Different types of Japanese noodles and how they should be eaten

Ramen is a Chinese-style wheat noodles has evolved into a Japanese culinary icon with shops in Japan specialising in ramen.
PHOTO: The New Paper

There is a wide variety of Japanese noodles. Have you ever wondered what are the differences between these different types of noodles and how they should be eaten?

Here are the five most popular types of Japanese noodles.

RAMEN

This Chinese-style wheat noodles has evolved into a Japanese culinary icon with shops in Japan specialising in ramen.

Different regions in Japan even have their own unique take on the dish. 

Ramen noodles are made from wheat and traditionally contain a unique ingredient called kansui, a type of alkaline mineral water, which imparts a yellow hue to the noodles. 

8 interesting facts you should know about ramen

  • For instance, Sapporo ramen is known for its rich miso base, while Tokyo ramen features a soy-flavoured chicken broth and wavy noodles.
  • Essential ramen ingredients such as kelp and soy sauce are loaded with glutamates, which are responsible for umami (savoury taste).
  • While there are regular toppings such as fish cake, roast pork and eggs, everything else from butter and fried chicken can also be added.
  • Called kansui, the alkaline water is what keeps the noodles firm and springy and prevents them from turning mushy.
  • Ramen only really caught on in Japan after World War II, when Japanese soldiers who returned from China started making their own noodles from rationed flour. As the country's economy picked up speed in the 1980s, so did ramen, and the rest, they say, is history.
  • Momofuku Ando, the late Japanese founder of Nissin Food Products, was inspired to create a tasty, inexpensive and shelf-stable food that was also familiar to his countrymen during the post-war era, when Japan was still facing a shortage of food. His 1958 invention, what we know here as instant noodles, was eventually named Japan's greatest invention of the 20th century in a 2000 poll.
  • They can be found in Tokyo's quirky Akihabara district. The ramen is served warm in a can and comes in several flavours. The noodles are made with konjac instead of wheat, so they can remain firm even when packed in liquid.

Some ramen makers substitute this with egg. 

Ramen soup stock can be either meat or fish based, and flavoured with three main variations which include miso, shoyu and salt.

7 best places for ramen in Singapore

  • Founded in 1985 in the ramen capital of Hakata, Ippudo consistently delivers a reliably authentic bowl of ramen that hits the spot.
  • Go for the Shiromaru Motoaji, which consists of traditional Hakata thin noodles luxuriating in the restaurant's original creamy tonkotsu broth. Don't miss their melt-in-your-mouth signature pork buns as well.
  • Nestled in the bustling stretch amongst the bars and diners along Cuppage Terrace, Santouka stands out for more reasons than one. The aroma, the crowd and the helter-skelter service all point to something good simmering (pun-intended) behind their kitchen doors.
  • Tuck into their specialty Tokusen Toroniku ramen, which replaces typical chashu slices with delightfully tender and juicy slices of roasted pork cheek.
  • At Ramen Keisuke, their delectable bowls of ramen are matched only by the irresistible dose of Japanese hospitality and thoughtfulness. Toppings of hardboiled eggs, beansprouts, bonito flakes and even a mortar and pestle of sesame seeds are provided to ensure you have the perfect bowl before you.
  • Sitting in their small, well-decorated store, you are instantly transported to the cosy roadside ramen joints along Shinjuku. Check out their Kani King and Lobster King concepts for other delicious variations.
  • If you are looking for a place to satiate your craving for Sapporo-styled ramen, Sapporo Ramen Miharu does a more than decent job.
  • The yellow Nishiyama noodles they use come directly from Hokkaido, and are cooked to al dente perfection. The miso-based soup is also rich with the goodness of well-simmered pork bones.
  • Tonkotsu Kazan has been a mainstay of Liang Court, serving its eye-catching volcano ramen to night owls and hungry clubbers (they close at 3am on Fridays and Saturdays).
  • The kazan cooking style harks back to the traditional Osaka method, in which the broth is poured over a hotstone bowl of ingredients and covered with a conical lid. You are also encouraged to finish off your volcanic experience by eating the remaining soup with rice. Proceed to erupt with joy.
  • Opened by Michelin-starred chef Yasuji Morizumi, Chabuton is amongst the trailblazers to bring a ramen tsunami upon our shores, and they have not withered in the face of competition.
  • Add their succulent and thick slabs of buta kakuni (braised pork belly) to your tonkotsu ramen, which uses ingredients imported from Japan.
  • Mouth-watering aburi chashu, crisp menma (bamboo shoots) and springy noodles immersed in a bowl of comforting shoyu broth containing two different kinds of dried sardines-just another serving of quality Niigata ramen at Sanpoutei Ramen.
  • The restaurant even uses a special in-house ramen bowl that helps to keep the ramen and its piping hot contents warm for a longer time.

TSUKEMEN

Photo: Menya Musashi

Tsukemen noodles are essentially the same as ramen noodles.

