Crave untangles one of Asia’s favourite ingredients, a 4,000-year-old foodstuff that is deeply ingrained in the region’s culture and cuisine.
Text by Stephanie Cheung, photos by Samantha Sin
Special thanks to Final Fragments, Francfranc, Gyotaku, Tung Shan Porcelain Co. and Zhejiang Heen
- E-fu noodles
E-fu noodles, or yi mein, are wheat-based egg noodles with a slightly spongy texture and often used in sauce-based dishes such as cheese-baked lobster. The noodles come in dried, patty-like bricks, and must be soaked before cooking. E-fu are the go-to ingredient for longevity noodles at Chinese banquets.
Shrimp roe noodles
Distinguished by their tiny black dots, shrimp roe noodles are commonly used in wonton noodle soups. After boiling the noodles, don’t toss out the water, as it carries all the umami flavour. Nicely packaged, quality shrimp roe noodles make popular souvenirs for tourists.
Shanghai Cu Mian
Although most commonly found in northern China, cu mian was popularized by the Shanghai-style dish, Shanghai cu chao. A favourite with Westerners, the noodles are stir-fried with cabbage, beef and dark soy sauce. These noodles are sometimes confused with udon, as both are thick-cut, wheat-based noodles.
A speciality from Akita prefecture in Japan, these are flatter, thinner, more slippery version of the more rounded udon noodles. Considered a premium product, Inaniwa udon is usually eaten cold with dipping sauces and condiments such as freshly ground horseradish, shiso, kombu (seaweed), leeks, and sesame.
Glassy noodles made from sweet potatoes are commonly used in the classic Korean dish, japchae. Springy and light, sweet-potato noodles are gluten-free, and turn translucent when boiled. Try them as a stir-fry with mushrooms, carrots, spinach and sesame oil, or served chilled as a summertime salad.
These buckwheat noodles originated in Tokyo in the Tokugawa period to combat beriberi, a condition caused by thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency as a result of the city-dwellers’ diet of white rice. Thiamine-rich soba noodles came to the rescue and have been popular ever since. Pictured is a green tea variant of traditional soba noodles.
It is fascinationg to watch la mian being made from a lump of dough that is repeatedly stretched and folded, then rolled out and cut into small portions. These are pulled skilfully into many strands of thin, long noodles. La mian is often served in beef or mutton soup in northern China, or in clear chicken broth in Shanghai.
Often used to make stir-fry dishes, eggs are added to wheat noodles to provide colour and “body”. Perhaps the most ubiquitous Asian noodle, its popularity is evidenced by its use in such international favourites as chow mein and lo mein.
A modern twist on Chinese noodles, spinach noodles are the answer for today’s health-conscious diners. High in iron, vitamin A and folic acid, spinach noodles are a healthy substitute in all those noodle dishes you cook at home.
An historic favourite of Japanese aristocrats, somen noodles are extremely thin and wheat-based. Best served ice-cold with a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, dashi (Japanese fish stock), and mirin (rice vinegar) for a light summer meal. Pictured here are cooked somen (left) and dried yam-infused somen (right).
These knife-shaved noodles are a delicacy from Shanxi. Cut from a slab of flour dough with a flat blade, the noodles are flat, wide, and irregularly shaped. Served piping hot in broth (often beef), these chewy noodles make a delicious and hearty meal.
Dan dan mian
A classic Sichuan dish, dan dan mian (peddler’s noodles) got its name from being sold by peddlers who carried the noodles and sauce in pots at either end of a bamboo pole. White, chewy and soft, the hand-pulled noodles are best served with preserved vegetable, minced pork, and chilli oil.