Taiwan Pasta Making Asian Noodles

Noodles have been made in China for over 4000 years, but not from wheat until more powerful grinding mills were introduced from the Roman Empire. Even then, Chinese noodles were much different from the pasta Marco Polo was well familiar with before his voyage. Even today, real "pasta" is not made in Asia, because the necessary hard durum wheat is not available, but noodles are made from many grains, seeds and starches.

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Pasta, Noodles



General & History

The earliest known noodles have been found in China. Due to a lucky accident (lucky for us - not for the inhabitants of the town of Lajia), a fresh bowl of noodles was inverted and buried in mud and silt. An air pocket under the bowl protected and preserved the noodles, dated to 2000 BCE. These noodles, about 20 inches long, were made from foxtail millet (Setaria italica) and broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum).

While in Europe, "pasta" is made almost entirely from hard winter wheat and water, and "noodles" are made form softer wheat, and perhaps with egg, Asian noodles are made from a number of grains, seeds and starches. While wheat is popular in the northern regions, noodles are also made from rice, bean starch, arrowroot starch, tapioca starch, sweet potato starch, buckwheat and other materials.

Each of these materials has its own unique properties, so these noodles are used in many ways, but "Italian style" with pasta sauces is uncommon in Asia today. Extruded shapes such as are common in Europe are not much made, because they can only be made with hard winter wheat, or softer wheat and plenty of egg. Most Chinese "Egg Noodles" are made with yellow dye, not egg.

While the types of noodles used in China, Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia do vary with region, as do cooking techniques, we do not separate them here by country because each type is too widespread to localize that precisely.

Wheat Noodles

Cha Soba   -   [245; Green Tea Noodles]
Cha Soba 245 I've put these soba under wheat because they don't have enough buckwheat to tint them brown. They have barely enough green tea to give them a slightly green tint, but they have a strong green tea aroma. Made by Hakubaku Australia, 7-3/4 x 0.040 x 0.065 inches. Ingred: organic wheat flour (95%), organic buckwheat flour (3%), green tea powder (2%), water.

Somen     [161 Somen (Japan); Somyeon (Korea)]
Somen 161

Very popular in Japan, these are very thin wheat noodles usually used in clear soups, added in the last few minutes as they cook very fast. Identical noodles are used in Korea, but much more widely, appearing in many both hot and cold dishes. Made in Japan, round, 8 x 0.040 inches. Ingred: wheat flour, water, salt.

Korean Wide Noodles     [343, Chopped noodle]

Used much less than the Somen type, this dried noodle imitates the fresh "cut noodles" made in households. Someone with a less than perfect grasp of English named them "Chopped Noodles". Made in Korea, 0.130 x 0.040 inches by 8-5/8 inches long. Ingred: wheat flour, water, salt.

Shanxi Noodles   -   [232]
Shanxi Noodles 232 These wide noodles are very popular in northern China (Shanxi province is a little southwest of Beijing) They are usually 0.40 inch thick, 0.29 inch wide and 7.3 inches long. Wheat flour, salt. Made in China.

Chinese Style, Thin   -   [216]
Chinese Style Thin Noodles 216 This is one of the most common of the Chinese style "egg" noodles (many of which have yellow dye rather than egg). The FDA used to require these to be labeled "artificial noodle", but now "Asian noodle" or "Chinese style noodle" are accepted, but some still use the old designation. Packed in 1-3/4 ounce skeins of noodles 0.040 inch diameter, made in Hong Kong. Ingred: wheat flour, corn starch, egg, FD&C Yellow #5; alternatively wheat flour, corn starch, egg, lye, water, FD&C Yellow #5. I usually select brands that have actual egg in them.

Chinese Style, Wide   -   [291]
Chinese Style Wide Noodles 291 A wider version of Chinese Style "egg" noodles (many of which have yellow dye rather than egg). The FDA used to require these to be labeled "artificial noodle", but now "Asian noodle" or "Chinese style noodle" are accepted, but some still use the old designation. Packed in 1 ounce skeins of noodles 0.12 inch wide and 0.025 inch thick, made in Vietnam. Ingred: wheat flour, egg, water, lye, vegetable oil. I usually select brands that have actual egg in them.

Crispy Chow Main Noodles   -   [341]
Crispy Chow Main Noodles 341

These are not authentically Chinese. They probably originated in the United States and are typical of "Chinese-American" restaurants, which serve a cuisine much different from any found in China. They are served as an appetizer, sprinkled over Chinese salads, and sometimes topped with a stir fry with plenty of sauce. 2 inch randoms 0.12 inch diameter; enriched wheat flour, vegetable oil, water, salt, 4% trans fats.