The difference is that the broth and sauce is served separately. 

The noodles are served chilled with a separate hot broth.

To eat, dip the noodles in the broth and slurp away. 

This way of serving and eating the noodles preserves the right balance of heat and maintains the firmness of the noodles.

Mistakes commonly made by non-Japanese diners

  • "When it comes to eating rice from a rice bowl or drinking soup from a soup bowl, Japanese diners would lift the bowl closer to their mouths to eat whereas non-Japanese diners tend to lean forward and lift the food into their mouths. Of course, this only applies to soup bowls." (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • "For rice bowls, your mouth should not touch the bowl at all. The reason why we lift the bowls to our mouths is because it creates less of a mess and you're able to finish off your food more cleanly. Apart from our tradition of slurping our noodles loudly, the Japanese prefer minimal noise and mess at the dining table. Plus, the Japanese used to sit at low tables to eat, so lifting the bowls closer to our mouths helped maintain a good posture." (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • "Since I was a young girl, my mum has always ingrained in me the correct way to handle chopsticks. First, pick it up from the thicker end, then support the thinner end with your other hand before you start using it. As much as possible, ensure your chopsticks don't cross."
  • "When you're eating, be sure to rest your free hand on the table (versus resting it on your lap)."
  • "When sharing food with others, don't use your chopsticks to hover or touch food without taking it. The Japanese call this sorabashi (empty chipsticks) and it's considered rude and unhygienic."
  • "Other things to remember: when talking, don't use your chopsticks to point or gesture, and never leave your chopsticks standing upright in your rice as it is reminiscent of a Japanese funeral custom." (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • "When using a bowl and chopsticks, always pick up the bowl with two hands first before picking up your chopsticks." (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
  • "Fresh wasabi comes from a root that has been raised in beautiful spring water and plenty of clean air. It's typically very expensive and has very delicate flavours, which is why it's a big no-no to mix it with soy sauce."
  • "The correct way is to take a bit of wasabi, put it on a slice of sashimi before dipping it lightly in the soy sauce. Better yet, take your cue from the sushi chef - some sushi already comes with salt or soy sauce, and the chef will inform you whether it needs more or not."

SOBA

Photo: On Itadakimasu by Parco

Soba noodles are made from buckwheat, and regarded as the healthiest noodle type. 

Soba is also popular as a cold dish with dipping sauce and vegetables to garnish.

The eating style is similar to that of tsukemen noodles. 

The most popular variations of soba includes cha soba, where the noodles are mixed with small amounts of green tea powder to give it a nutritious boost and green texture.

YAKISOBA

Photo: justonecookbook.com

Yakisoba translates to "fried noodles".

The primary ingredient used in making the noodles is wheat, and yakisoba is thin and curly. 

Yakisoba noodles are grilled together with cabbage, carrots, onions and any additional ingredients the diner prefers. It is served together with sweet yakisoba sauce.

4 myths of Japanese food

  • "This is not necessarily true. For example, pufferfish is a delicacy but some people don't enjoy it because they find the flavours too subtle. To me, it's more important that the fish is fresh and in season - again, always check with the chef. Personally, I prefer 'cheaper' fish like sardine and mackerel, which are especially fat and flavourful during the autumn months."
  • "In Japan, salmon is typically found in the waters around the northern parts of Japan. However, sushi originated in the western parts of Japan, where salmon was not widely available. This is why the Japanese are more used to eating salmon either grilled or cooked in a soup. Fresh salmon also tended to be imported from Norway. If the Japanese were to eat fresh salmon, it would be those that have been treated in super-low temperatures. That said, salmon sashimi and sushi is a lot more common now and there are plenty of Japanese diners who enjoy it."
  • "The most important thing when cooking tempura is to use good-quality oil. A lot of chefs use a blend of vegetable oil and seasame oil so the tempura is light and crisp. Also, when preparing the tempura batter, it's recommended to use very cold water when mixing the egg with the flour, as cold water develops gluten slower than warm water. This helps achieve a lighter and more crispy batter. And yes, when selecting your ingredients, make sure they are as fresh as possible."
  • "This depends on whether you're having a set meal where everything is laid out in front of you, or you're having kaiseki (traditional Japanese multi-course meal). For the former, some people prefer to have a bit of soup first so that the rice doesn't stick to their chopsticks. However, for kaiseki, the wait staff usually only serves miso soup and rice at the end of the meal once you're done with your alcohol."

UDON

Photo: Ten-Ichi Udon

Udon noodles are thick and have a chewy texture. 

Traditionally, noodle-makers stomp on the dough with their feet to create this unique type of noodle. 

Udon noodles easily absorb flavours and suited to strong soup broths.

The softness of the noodles also makes it light on the stomach and easy for digestion.


This article was first published on Dec 22, 2016.
Get The New Paper for more stories.

VIDEOS TO WATCH

SERVICES