carbs and low calories so if you are a health freak noodles are a healthy choice.
- Even if you aren’t familiar with the noodles you can try either the Lo Mein or Chow Mein. They are not the same since although they are both stir-fried. Lo Mein is a mixture of all the ingredients that are tossed in noodles at the last stage.
- The Chow Mein though involves serving the ingredients over the prepared noodles. Apparently, there isn’t a clear cut as to which noodles to use for either Lo Mein or Chow Mein. For example, in America, we use crisp noodles to prep Chow Mein while China uses only soft noodles.
- Italians also use spaghetti to make Lo Mein.
Now you know that when it comes to Chinese noodles you are spoilt for choice. Their texture, flavor and nutrients vary. Use this list before going to the market to know which noodle you need.