I am amazed by the sheer variety of Asian noodles. There is more diversity between the types of Asian pasta than Italian pasta and they cannot be easily substituted. While Italian pastas are made with the same ingredients but have different shapes, Asian noodles are made from a myriad of ingredients and have varying shapes and thicknesses. Noodles are a staple in Asian households and a key ingredient to many dishes. Here is a quick guide to the most widely available noodles.
Cellophane noodles- Also known as Chinese vermicelli, bean threads, bean thread noodles, crystal noodles, or glass noodles are made from water and a starch (usually mung bean). They are sold dried in thin strands. When they are cooked, the noodles are a translucent gray color. Cellophane noodles are used frequently in soup, stir fries, and spring rolls.
Rice Noodles- Or rice vermicelli are gluten-free, made from rice flour and water. They noodles have been previously cooked and just need to be reconstituted in warm water from 20 minutes. This noodle is common in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. It is the star in the popular dish, pad thai.
Ramen Noodles- We are the most familiar with these noodles because they have become the epitome of convenience food. They are so much more than a dried brick and seasoning packet. If you can visit a noodle shop, you will have the opportunity to see masters at work who shape and pull the ramen by hand.
Chinese Egg Noodles- These noodles are the most similar to Italian pasta and can be easily substituted. They can be found in their fresh or dried form. Chinese egg noodles are most often used in stir-fries such as chow mein.
Udon Noodles- These thick and chewy Japanese noodles are made from wheat. They are most often served hot in a mildly flavored broth (there are cold udon noodle dishes). The flavor differs from region to region. Now you can find pre-packaged udon noodle soup in your local market.
Soba Noodles- Made from buckwheat flour, these thin Japanese noodles are traditionally served chilled with a dipping sauce or in a hot soup. Soba noodles are made with newly harvested buckwheat which imparts a sweeter and more delicate flavor. This is the noodle of choice for Tokyoites (people from Tokyo) and can be found all over the city as a fast food or in an expensive eatery.