Photo by Jun Seita

What is a Noodle?

Just what is a “real” noodle? A noodle is often defined as the result of flour mixed with eggs. But, there are many noodle-esque noodles made without one or both of those ingredients — like noodles made from agar-agar (dried seaweed) or from strips of bean curd; or Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa’s squid noodle-invention. They’re “noodles” made from squid alone. All still noodles? Sure. “Real” noodles include Asian noodles, such as cellophane noodles, made from mung-bean flour; rice ribbon noodles, made rice flour; western dried pasta, made from semolina — the list could go on and on. A “real” noodle, then, is made from combining some kind of flour with some kind of wet mixing agent. Try to come up with anything more specific than that and there will be thousands of would-be noodles protesting at your door.

Noodles from the East

Banh Pho (Vietnam)

White rice stick noodles that are slightly wider (reaching 1 cm) than bun (see below), their skinny counterpart. They are briefly boiled in salted water before being added to soups, especially the Hanoi soups known as pho.

Bean Curd Skin Noodles (China)

Healthy pseudo-noodles fashioned from the chewy skin which forms on the surface of bean curd as it congeals.
Bun (also known as Thin Rice Stick Noodles) (Vietnam)
Thread-like white noodles made from a paste of rice and water. After being briefly boiled in salted water, they are popularly used in soups, cold appetizer salads, and spring rolls.

Cellophane Noodles (Asia)

Translucent, thread-like noodles made from mung bean flour and water. Cellophane noodles are frequently used in clear soups and braised dishes in southern and central China, in stir-fries and vegetarian dishes in northern China and Tibet, and are added to sweet drinks and dessert soups in Southeast Asia. Other names for cellophane noodles include: bean threads(Asia), fen si (China), jelly noodles (Asia), transparent vermicelli (Asia), soo hoon (Malaysia), sotanghon(Philippines), su un (Indonesia), woon sen(Thailand).

E-fu Noodles (China)

Long, flat pale yellow noodles made from a mixture of eggs and wheat flour. They are deep-fried until crisp, then sold in loose bundles. E-fu noodles are quickly dipped in boiling water to soften them, then added to soups, braised dishes, and cold appetizers.

Hiyamugi (Japan)

Fine noodles made of pure, white wheat flour, salt, and water. They have a fragile texture, and must be handled carefully to avoid breakage. Hiyamugi are traditionally boiled until soft, then served cold with a variety of dipping sauces.

Miswa (Philippines)

Thin wheat noodles that are off-white in color, and have a delicate texture.

Rice Ribbon Noodles (Asia)

Short, flat white noodles that are sold fresh in loose bundles. They are made from rice flour and water and are formed into strips and steamed until they take on a gelatinous consistency. They are then sold to cooks who add them to stir-fries, soups, braised dishes, and vegetarian dishes.
Other names for rice ribbon noodles include: hor fun (Malaysia and Singapore), kui teow sen yai/kei teow sen lek(Thailand), kway tio/gway tio (Malaysia and Singapore).

Soba Noodles (Japan)

Tan, thick, flat noodles usually made from a combination of buckwheat and wheat flours. They have a hearty flavor, a slightly chewy texture, and are very nutritious. They can be served cold with a dipping sauce, or added to soups, stews, and stir-fries.

Somen (Japan)

Once briefly cooked in boiling water, these delicate wheat noodles have a fine, silky texture. They are traditionally served cold with a variety of dipping sauces.

Udon Noodles (Japan)

Made simply from wheat flour and water, these off-white noodles can either be rounded or flat. They are usually eaten in soups and stews, but they also can be added to braised dishes.