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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 sheer number of misguided bloggers, food producers, and media outlets. Regardless of how much information is out there, there are those types that still call any Asian-based noodle “ramen.”

To help us from all not being idiots, I have put together a basic guide on all the Japanese noodles (the styles/types) from ramen, konnyaku/shirataki, soba, somen, to udon that even I can follow.

There are those types that call instant noodles “ramen,” and they are the same types that think all pasta is spaghetti.

Photo Description: three plates on top of a tablea dark stone looking bowl with a bamboo bottom holds a pile of thick white noodles (udon) with a tiny bit of seaweed on top. in the background the 2nd bowl is blurry due to bokeh and the 3rd bowl, the tiniest most likely has green onion, and ginger in it for the dipping sauce.
That right there a is a pile of udon or what idiots might call “ramen.” 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 (love, but aside from that):

  • 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

Photo Description: yellow noodles (a close up) of ramen.
Fresh ramen noodles. Image by Sun Noodles

The yellow hue comes from the alkaline (kansui) in the 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). If you not, you these are a few American ramen producers that get the noodles right, and here are the Japanese instant noodle brands (none that can compare with a restaurant tho).
Photo description: two bowls of ramen from Ikkousha ramen in Costa Mesa. The first is a white bowl with a reddish broth, the second is a pork based broth that is tannish in color. Both bowls sit atop black plates with that say Ikkousha in Japanese along with their logo.
Hakata style ramen (mentaiko and tonkotsu).

2. Ito Konnyaku/Shirataki

Photo Description: close up of shirataki noodles
.
Image by: Susan Slater
Photo Description: close up shot of konnyaku noodles.
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
Photo Description: a dark colored Earthen looking bowl with sukiyaki indredients from spinach, tofu, beef, enoki to shirataki or konnyaku noodles underneath.
Shirataki is perfect in sukiyaki. Image by Yumi Kimura

3. Soba

Photo Description: a close up of soba noodles.
Buckwheat/wheat soba. Image by Jseita
Photo Description: a close up of matcha soba noodles.
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)!
Photo Description: Soba noodles atop round plate which is called zaru.
If you are Japanese, this is soba or what food producers call ramen. Image by NekoTank

4. Somen

Photo Description: somen noodles.
Thin and white might describe Travis Barker, but it also describes somen noodles. 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, sliced myoga, and negi (green onions)
  • Recipe(s): NHK World Japan somen noodles
Photo Description: a good summer dish of somen noodles, along with some fresh crips ingredients from tomatoes to cucumber, or with slices of meat such as ham.
Guess what food bloggers would call this? Image by Bert Kimura

5. Udon

Photo Description: a close up of udon noodles.
Thick and white is the Drew Carey of noodles aka 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
Photo Description: a bowl of udon with fried tofu.
Fried tofu, seaweed, and some green onions is a bowl of udon. Image by Yuya Tamai

Why Knowing these 5 Japanese Noodle Types/Styles Matter

The main issue is that people unfamiliar with or oblivious of Asians and Asian cuisine lump all Asians under one umbrella. That would be like lumping all Americans (from Californians, New Yorkers, to Floridians as all being the same), and we all know Floridians aren’t from this planet. 

So these individuals that are mixing anything that sounds “Asian” to them because of their limited knowledge all dumped into one giant Bukakke spit bucket of Asian’ness (Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Thai, etc.). Likewise, I will also lump anybody who does this in as idiots.

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