Food

The Idiots Guide to 5 Core Japanese Noodles and Ramen Is Not the Only One

Featured image by Yoco**

I have had my idiot moments, but I’m in good company with the number of misguided bloggers, food producers, to media outlets. Regardless of how much information is out there, there are those types that still call any Asian based noodle dish, “ramen.”

To help us from all not being idiots, I have put together a basic guide that even I can follow.

Image by: George who’s got the best name on Flickr is “Takoyaki King”

There are three basic components for Japanese noodle dishes

  • Noodles
  • Broth, brothless, or dipping
  • Toppings

Most Japanese noodles are made up of:

  • Wheat (not rice)
  • Water
  • Salt

It is all in the details

  • Ingredients: various types of flour from wheat to buckwheat.
  • Size: thickness of the noodle.
  • Broth/Dish: broths are typically made up of soy sauce, katsuobushi, konbu, mirin, and sake.
  • Toppings: unlike what misinformed food bloggers may want you to believe, bok choy, corn, edamame, shiitake, enoki, and other ‘Oriental’ sounding ingredients are not used or common in authentic Japanese noodle dishes.

1. Ramen

Fresh ramen noodles. Image by Sun Noodles

Ingredients: wheat, flour, salt, water and kansui (alkaline water has a high pH which gives ramen its chew and yellow color). Note: fresh ramen is not the same as instant ramen. Instant ramen contains additional ingredients such as oil (for the dehydration process), starches (enhance gelling properties), polyphosphates (improves starch gelatinization), hydrocolloids (enhances water binding capacity during rehydration)
Size: thin, medium, to thick
Color: yellowish
TLDR: this is a ramen noodle.
Broth/Dish: shoyu (soy sauce), miso (fermented soy bean), tonkotsu (pork bone)to shio (salt) based soup broths.
Toppings: Common toppings are negi (green onions), menma (fermented bamboo shoots), to chashu (roasted pork). Toppings will vary from type of ramen flavor to region.
Recipe(s): go to a ramen ya (restaurant), unless you have at least a day to kill just to produce the broth (not to mention, the know how).

Hakata style ramen (mentaiko and tonkotsu).

2. Ito Konnyaku/Shirataki

Image by: Susan Slater
Konnyaku with hijiki.

Ingredients: konnyaku, konjac (the corm), devils tongue
Size: medium
Color: white to speckled grey (hijiki/seaweed is added).
TLDR: this is not a ramen noodle.
Broth/Dish:  in sukiyaki and is widely used as a vegan ingredient. Health food fanatics love this noodle because it’s a very low-calorie gluten-free noodle which can be used in a number of strongly flavored dishes.
Recipe(s): Justonecookbook.com sukiyaki recipe

Shirataki is perfect in sukiyaki. Image by Yumi Kimura

3. Soba

Buckwheat/wheat soba. Image by Jseita
Chasoba (green tea). Image by Naotake

Ingredients: buckwheat with a blend of wheat flour and water.
Size: thin
Color: light brown, brown, to green (matcha).
TLDR: this is not a ramen noodle.
Broth/Dish: served hot and cold in a soy sauce based broth or concentrated dipping broth (soy sauce, kombu, sake, mirin, and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes).
Toppings: negi (green onions), tenkasu (tempura bits), kizami nori (julienned seaweed), wasabi (horseradish), to grated ginger and daikon.
Recipe(s): How To Make And Eat The Authentic Zaru Soba (Cold Soba)!

Image by NekoTank

4. Somen

Somen. Image by Inazakira

Ingredients: wheat flour, salt, and water. Oil (such as sesame oil) is used in the production of the noodles.
Size: very thin
Color: white
TLDR: this is not a ramen noodle.
Broth/Dish: typically served chilled and eaten in a soy based broth (soy sauce, mirin, konbu, and katsuobushi).
Toppings: grated ginger, slicked myoga, and negi (green onions)
Recipe(s): NHK World Japan somen noodles

Image by Bert Kimura

5. Udon

Udon. Image by Yoco**

Ingredients: wheat flour, salt, and water.
Size: thick
Color: white
TLDR: this is not a ramen noodle.
Preparation: cold or hot brothless/pan-fried or in a broth of soy sauce, mirin, konbu, and katsuobushi.
Toppings: include tempura, tenkasu (tempura bits), kamaboko (fish cake), inariage (fried tofu), and negi (green onions).
Recipe(s): how to make udon noodles

Image by Yuya Tamai

The main issue is that a lot of people unfamiliar with Asian and Asian cuisine lump all Asians under one umbrella, so they mix anything that sounds “Asian” to them all in one giant bukakke bucket of Asian’ness (Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Thai, etc.).

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