David has been living in Japan for close to ten years. He loves reading, history, music, sports, and movies. He lives with his wife and son.
Noodles are a Japanese staple food and are integral to Japanese cuisine. When I was a kid, I usually associated Japanese noodles with ramen. I called every Japanese noodle I encountered ramen. Regardless of the shape, color, size, and smell, I called it ramen. To me, every Japanese noodle was ramen. That was until I came to Japan.
I was utterly shocked by the myriad of noodle types, and more often than not, I had unpleasant experiences where I ordered ramen but meant a different Japanese noodle. Nevertheless, whether you’re a Japanese food nut or a ramen lover, here’s a quick look at 6 common types of noodles in Japan.
6 Great Japanese Noodles
Of course, the list would start with the ultimate Japanese noodle dish, RAMEN. A noodle made from wheat, ramen noodles are long, thin, and have a chewy bite to them. The noodles are served in a bowl with broth and are usually coupled with sliced pork (chashu), bamboo shoots (menma), soft-boiled eggs, and strips of seaweed.
There are different styles of ramen, and each region in Japan has their own version, so if you’re visiting different areas of Japan, try out the local ramen dish. The most popular types are Shoyu (soy sauce), Shio (salt), Miso (soybean paste), and my personal favorite, Tonkotsu (pork bone).
Soba are spaghetti-like noodles made from buckwheat and are either served hot or cold. This dish, unlike other seasonal noodle dishes, is available all throughout the year because of the abundance of buckwheat, which can be harvested multiple times a year.
When served hot, the noodles are served in steaming hot noodle soup. They're served with a dipping sauce when served cold. Soba is popular in the country and can be found in most noodle restaurants and supermarkets.
This dish is characterized by its thick noodle texture and pale white color (compared to its noodle counterparts). Udon is made from wheat flour and is usually served with a simple broth.
With its neutral flavor, this dish is the most versatile among all the noodle dishes because of the many possibilities you can do to tweak your order. Tempura, boiled eggs, and karaage (Japanese fried chicken) are usually paired with this dish, and it's arguably the cheapest among all the other noodle types on this list.
Popular udon dishes include:
- Kitsune Udon (literally "fox udon"): This simple udon dish is served with abura- age, a thin slice of deep-fried bean curd. Why the fox name? No, the noodles are not made from a fox. Apparently, abura-age is considered a fox’s favorite food, hence the name.
- Tsukimi Udon (literally "moon viewing udon"): Udon noodles topped with a raw egg—the moon, get it?
- Curry Udon: Udon noodles mixed with Japanese curry usually served during the winter. Very tasty.
- Tempura Udon: As the name suggests, this dish consists of udon noodles topped with tempura and served with a hot broth.
- Kishimen: An udon dish native to Aichi prefecture. What makes this dish unique is its thin, flat-shaped noodles.
These noodles are made from wheat flour and have a thin texture. Somen is usually served cold with a lightly flavored dipping sauce called tsuyu. A popular and traditional way of eating somen, called nagashi somen, is offered by restaurants during the summer: Noodles are placed in a flume of bamboo, and ice-cold water is made to pass through it, allowing diners to pluck them out using their chopsticks.
Yakisoba noodles have no broth and are stir-fried and topped with meat, vegetables, and other garnishes such as mayonnaise, seaweed powder, pickled ginger, and fish flakes. Made from wheat flour, these noodles are usually served and easily found in food stalls during festivals. Yakisoba is popularly served on a plate or placed into a hotdog bun (yakisoba pan—yakisoba bread).
Shirataki are thin and translucent noodles made from konjac yam. Literally meaning “white waterfall,” the noodles are usually sold in packets with a liquid that is drained before the noodles are used. Shirataki are generally used to complement other dishes because they have little flavour of their own and thus are found in soups and nabe hot pots. A popular fact about these noodles is their lack of calories, making them a very attractive option for health-conscious individuals.
There you have it! There are other types out there, but this list highlights the most common ones—so if you get the chance to visit Japan, do try and check out these noodles.
Liza from USA on November 09, 2019:
Great collection of Japanese noodles and voted up! Thank you for sharing the article, David.