The world of Asian noodles is vast. There is some dispute over who originally came up
with the idea of mixing water and flour to create noodles. The Arabs claim to have been the
first to use dried pasta, as a means of preserving flour during their trips across the desert.
But regardless of their origin, we do know that the Chinese have been feasting on noodles
for at least 2000 years, since the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). China is also credited
with having introduced noodles to every part of Asia if not the rest of the world.
Each Asian cuisine has its specialties often driven by street food vendors. Every
imaginable ingredient is used to make noodles. Archaeological evidence suggests that
though wheat was present in China 4,000 years ago, it was not widely cultivated until
the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618 to 907). This gave rise to the use of other available flours
such as sweet potato, yam, rice, cassava, buckwheat, mung bean, rice, potato, millet, fish
paste and many more.
The Chinese believe that every meal should contain an equal division between fan (grains
and starches) and t’sai (fruits and vegetables). One of the grain dishes they rely on to
provide this harmonious dietary balance is noodles.
Like Italian pasta, Asian noodles vary in width, from as thick as straws to as thin as
toothpicks. When it comes to length, however, they are usually served long and uncut. This
is because in Chinese tradition, long noodles symbolize the prospect of a long life. Noodles
are commonly served at birthday celebrations and fresh noodles are regularly placed at
Most important I think is that Asian noodles are delicious and generally inexpensive.
Here are some of my favorites.
HANOI CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP (PHO GA)
Serves 4 – 6
This is a poultry variation on the famous beef driven PHO soup of Vietnam. It is a
simple soup to make but depends on the flavorful broth. It illustrates their love of fresh
herbs and greens in that part of the world. You could substitute any green or herb that
you like. Maybe time to go to an Asian market and see what’s there!
8 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh ginger
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
4 whole star anise
4 whole cloves
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole fennel seed
2 tablespoons brown sugar (or to taste)
3 tablespoons Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce (Nuoc Mam), or to taste
2/3 cup fresh cilantro sprigs
2/3 cup fresh mint and/or tender Thai basil leaves
1 pound chicken breasts or thighs, bone in and skin off
12 ounces baby bok choy, chopped
4 ounces thin rice noodles
1/4 cup finely slivered on the bias scallions
Accompaniments: Vietnamese hot sauce or other hot sauce such as Sriracha plus Hoisin
sauce, bean sprouts, lime wedges, thinly sliced Thai Bird chilies.
In a medium stockpot, bring chicken stock to a simmer over medium heat. Add ginger,
garlic, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, sugar, fish sauce, 1⁄3 cup each of the
cilantro and mint leaves, and the chicken. Bring to a simmer, cover, and continue to
gently simmer for 10 – 12 minutes. Off heat, allow the chicken to cool covered for 15
Meanwhile soak the noodles in hot water for 15 minutes or so until they have softened. If
necessary, cook them in lightly salted boiling water until just tender, a minute or so.
Drain and rinse well with cold water to stop the cooking.
Remove chicken and discard bones. Slice each breast thinly and set aside. Strain broth
and return to pot and bring to a simmer. Add bok choy and simmer for 2 minutes or so.
Divide noodles and chicken among six bowls. Pour hot broth and bok choy over and top
with the scallions, remaining cilantro and mint and accompaniments to your taste.
KOREAN SWEET POTATO NOODLES (JAPCHAE)
Sweet potato noodles have a delicious springy, chewy texture. They are available at
Asian markets and are one of my favorite noodles. A bonus is that they are gluten free.
For the Steak:
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound beef rib eye, sliced across the grain
For the Noodles:
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
8 ounces dry Korean sweet potato noodles (dangmyun)
2 teaspoons olive or other vegetable oil
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks*
1 small white onion, peeled, halved and sliced
4 cups baby spinach
Kimchi for garnish
Marinate the steak: Combine soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, garlic, and pepper in a bowl.
Whisk to combine. Add steak and stir to coat. Marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Make the noodle sauce: combine soy sauce, honey and sesame oil and stir well.
Fill a deep pot with water and bring to a boil. Stir in the noodles, return to a boil, and
cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Drain, add noodles to the sauce
and toss to coat.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add carrot and onions and sauté till
barely tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in steak and marinade and cook until tender, 6
minutes or so. Stir in spinach and noodles and cook until spinach just begins to wilt, a
minute or so. Serve immediately with kimchi on the side.
*There are tools to make this task much easier. A Mandolin of course but seek out a
Julienne Peeler of which there are many variations. I like the one from Kuhn Rikon.
SHRIMP AND NOODLE SOUP WITH LAKSA
Serves 4 – 6
Laksa is a popular spicy noodle soup from the Peranakan culture, a merger of Chinese
and Malay populations found in Malaysia and Singapore. It’s made with a nut-based
coconut curry paste. This paste is gold! Make a big batch and keep on hand frozen. In
The spice paste that can be made ahead and refrigerated for 4 days or frozen for 4 months
and has many delicious uses. I’ve used zucchini here but use whatever vegetables you
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups low salt, defatted chicken stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine or sake
3-1/2 cups coconut milk, well stirred
1 cup laksa paste (recipe follows), or to taste
2 tablespoons peanut or other vegetable oil
1-pound large (16 – 20 size) shrimp, peeled and deveined and shells reserved
1 small zucchini, cut in long julienne
4 ounces thin rice vermicelli noodles soaked in warm water for 20 minutes
Fresh lime juice to taste
Garnish: Cilantro leaves and green onions sliced on the bias
Heat the stock to boiling and add the reserved shrimp shells and simmer for 5 minutes
covered. Strain discarding shells and set stock aside. Halve the shrimp lengthwise. Stir
soy sauce and rice wine together and toss with shrimp to lightly coat. Set aside to
marinate for a few minutes.
