Types of Japanese noodles you need to know
Updated: Apr 18
Whether you have unconditional love for heart-warming ramen bowls or cold somen bowls, here's a quick guide to help you identify seven types of Japanese noodles.
In Japanese cuisine, in addition to rice, noodles are a must. Six billion instant noodle sachets are eaten every year in Japan! And in the matter, there is the choice! Soba, udon, somen, ramen, shirataki or rice noodles, here is a small panel of what exists in Japanese cuisine.
Ramen (ラ ー メ ン) is arguably one of the most well-known types of Japanese noodles abroad. Imported from China in the 19th century, this pasta is made from wheat and alkaline water, which gives it a pretty yellow colour. They are served in a meat and vegetable broth and are very popular with young and old alike.
A true institution in Japan, ramen is served in many restaurants across the archipelago, including the famous ramen-ya, ramen restaurants. There is than a thousand and one way to eat them. And each of them has a name of its own.
Among the most popular, we will thus have the Shoyu-ramen whose broth is made from soy sauce, the Tonkotsu-ramen from Fukuoka in which pork bones are added to flavour the broth, the Tokyo Shio-ramen seasoned with salt, or the Hokkaido Miso-ramen that we cook with corn, cabbage and miso.
Ramen noodles are made from wheat. They are much longer and thinner than udon noodles and become deliciously soft when cooked. You will usually find them served in a tasty broth.
White and thick noodles made from wheat flour and water, udon (う ど ん) have been very popular in Japan since the Edo era (1603-1868).
They are served alongside a broth, to which small green onions are added.
As with ramen, udon also has its own speciality restaurant, udon-ya. They are everywhere on the archipelago, and many variations of udon are offered there.
Although the most popular version is that of Zaru-udon, udon that is dipped in a broth concocted with soy sauce, there are also local recipes that can only be found in certain regions of Japan, such as Misonikomi-udon in Nagoya, which is dipped in miso soup with a little chicken, and Tanuki-udon ("the raccoon's udon") in Kyoto, which is topped with tempura.
Sōmen (素 麺) are very white and thin wheat noodles, usually served in Tsuyu sauce as a cold dipping sauce.
Among its most popular variations, the "nagashi sōmen" are those that are most often encountered. Served in a bamboo tub with ice water, these sômen are a staple on hot summer days!
Somen noodles are long, thin wheat noodles, similar to vermicelli. They can be served hot or cold. They absorb other flavours very well.
Prepared with wheat flour, salt and water, hiyamugi (冷 麦) are quite similar to sômen and udon. Larger than the former and thinner, they are also eaten with broth and can sometimes be coloured occasionally.
These wheat flour noodles are mid-size between somen and udon. They are eaten in the same type of dish.
Soba (蕎麦) is buckwheat noodles that are also served with broth. Very popular in Japan, they are often tasted at important events of daily life, such as New Year (Toshikoshi-soba) or when moving in (Hikkoshi-soba) to bring good luck.
As with ramen and udon, there are many ways to cook soba.
The most popular of them? Zaru-soba, soba served with a cold Tsuyu-based broth, a sauce made from seaweed, green onions and katsuobushi (simmered, smoked and fermented skipjack tuna).
Several regions also have their own specialities, such as Kyoto and its Nishinsoba, nishin noodles (herring), or Uji, a city specializing in green tea, and its matcha soba!
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour or a mixture of buckwheat and wheat.
Shirataki (白 滝,) are translucent noodles made from konjac. Low in calories, they are very popular and are often recommended to people who care about their figure.
They also serve as an accompaniment to certain Japanese dishes such as Sukiyaki, Japanese fondue, or Nikujyaga, a dish made with meats cooked in soy broth.
These noodles are made with konjac flour, which is high in fibre and low carbs.
In Japanese, they are called harusame (春雨), literally "spring rain". Unlike Chinese glass noodles, they are usually made from potato starch. They are commonly used to make salads, or as an ingredient in hot pot dishes. They are also often used to make Japanese adaptations of Chinese and Korean dishes.
Unlike soba, yakisoba (焼 き そ ば) is made from wheat flour. They are traditionally eaten grilled in a sauce similar to that of okonomiyaki and served with onions, cabbage, katsuobushi and beni shoga (red ginger). Inexpensive and easy to prepare, they are often served during matsuri for a few yen.
We can accompany this pasta, which looks like spaghetti, with all kinds of toppings, which makes it a very versatile food and contributes to its success. The only essential ingredient: yakisoba sauce, which is easily found in grocery stores.
Tokoroten is noodles made extracted from different types of seaweed. Consumed in Japan for over a millennium, their popularity has not waned, especially because they are low in calories. We eat the tokoroten hot or cold. In their cold version, they make for very refreshing summer starters. Hot, it is eaten especially with soy sauce vinegar, pepper, and sesame.