Sometimes called cellophane noodles, these transparent or translucent Asian pantry staples are sold in many different forms and gauges in Chinese, Japanese and Korean supermarkets.
Tanghoon: Mung-bean vermicelli, the most familiar glass noodles, used across South-east Asia in many different dishes. Usually sold in individual wiry skeins, clear and springy and just under 2mm-thick when cooked. Soak in cold water until flexible, then drain before stir-frying or braising. You can also blanch them quickly in boiling water, then drain and rinse before using in cold salads or adding to soups. They soak up seasoning very well.
Other mung-bean noodles: Shown here are two other forms - flat square Thai mung-bean sheets (right), about 5cm across, which cook through in about five minutes. They roll up into scroll shapes as they simmer and are best savoured in kway chap, braises and soups; and flat Chinese noodles (left) made of mung bean and potato starch, the same size as kway teow (large stores such as Yue Hwa in Chinatown may sell different widths), which cook through in seven to nine minutes, suitable for hot and cold dishes.
Potato-starch noodles: Noodles made from potato or sweet potato starch take longer to cook than mung-bean noodles, but maintain their slightly chewy texture for longer when immersed in hot soups or cold dressings. Large Korean supermarkets usually stock a few different types of curly or straight potato-based noodles. Shown here are two different Chinese sweet-potato noodles: sturdy and rustic "steamboat noodles" (above), about the size and thickness of small shoehorns, which take upwards of 10 minutes to cook through and are good at absorbing and conveying flavours; and unusually-shaped vermicelli (left), 60cm long and slightly knobbly like strings of beads, the better to cling to seasonings, dressings or thick soup broths, which cook through in six to eight minutes.
Harusame: Japanese vermicelli, typically made with potato starch and sometimes added cornstarch, about 12cm long and 2 to 3mm thick. They cook through in three to five minutes. Different forms are sold for use in soups or cold salads. Very smooth, slightly resilient. They can also be deep-fried into a puffy garnish.
Arrowroot-starch noodles: Look for these, labelled as "mien dong", in shops selling Vietnamese products. Shown here are two arrowroot vermicelli types: a small coil (above), 25 to 30cm long and 2 to 3mm thick when cooked and textured like firm laksa beehoon; and a long skein (right), about 60cm long and just under 2mm thick when cooked, much like tanghoon, but a tad more delicate. Both cook through in three to five minutes.
Semi-dry glass noodles: Labelled "crystal vermicelli", these Chinese potato-starch noodles are only partially dried, with a soft, rubber band-like texture, and are used in cold salads. About 35cm long and 2mm thick when cooked, they need only a minute's blanching, turning clear as glass, stretchy and very slippery.
Cooking glass noodles: Cook all glass noodles in vigorously boiling water, stirring occasionally. Watch them closely so they do not clump or become too soft. When done to your liking, drain and rinse in cold water to wash off excess starch. You can help thicker forms hydrate and shorten their cooking time by soaking them in cold water for several minutes before boiling. Cooked noodles continue to absorb liquid as they sit, so do not wait too long before eating them. Text and photos: Chris Tan
This article was first published on April 19 2015.
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