When it comes to the history of noodles, there’s a lot of debate - according to some, noodles were first created in the Mediterranean region. However, others argue that the first technology for creating noodles was developed in the Middle East.
Nevertheless, the oldest written records referring to noodles date back to the East Han Dynasty around AD 25 to AD 200. Archaeologists have also unearthed the world’s oldest noodle in China and that noodle was about 4,000 years old.
Ancient Chinese noodles were made from millet grass grains. The modern wheat-based noodle that most people are familiar with did not reach Asia until much later, perhaps around AD 100.
In Japan, noodles were included into the Japanese tea ceremony, and noodle-making was considered its own art form. Noodles became even more important in Japan after WWII, when food shortages were out of hand and dried foods like noodles were frequently the only available food item. In the Asian culture noodles are connected with well-being and long life and can even be considered an Asian comfort food.
There are different kinds of noodles used in Asian cuisine. Whether thin or thick, flat or round, wheat or rice or mung bean, each type of noodle in Asia has its own history and its own culinary use.
So, let’s take a look at the various types of noodles:
- LaMian Noodles
The oldest noodle ever discovered resembles the la mian noodle of modern China. It is a hand-made wheat noodle, made of dough that is twisted and stretched until a long, thin piece is produced. Similar to the Cantonese lo mein noodle, it is used in soups and stir fries.
- Ramen Noodles or "Chuka Men"
Chuka men is an ultra-thin, round wheat noodle that is also used for other Japanese dishes, such as champon – fried pork with seafood, vegetables and broth, that is also popular in Korea – and yakisoba - fried noodles, a dish similar to the Chinese chow mein. The history and usage of ramen noodles clearly proves the culinary exchange that took place in China and Eastern Asia.
- Udon Noodles
Thick Japanese wheat noodles are known as "udon" noodles and are generally served in a hot broth-based soup, usually topped with scallions. The noodle likely derived from a similar Chinese noodle known as "cu mian". It is said that Japanese Buddhist monks in the 800s brought the udon noodle back from China. This history shows the importance of noodles in Japanese Zen or Buddhist culture.
- Soba Noodles
Thin buckwheat noodles are a favored ingredient in Japan. Soba noodles are used to make country-style soups, and sometimes they are eaten cooled with a dipping sauce. Although Soba has been eaten for centuries, it became a main staple of the Tokyo region during the Edo period, when the wealthy of this region started to favor white rice – low in thiamine – over the thiamine-rich brown rice, and buckwheat became the main source for thiamine instead. Therefore, Soba noodles were not just a comfort food, but a necessary source for nutrients as well.
- Mee Pok
Mee pok are flat, yellow wheat noodles hailing from China that are tossed in sauce or served in a soup with mushrooms and minced meat on top. The dish, called "bak chor mee", is served in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia as well. Traditionally, the noodles are blanched, drained and mixed with the sauce or broth.
- He Fen and Pho Noodles
A broad, flat, slippery rice noodle, he fen, also known as "hor fun" and "shahe fen", has its roots back in China, where they are stir with beef to make "chao fen" or served in soups. Also, in Thailand, a similar noodle is used to create different Chinese-inspired stir. In Vietnam this same rice noodle is used to create pho.
- Cellophane Noodles
Also known as glass noodles, mung bean noodles, bean thread noodles and Chinese vermicelli, cellophane noodles are ultra-thin, translucent noodles traditionally made from mung bean starch. Now, cellophane noodles can be made of yam, potato, cassava or even canna starch. These noodles are consumed all over China in stir fries, soups as well as hot pots. They have also spread to Japan, Korea, Vietnam and several South Asian countries, where they are used in stir fries, spring rolls and even desserts.
- Rice Vermicelli
Rice vermicelli are very thin noodles similar to cellophane noodles but made of rice flour instead of mung bean or potato starch. They are eaten throughout Asia, however they are more popular in Singapore, where they are used to create peanut satay noodles (satay been hoon) or seafood fried noodles (hokkien mee). They are also used in the Phillipines, where they are known as "pancit" and are stir-fried and eaten on birthdays, as they have been in China for centuries.
Thin strings of rice or wheat noodles are preferred in India and Sri Lanka and are known as "idiyappam". They are like modern-day ramen or rice vermicelli, and are generally served with curry and chutney.
- Dotori Guksu
Dotori guksu are specific Korean noodles made from acorns. Given the rich history of acorns in Korea and noodles around the area, it is probable that these noodles have been eaten for several millennia in Korea. The thick, acorn-flour noodles are very much alike soba noodles and are consumed in stir fries or chilled and served with dipping sauce. Thin vermicelli-style dotori guksu are made from acorn-starch and are usually eaten chilled.
So, as you can see the history of Asian noodles is quite fascinating. And, if you are a great fan of Asian noodles, you’ll agree that eating them is every bit as fascinating as their history. So, give yourself the "pleasure" of enjoying a delicious dish of Asian of Stir Fry - Noodles at your favorite Asian restaurant.