The Joys of Japanese Noodles

Mom always taught me not to slurp my noodles, but the cool thing about being in Japan is that the slurping rule goes completely out the window. If you’ve ever been to a Japanese restaurant that serves any kind of noodles, or if you’ve been to a Japanese friend’s house for a meal, you probably know exactly what I mean.

My problem is that I’m so used to NOT slurping that I haven’t quite mastered the fine art of slurping without splashing noodle juice on myself and everyone around me. As a result, I enjoy that noodle goodness in silence.

Why do Japanese people slurp their noodles? I haven’t figured out the exact reason, but I have three theories. The first is maybe it’s like taste-testing. I remember watching this story about this professional coffee tester and she demonstrated how she tests coffee. She made the loudest slurp I had ever heard. She said she did it because it was the best way to quickly spread flavor and texture to the taste buds. I’m not sure Japanese noodle slurping is that “deep,” but it’s just a theory. My other two theories are a much simpler. Theory Number Two: Those noodles are hot, dude! Theory Number three: Those noodles taste good as hell!

Japan makes some of the greatest dishes on the planet. Let’s take a closer, mouth-watering look at a four of the most popular types of Japanese noodles: soba soumen, ramen and udon.

Soba (蕎麦-そば)

This is probably one of the healthiest of Japanese noodles. Soba is a buckwheat noodle that can be eaten either hot or cold.

The Japan Guy’s Soba Recommendations
Tanuki Soba (タヌキそば)
Raccoon dog soba? Don’ worry, these noodles don’t have pieces of tanuki animal in it. This soba has pieces of fried tempura batter. I usually eat this dish cold and boy is it good!

Tanuki Soba

See the fried bits of tempura batter? Yep, that’s tanuki soba!

Yaki Soba (焼きそば – やきそば)
I can’t say whether or not yakisoba is the healthiest food in the world, but damn all that!  I’ll fight somebody over some yakisoba.  It’s that’s good!  Yaki soba literally means fried soba.  This dish a bit oilier than some of the others on this list and contains cabbage, pickled ginger, and lightly sweet, yakisoba sauce.

Soumen (素麺そ-うめん)

Soumen is the fine, white Japanese noodle, maybe one of the thinnest noodles you will ever see in Japan. I remember trying them for the first time and thinking “Wow, if I wrap three of these together, I could probably floss with them.”

Being as thin as they are makes many of the soumen dishes very light and easy to eat. Don’t let their thin appearance fool you, though. These little guys, when prepared correctly can pack a delicious wallop of Japanese taste.

Though Soumen is primarily eaten cold, there is a dish called nyumen (煮麺 – にゅうめん)which uses soumen noodles in a hot, soy sauce-based broth(I haven’t had the pleasure of trying it yet, though).

The Japan Guy’s Soumen Recommendation
I don’t have the specific name of a soumen dish for you to try, but I usually eat my soumen cold, topped with spicy ground chicken, red peppers and green onions.

Ramen (らめん)

These Japanese noodles are my personal favorite! Though ramen is originally a Chinese dish, Japan has put it’s own tasty signature on this dish. There are countless types of ramen dishes. Some are your typical types of soup, while others are local specialties or even original restaurant concoctions.

These are the four major types of ramen:

  1. Miso (味噌 – みそ) or soy-bean paste-based broth
  2. Shouyu (醤油 – しょうゆ) or soy-sauce based broth
  3. Tonkotsu (豚骨 – とんこつ) or pork bones/pork belly based broth
  4. Shio (塩 – しお) or salt-based broth

I have tried every one of these types (except for salt) and every one of this is tasty. The cool thing about ramen is that no two shops will make it the same way and they can both be equally tasty.
Popular ramen ingredient additions: pork, bean sprouts, seaweed, kamaboko (steamed, fish-paste cake), and green onions.

Though these four standard types of ramen are wonderful, but there are other ramen dishes that are EASILY just as good.

The Japan Guy’s Ramen Recommendations
Tsukimi Ramen (月見らめん – つきみらめん)
Moon ramen. The way you know if you’re eating tsukimi ramen is if you see a raw egg (the moon) sitting in the middle of it. I know some of you may not be fans of going all Stallone-style, eating raw eggs. But if you stir the raw egg into your soup, not only will you not notice, you’ll might actually like it.

Yummy Tsukimi Ramen

See the yellow ‘moon’ right in middle?

Gomoku Ramen (五目らめん – ごむくらめん)
This is one of those dishes you can’t go wrong with. Gomoku loosely translates to mean a five ingredient mixture. I’m not sure of all five ingredients, or even if it always has to be five, but the gomoku I’ve tried generally has several types of vegetables, chicken, and mushrooms.

Tasty Gomoku Soba

Gomoku the noodles that mix it up. This is actually a picture of the soba version (I eat quite a bit of soba), but the same restaurant has gomoku ramen, too! TASTY!

*Did you also know that there are gomoku onigiri (rice balls) and gomoku sushi?
Now that the weather is starting to cool down quite a bit here in Japan, a hearty bowl of ramen is a perfect fall/winter food.

Udon (うどん)

The thick, Japanese wheat noodle. These are without a doubt the thickest noodles I have ever eaten, but they are so good! Udon noodles can also be eaten hot or cold depending on the dish.

The Japan Guy’s Udon Recommendations
Kitsune Udon (キツネうどん)
Fox Udon?! Again, this might be what you’re thinking. You’re not eating fox meat. This dish is made up of udon and aburaage (油揚げ – あぶらあげ – deep-fried tofu).

Curry Udon (カレーうどん)
Do you like curry? Do you like udon noodles? Well, if you do you’re a lot like me and this dish will be like a bowl of spicy, piping-hot heaven for you (wait, does it get hot in heaven?).  Ingredients: Curry, udon noodles, pork (or beef), diced onions.

Bowl of Curry Udon