Shanghai Noodles   -   [351]
Fresh Shanghai Noodles 351 These are popular in Zhejiang province of southeastern China, and are sold fresh in Asian markets. They are about 0.13 inch diameter. Some brands make them rectangular, but I prefer round. They are made up into loose hanks and sold from the refrigerated section. Keep them refrigerated and use within a few days to avoid mold. Cook them by dropping them into rapidly boiling water. When the water is back to a boil, they should be done in between 2 and 4 minutes depending on brand. They should remain chewy. Drain, rinse in cold water and tumble with about 1 t oil per pound to prevent sticking. Wheat flour, water - made in USA. Subst: Japanese fresh Udon noodles of similar size.

Bean Starch Noodles   -   [Cellophane Noodles; Glass Noodles; Sotanghon (Philippine); Tangoon (Taiwan, Malaysia); Harusame (Japan); Phing, Fing (Tibet); Falooda (India, Pakistan); Bun tau (Vietnam); Saifun, Fensi, dongfen (China); Soun, Suun (Indonesia). Wun sen (Thai)]
Bean Starch noodles must not be confused with rice noodles, which sometimes look exactly the same when dry. Their cooking properties are totally different. These noodles are made from mung bean starch.

Caution:   Always check that you buy these noodles made in Taiwan or Vietnam. Mainland Chinese makers have been found to use cheaper cornstarch, then correct the color with Lead (of course), but also Aluminum, and toxic Sodium Formaldehyde Sulfoxylate (Rongalite).

Bean Thread Noodles   -   [223]
Bean Thread Noodles 223

This is the most common form of bean thread noodles in North America. They are made up into 2 ounce skeins, which is why many recipes call for 2 ounces of them. These are about 0.030 inches diameter. Ingred: bean starch. These were made in Taiwan.

Mung Bean Vermicelli   -   [224]
Mung Bean Vermicelli 224

This is a thicker form than the bean thread. These are about 0.040 inches diameter and 21 inches long bent in half. Instructions is to cook at more than 180°F for 5 to 6 minutes, then quench in cold water. Ingred: mung bean flour, starch, water, protein. These were made in Taiwan.

Bean Noodles, Broad   -   [292]
Broad Bean Noodles 292

Here we have a much wider version of bean starch noodle, 0.19 inch wide and 0.030 inch thick, packed in 1-3/4 ounce skeins. Made in Vietnam. Ingred: mung bean powder, potato starch, water.

Rice Noodles
Some of these look just like Bean Thread noodles, but must not be confused. Their cooking properties are totally different, and they will break up into tiny pieces if used like bean starch noodles.

Shown here are just a few typical examples. You will find more varieties, much detailed information, and instructions on how to cook them on our Rice Noodles page.

Rice Vermicelli   -   [009, Rice Stick]
Rice Vermicelli 009

This is the most common form of rice noodles in North America, often labeled "rice stick". These are about 0.040 inches diameter. Ingred: rice flour, water. They are sold in skeins of 4 ounces and up.

Rice Flakes   -   [219, Banh Uot (Viet)]
Rice Flakes Viet 219

These are available in markets serving a Vietnamese community. In Vietnam they are cooked and served hot with dipping sauces. They can also be used when fresh rice noodle roles aren't available for Thai beef and broccoli (and to tell the truth, they're easier to deal with). 2 inch random squares, 0.025 inch thick.

Rice Roll   -   []
Folded Sheet of Rice Noodle

These are available in markets serving a Thai or Vietnamese community, and I also find them in the Korean markets. They are quite thin, 0.015 inch to 0.020 inch (I prefer the thicker when I can get it). Most makers fold up a single large sheet, but some make a stack of individual sheets. It is oiled to keep the sheets from sticking together. This product is intended to be used the day it is made, or at most the day after. It cannot be refrigerated.

Bánh Trang   -   [Rice Paper, Spring Roll Wrappers]
Banh Trang Disks

These are available in several sizes and in full disk or quarter disk from any market serving a Thai or Vietnamese community. They are essential for making spring rolls and the like. The photo specimens are 8-1/2 inch diameter and 0.007 inch thick. Yes, that's 7 thousandths of an inch (0.018 mm) thick.

Buckwheat Noodles
These are usually mostly of wheat flour so they hold together well, but they still have a distinctly buckwheat flavor, so we're giving them a separate section.

