When you think of noodles, what’s the first thing that pops into your head? Ramen? Vermicelli? Across the globe, starchy noodles of all shapes and sizes are a cherished part of nearly every local cuisine, and we have never met a noodle we didn’t like.
Though the Italians may have the market cornered on kooky pasta shapes, Asian cultures have developed an awe-inspiring array of noodle varieties from all sorts of ingredients. From thick Japanese udon made of wheat to fiber-thin Chinese cellophane noodles made from mung beans, it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed.
That’s why we put together a little cheat sheet to learn more about the numerous types of noodles you’ll find on our menu and beyond. Are you ready? Noodle 101 is now in session.
Across the continents, the most common noodle base is wheat flour. In China, wheat noodles are known as mein, a word most Americans know well from the restaurant staple lo mein, and the wheat noodle tradition traces as far back as the first century A.D.!
In Japan, thick udon and thin ramen are the most common varieties of wheat-based noodles. Udon has a soft texture and neutral flavor not unlike Italian pastas, and it’s just as versatile: udon is equally beloved in hot and cold dishes, and recipes vary greatly from region to region.
Ramen is one of Japan’s trendiest cuisines, yet it originally hails from China and was only introduced to Japan in the past 100 years or so. It was a post-war favorite for Japanese soldiers returning from China, but it exploded in popularity when inventor Momofuku Ando introduced “instant” ramen in Japan in 1958 and Cup Noodles internationally in 1971. Fun fact: He lived to 96 and attributed his longevity to eating instant chicken ramen every day…but your mileage may vary.
Find wheat noodles in EAT Club favorites, including: Fiery Sesame Cold Noodle, Vietnamese Peanut Noodle Salad with Tofu, Cold Vietnamese Peanut Noodles
Fiery Sesame Cold Noodles with Chicken
Contrary to its misleading name, buckwheat is actually not related to wheat at all! It’s a wheat-free grain alternative rich in beneficial nutrients and amino acids that you won’t find in white rice, so it has become an important nutritional component of the Japanese diet.
The Japanese word for buckwheat is soba, so it’s no surprise that it’s the key ingredient in thin, nutty Japanese soba noodles. (Gluten-intolerant folks, be wary: it is not the only ingredient, and soba noodles are commonly made with a mixture of buckwheat and wheat flours.) Buckwheat gives soba noodles their distinctive brown color and chewy texture — a truly tasty alternative to the more common wheat noodle.
Find buckwheat noodles in EAT Club favorites, including: Tuna Tataki Soba Bowl, Crab and Spicy Shrimp Soba Bowl, Spicy Salmon Soba Bowl, Sashimi Soba Bowl
Sashimi Soba Bowl
Have you ever spotted Italian-sounding vermicelli in an Asian dish? Asian vermicelli is not quite the same as what you’ll find in the pasta aisle. The Italian word for a skinny, spaghetti-esque noodle has traveled to other lands and languages, and in countries like China, Singapore, and Malaysia, it has come to mean a thin noodle made of rice flour. Rice vermicelli is delicious in cold noodle salads and hot soups, or atop a stir fry as a crispy garnish. Bonus: Authentic rice noodles are naturally gluten-free!
Find rice noodles in EAT Club favorites, including: Tangy Chicken Vermicelli Bowl, Tangy Tofu Vermicelli Bowl
Tangy Tofu Vermicelli Bowl
Japanese shirataki noodles are made from the starch of an Asian type of yam called the konjac. The result is a mild, transparent noodle with a one-of-a-kind nutritional profile: they’re naturally gluten-free, low-calorie, and low-carb, making shirataki a fantastic option for people with special dietary considerations.
Find yam noodles in favorites, including: Japanese sukiyaki and Korean dishes such as Japchae
Japanese sukiyaki (Not available from EAT Club)
Like the Japanese shirataki noodle, China’s cellophane noodles are mild, transparent, and a godsend for gluten-free noodle lovers. This particular variety is made from an ingredient that might seem unfamiliar to most stateside shoppers: the mung bean! But many of us have already encountered the mung bean in the form of bean sprouts — those delicious, crunchy seedlings we know from veggie sandwiches and pad Thai. Look for cellophane noodles, also called glass noodles, in hot pots, stir fries, and soups.
Find mung bean noodles in favorites, including: Chinese noodle salads and Thai dishes such as Pad Thai
Cellophane Noodle Salad (Not available from EAT Club)
Okay…veggie noodles are not really noodles. But spiralized vegetables served noodle-style have been trending for years now, and they show no signs of slowing down! We love that these thin noodle-y ribbons give us an extra dose of veggie goodness for the day, whether it’s a classic option like zucchini and carrots, or something a bit more exotic, like kohlrabi and jicama.
Find veggie noodles in favorites, including: Almost anything you dream of!
Zucchini Noodles with Thai-style Peanut Dressing (Not available from EAT Club)