This video, from the folks over at America's Test Kitchen, explains the various types of Asian noodles that can be found in well-stocked grocery stores or specialty markets. These are the noodles found in lo mein, pad thai, ramen and many other popular Asian inspired dishes. They can be quite different from the more well known Italian pasta products but are equally delicious when cooked properly. Use this video as a primer to learn your way around the Asian food aisle...or at least the noodle section.
Asian noodles are made from a wide variety of flours and some require special cooking techniques. Here are the basics for cooking and serving the most common noodle varieties:
Lo Mein Noodles, also called Chinese style noodles, are made from wheat flour and available dried. This variety is commonly used in stir fry, cold noodle salads and pan-fried noodle cakes. After boiling like Italian pasta, drain the noodles, rinse gently with cool water, drain again and toss with a few teaspoons of oil to prevent clumping.
Rice Noodles are a chewy variety popular in southeast Asia. American supermarkets tend to carry only 2 kinds: thin, round noodles, also called vermicelli or rice sticks, or wide, flat noodles, confusingly also called rice sticks. Typically used in a stir fry (like Pad Thai) or used in soups. Rather than boiling them, just soak them in hot water in a bowl until pliable and then add directly to the stir fry or soup to finish cooking.
Instant Ramen Noodles are very easy to find and familiar to most Americans. A wheat noodle from Japan, this wavy noodle is first fried then dried allowing it to cook in just a few minutes in simmering broth. The folks at America's Test kitchen recommend ditching the flavor packet that comes in the package and using your own broth with egg, chicken or beef.
Soba Noodles are a Japanese noodle made from a mixture of wheat flour and buckwheat flour which accounts for their unique, brownish gray color and earthy taste. Soba noodles can be used in soups, lightly dressed and used in salads or eaten cold with various sauces. Cook like Italian pasta in plenty of salted, boiling water but make sure you rinse them well as they are quite starchy.
Udon Noodles are another Japanese noodle and are available fresh, frozen or dried. They are made from wheat and are thick and starchy. Their slippery texture makes them excellent in soups. Cook these noodles separately (in plenty of boiling water) and rinse well before adding them to your broth. No salt is needed in the cooking water with udon noodles as they contain a lot of salt already.