It’s no secret that Japan is home to delicious food. If you’re visiting Japan for the first time you may be unsure when it comes to navigating the delicacies and table etiquette, especially if you’d describe yourself as a fussy eater! Thankfully, Japan is renowned for its noodles, which are a safe choice if you prefer to start with something familiar and comforting. Our guide to types of Japanese noodles unpacks how noodles are traditionally served and enjoyed.
Ramen is so popular it has a museum dedicated to it and, if that wasn’t enough to spark your curiosity, there is approx. one ramen shop to every 5,000 people in Japan!
Almost every region in Japan has put its own stamp on ramen. For example, Hokkaido’s variation of ramen includes miso while Kyushu prefers tonkotsu (pork bone broth).
Ramen is a thin, wheat noodle, served in a meat or fish broth alongside other ingredients such as sliced meat, a boiled egg, vegetables. The dish is then flavoured with soy or miso. Chopsticks are used to pick out noodles and toppings, while a special soup spoon can be used to scoop up the broth. While fresh ramen is recommended, you can also purchase instant ramen for a quick and easy Japanese snack. But, don’t hold back when it comes to slurping – it’s a sign you are enjoying your noodles!
Udon noodles are thicker and doughier than ramen and are also made from wheat. You might find them served in the simple Kake Udon dish with a warm Kakejiru broth (dashi, soy sauce, mirin) and topped with spring onions. You can add extra flavour to Kake Udon with tempura, meat, egg, and vegetables. Udon can also be eaten cold in the form of a salad, typically mixed with slices of omelette, chicken, and vegetables. The shape and size of the noodles themselves vary across different areas of Japan – with flat, thin, or stiffer noodles favoured in some regions.
Unlike ramen and udon noodles, soba noodles have a low or no wheat content as their main ingredient is buckwheat, with many types of 100% buckwheat soba noodles being gluten-free. These thin noodles are either served hot in a soup or cold with a dipping sauce.
Not to be confused with soba, yakisoba is a wheat noodle fried with a variety of flavours, ranging from pork to vegetables or even seaweed powder. You might find yakisoba served as a main, side, or sometimes inside a hot dog bun!
Somen is a very thin, wheat noodle, usually eaten cold on a hot summer’s day. The noodles are cooked, sat in a bowl of ice water and picked up by chopsticks before being dipped in a cool broth, named Tsuyu. Although somen is typically enjoyed at home, there are some restaurants which offer the nagashi-somen experience. Nagashi somen translates as ‘flowing somen’ and is just that! A bamboo slide is built with water and noodles flowing down it, ready to be snatched up by chopsticks.
Of course, there are more types of noodle in Japan than those we have mentioned here, but we think you’ll be in good stead next time you order ramen! Whether you’re hoping to try noodles while in Japan or planning to cook them at home, we hope you feel inspired (and less daunted) by the choice of noodles out there.