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Noodle Glossary

The Martha Stewart Show, May 2009

Ramen Noodles

  • Made from wheat flour, egg, and water.
  • Japan's ultimate comfort food -- equivalent of a cheeseburger, fried chicken, and deep-dish pizza rolled into one.
  • Chinese immigrants first popularized these hearty wheat noodles in the late-nineteenth century.
  • The Japanese quickly adopted them, and the first modern ramen shop opened its doors in Japan in 1910.
  • Ramen is typically a dish you go out to enjoy rather than make yourself.
  • The different regions of Japan are intensely proud of their local recipes, from the rich, miso-based ramen of the far north to the hearty pork-stock variety famous in the country's south.
  • You can find fresh-frozen or dried ramen at Japanese markets. Fresh-frozen ramen takes about two to three minutes to cook, while dried takes longer.
  • Ramen is most often known as the Asian instant-style deep-fried noodles that are usually sold in cellophane packages, sometimes with bits of dehydrated vegetables and broth mix.

Udon Noodles

  • Flavorful white noodles made from wheat flour and water.
  • Osaka and southern Japan are the traditional home to udon.
  • Although udon is a simple food, hundreds of years ago it was considered a dish of nobility, more high-class than soba.
  • Udon noodles have a silky, smooth texture and are easy to slurp down.
  • Udon inspire similar devotion in the south that soba does up north, although it's considered a more down-to-earth noodle.
  • You can buy fresh-frozen, precooked udon at Japanese markets. All you do is quickly heat them in boiling water and they're ready. Dried udon is also available, but take a little longer to cook.
  • There are two styles of udon -- sanuki, which is like thick spaghetti, and inaniwa, which resembles linguine.

Somen Noodles

  • Somen are dried extra-thin Japanese noodles made from wheat flour dough with a bit of oil.
  • Like udon, somen is a noodle with a long history in Japan.
  • Somen is as thin as angel-hair pasta, which makes it quick and convenient to prepare.
  • Somen noodles are known to be a summertime dish.
  • In Japan, somen noodles are eaten chilled.
  • They are refreshing and light, and you don't have to spend too much time over a hot stove to prepare a somen dish -- the noodles cook in 1 minute.
  • Chilled somen complements seafood especially well and is great with delicious dipping sauces.
  • They are sold in beautifully wrapped packages of five to six bundles tied with colorful ribbons.

Rice Noodles

  • Rice noodles are made with rice flour and water, and are especially popular in Southeast Asia.
  • Easy to find dried rice noodles in large supermarkets, but you'll probably have to visit an Asian market to find them fresh.
  • Rice noodles should be pre-soaked in hot water before using in a soup or stir-fry.
  • They come in a wide variety of styles.
  • Rice noodles often resemble long, translucent white hairs.
  • When deep-fried, they explode dramatically into a tangle of airy, crunchy strands.

Soba Noodles

  • Thin Japanese noodle with a nutty flavor and delicate texture.
  • Made from either both wheat and buckwheat or just buckwheat.
  • These are a quick cooking noodle, usually four to six minutes.
  • Impressively nutritious: high in protein and B vitamins.
  • Soba is the signature noodle of northeastern region around Tokyo.
  • To prepare them, hard, grainy buckwheat flour is usually mixed with a little wheat flour to make kneading easier (90/10 is the traditional ratio).
  • Soba is a beloved noodle in Japan, but one that has two lives: it's a down-home soul food, like ramen, but it also has a more elegant side, elevated to a high art by celebrated soba chefs who prepare it from scratch.
  • First appeared in Japan around the seventeenth century, when shops and street vendors started hawking them.
  • Soba began as a humble food, sustenance for priests, laborers, and the lower classes. But before long, aristocrats and lords discovered theses delicious noodles, and elegant soba restaurants opened to serve them.
  • America got an early taste of soba, when it was featured in the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.
  • Soba is a popular food in homes, too. There's a tradition of serving soba on New Year's Eve -- the long noodles symbolize long life.
  • You can buy fresh-frozen or dried soba noodles in Japanese markets. Frozen soba takes only a minute to cook. Dried soba takes 3 to 4 minutes to cook.

Special Thanks
Special thanks to award-winning chef Takashi Yagihashi for sharing this information. Special thanks to Ten Speed Press for giving copies of his book, "Takashi's Noodles," to our studio audience.