The first instant noodles were invented by a Japanese man named Momofuku Ando in 1958. This fast and convenient food was originally intended to feed people following World War II, when there was a period of economic instability.
These days, you can find all types of instant noodles on grocery store shelves. You can also find plenty of traditional Japanese dishes on restaurant menus across the United States.
But how much do you really know about Japanese noodles? Explore the different noodle varieties here, and try our bonus ramen recipe at the end!
You can't think of Japanese food culture without thinking about ramen. However, it might surprise you to find out that Japan isn't the country with the highest per capita instant ramen consumption. That would be Vietnam, with around 87 annual bowls per person in 2021.
Ramen is a thin and curly wheat-based noodle that’s slightly yellow. Ramen is one of the most popular types of Japanese noodles consumed worldwide. Originally, ramen was imported from China.
Ramen noodles are often prepared in a broth base made of pork or chicken stock. However, there are also soy-sauce-based, miso, and salt-based types of ramen.
Although ramen recipes vary greatly depending on where you order, the soup usually contains kelp, dried bonito, shiitake mushrooms, dried baby sardines, seasonal vegetables, and onions. Ramen is often topped with egg and slices of chicken or pork.
Popular types of ramen include:
- Tonkotsu (pork)
- Shoyu (soy sauce)
Is miso one of your favorite types of noodle dishes? Check out our miso soup new’dles!
Udon is another type of wheat-based noodle that’s thicker than other types. They have a chewy texture and a pale white color. Udon noodles can be either flat or rounded in shape.
These noodles are often served in a hot broth or chilled and dipped in sauce.
Popular types include kitsune (fox) udon which is topped with slices of deep-fried tofu. Supposedly, this deep-fried tofu is one of a fox's favorite snacks, hence the name!
Other well-known types include curry udon, yaki-udon, and tempura udon, among other variations.
Soba are thin buckwheat noodles that can be made exclusively from buckwheat flour or mixed with white wheat flour. Those with gluten sensitivities should try the buckwheat flour noodles, as it's naturally gluten-free.
Soba has a unique nutty or earthy flavor and is brown in color. These noodles are a relatively healthy option compared to other types, containing dietary fiber, vitamins B1 and B2, protein, and more.
Soba noodles are very popular in Japan, and it's also a tradition to eat this dish on New Year's Eve.
These noodles are used in both cold and warm dishes. Typically, warm soba has mountain vegetables and duck. When served cold, soba can be topped with yamaimo, Tororo, or grated daikon.
Many people are also familiar with yakisoba, which is a tasty stir-fried noodle dish. It usually has vegetables, yakisoba sauce, and pork or seafood. There are various toppings for yakisoba, including Katsuobushi, Aonori, Beni Shoga, and mayonnaise.
Don't let the name confuse you. Yakisoba isn't the same as soba noodles. These noodles are made from egg or wheat flour, and the sauce that coats them is similar to Worcestershire sauce.
Yakisoba noodles are also a dish that began to appear in Japan relatively recently, only after World War II. This dish is popular at Japanese festivals, and you can often find them served in buns in convenience stores.
To make this dish, you can begin by stir-frying the vegetables and meat before adding the noodles and mixing them with the sauce.
Somen noodles get their name from the word sōmen, which means thin wheat. As you might expect, these are thinner noodles that have a white color.
Somen can be served either hot or cold. They're usually served cold in summer as this dish is refreshing and light. Somen noodles also work well as a side dish.
When serving somen noodles, be sure to include a dipping sauce. You can top them with ginger and chopped onions.
Shirataki noodles are actually made from the konjac plant. The starchy tubers can be processed into flour that is then used to make noodles. The starch is also often used to make a popular jelly snack.
Shirataki noodles are an excellent choice for those looking to keep to a low-calorie and low-carbohydrate diet. In fact, these noodles are often called "zero-calorie pasta."
Unlike ramen and yakisoba, shirataki noodles have only recently caught on here in the United States.
You can prepare these noodles like any other pasta or use them in stir-fry recipes.
A Healthier Ramen Recipe
Ramen is a tasty dish, but most restaurant ramen bowls contain anywhere from 400-600 calories. Instant ramen also contains a ton of sodium.
So, how can you make a healthier ramen dish?
Try this ramen recipe at home.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 cups mushrooms (thinly sliced)
- 1 thumb of ginger
- 3 garlic cloves (minced)
- 2 packages of dried ramen
- 3 cups spinach or kale (thinly sliced)
- 1 jalapeno (thinly sliced for topping)
- 1 cup green onions
- 2 soft-boiled eggs
- Sriracha (optional for taste)
- Sesame seeds (topping)
Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender (about 3-4 minutes). Add the garlic, ginger, and sesame oil and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.
Add the broth, soy sauce, and sriracha. Combine the spinach or kale and cook until wilted (1-2 minutes).
Add the dried ramen and cook for 3 minutes.
Finish by adding the eggs, green onions, jalapenos, and sesame seeds.
The Many Varieties of Japanese Noodles
These are some of the most common types of Japanese noodles, but they're not the only ones. If you're feeling adventurous, give some of these types a try in your next recipe.
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