Soba   -   [160]
Soba 160 Very popular in Japan, usually served cold with a salad-like dressing. These are easily recognized by their fairly dark tan color. Made in Japan, 7.75 x 0.050 x 0.055 inches. Ingred: enriched wheat flour, buckwheat flour, yam, salt, water.

Cornstarch Noodles
These seem to be a specialty of the Philippines, where they must be quite popular - judging from the number of brands and packages on display at my local Philippine market here in Los Angeles. They have just a little more flavor than bean starch noodles, which I imagine to be corn-like.

Bihon   -   [257; Cornstarch Sticks]
Bihon 257 These were purchased at a Philippine market in Los Angeles. The package says it is very important they be washed before cooking. In simmering water they took 10 minutes to tenderness. By 15 minutes they were starting to get too soft. For braised dishes they should be soaked and added within the last 10 minutes. Product of the Philippines, .040 inch diameter, sold in 8 and 16 ounce skeins. Ingred: cornstarch, water.

Bihon, Golden   -   [256; Cornstarch Sticks]
Golden Bihon 256 These were purchased at a Philippine market in Los Angeles. In simmering water they took 10 minutes to tenderness. By 15 minutes they were starting to get too soft. For soups and stews they should be rinsed, then added within the last 10 minutes. Product of the Philippines, .025 inch diameter, sold in and 16 ounce blocks containing 4 cakes. Ingred: cornstarch, water.

Sweet Potato Noodles
Sweet Potato starch noodles are tough and much more durable than other Asian noodles, and take much longer cooking times, but they hold their shape and texture well in hot liquids.

Thin Korean Style   -   [230; Mieng Dai Han]
Thin Korean Sweet Potato Noodles 230 Instructions for these are fairly clear. Boil for 6 to 8 minutes (I say more like 8 to 10 minutes), drain and refresh with cold water, then mix with salad, cold dish, appetizer or as ingredient in hot pot. These are essential to the famous Korean dish Japchae. Made in China, 0.06 diameter by 22 inches folded length. Ingred: sweet potato starch, sulfur dioxide, water. They cook to a firm jelly consistency. Flavor and texture are pleasant and these noodles are much more durable in recipes than bean starch noodles.

Broad Noodle   -   [229]
Broad Noodle 229 Pour hot water over these noodles and let soak for at least 1/2 hour (the package instructions are unrealistically optimistic). Simmer them for 10 minutes or until as tender as you need - for hot pots less tender than for other uses. Use in hot pots, salads or stir fries. Made in Sichuan, China, 0.45 inch wide, 0.045 thickness and 11 inches long. Ingred: sweet potato starch.

Hot Pot Green Bean Stripe   -   [290]
Hot Pot Green Bean Stripe 290 Why they are called "Green Bean" is a mystery to me. Preparation for these is similar to #229 above, but even longer soaking and cooking times. These are used in hot pots, as they will hold their form and texture much longer than most noodles. Their texture is like a stiff jelly. Made in China, 0.68 inch wide, 0.35 inch thick and 10.75 inches long. Ingred: sweet potato starch.

Fern Starch Noodles

Fem Root Starch Vermicelli   -   [334]
Fern Starch Vermicelli 334 We found these noodles made from starch extracted from bracken fern root in one of the large Asian markets here in Los Angeles. Humorously, the designers of the package interpreted the "rn" in "fern" as an "m", so everywhere on the package it says fem instead of fern. Must have been a font problem. The strands were 0.063 inch diameter and 20 inches long, folded in the middle. Cooked, they resemble large, dark colored bean starch noodles, but have a lightly earthy flavor, while bean starch noodles are pretty neutral. These come from Sichuan China, ingredients: fern root starch, rapeseed oil.

Arrowroot Noodles

Arrowroot Vermicelli   -   [242; Mien Dong Nguyen Chat (Vietnamese)]
Arrowroot Vermicelli 242

These noodles, made in Vietnam, are a bit strange. Just soaked, they have a somewhat unpleasant flavor. Boiled, whether soaked first or not, mere seconds after they are tender they start becoming mush (but the flavor is somewhat better). I can only presume this is supposed to happen to provide a thickening effect in soup they are added to. Ingred: pure flour of arrowroot (I presume this actually means arrowroot starch), salt, water. 0.033 diameter, in 1.5 ounce skeins.

pa_asia* 12-22-12   -   www.clovegarden.com
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