Heat the stock and coconut milk in a deep saucepan and whisk in the laksa paste. Add oil
to a wok or large skillet and heat over high heat. Add shrimp and stir-fry, in batches if
necessary, until barely cooked through, about 2 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Add zucchini and noodles to warm bowls. Top with shrimp. Taste stock mixture and
adjust lime juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Ladle hot stock over noodles and serve
immediately garnished with cilantro leaves and green onions.
Makes a little more than a cup
2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce (or to taste) *
1/3 cup chopped shallots
1/3 cup chopped and toasted macadamia nuts or blanched almonds
1/4 cup peeled and finely chopped ginger
2 tablespoons coriander seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon shrimp paste or 2 tablespoon fish sauce (or to taste)
Juice and zest from 2 limes
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup or so coconut milk
Add all ingredients except coconut milk to a blender and process for a minute or two or
until very smooth. Add mixture to a small saucepan and cook over moderate heat for 4 –
5 minutes, stirring constantly. Should be very fragrant. Stir in coconut milk and cook for
2 – 3 minutes more. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or frozen for up to
*Chili garlic sauce is available in the Asian markets and the Asian section of some
supermarkets. Lee Kum Kee from Hong Kong is a widely distributed brand.
CHIANG MAI CHICKEN NOODLES
Any cooked protein can be substituted for the chicken.
For the noodles:
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 medium onion, peeled halved and sliced or 6 shallots, cut crosswise into thin slices
4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons red Thai curry paste
14 ounces (1 can) well stirred coconut milk
1 cup chicken stock
2 1/2 cups cooked chicken, cut in large dice
1 teaspoon light brown sugar, or to taste
2 teaspoons fish sauce, or to taste
Juice of 1 lime, or to taste
12 ounces dried Chinese wheat noodles
2 scallions, white and light-green parts, cut on the diagonal
1 small red chili pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into very thin
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the
onion or shallots and cook for about 6 minutes, until golden.
Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring, then add the turmeric and curry paste.
Cook for 1 minute, stirring, until the spices become fragrant, then stir in the coconut milk
and broth. Once the mixture starts to bubble at the edges, reduce the heat to medium and
cook for 10 minutes.
Stir in the chicken; cook until heated through. Add the sugar, fish sauce and lime juice;
taste, and adjust the amounts of those 3 ingredients to your taste. Keep warm.
Cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain. Divide the noodles among
individual bowls. Spoon the chicken curry over each portion, then garnish with the
scallions, red pepper, and cilantro. Serve hot, with wedges of lime.
CECILIA’S GARLIC NOODLES
Cecilia Chiang was the founder of the Mandarin, an immensely influential restaurant in
San Francisco. She helped change how Americans thought about Chinese food. To this
day, her DNA can be found all over American Chinese food. Her son founded the chain
P.F. Chang’s and the son of one of her chefs founded Panda Express. The restaurant
became a shrine for such food-world luminaries as James Beard, Marion Cunningham,
and Alice Waters, who said that Ms. Chiang had done for Chinese cuisine what Julia
Child had done for the cooking of France. She passed in 2020 at the age of 100. This
simple dish is adapted from her recipe and was one of the most requested special-order
dishes at the restaurant.
1-pound fresh 1/8-inch-wide Chinese wheat noodles
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 large garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tablespoons or more soy sauce
3 teaspoons or more oyster sauce
1 package fresh enoki mushrooms, roots discarded (optional)
Tender cilantro sprigs
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fluff the noodles and cook until they are just
tender, about 2 minutes. Strain but do not rinse. Don’t worry if they clump, they’ll
separate in the wok.
Heat a large wok or non-stick sauté pan over high heat. Add the oil, a pinch of salt and
swirl the pan to coat the bottom. Add the garlic and cook stirring constantly until the
garlic is golden brown, about 30 seconds. Be careful not to burn or garlic will be bitter.
If this happens, start over.
Add the noodles, soy, and oyster sauces. Toss until everything is well mixed and heated
through but not browned, about 1 minute more. If the noodles are sticking together, add
a tablespoon or so of water. Add the enoki if using and taste for seasoning, adding salt
and more soy and oyster sauces if you think it needs it. Serve immediately garnished with cilantro.
SHIRATAKI NOODLES WITH BEEF
Shirataki noodles are Japanese and are made from the konjac yam, also known as devil’s
tongue or elephant yam. The word shirataki means “white waterfall” which describes
their appearance. They have little flavor on their own but take well to spicy broths and
sauces. They come in both dry and wet forms the latter which I’m using here. Generally
available in Asian markets in the refrigerated section. You can use vegetable stock and
sauteed mushrooms in place of the beef to make it vegetarian.
4 cups rich chicken stock
1 cup water
1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
1 tablespoon finely grated or minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce or to taste
Two 7-ounce packages fresh shirataki noodles, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice plus lime wedges for serving
Salt and freshly ground pepper (preferably white)
½ pound trimmed beef tenderloin, sliced very thinly across the grain*
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil or to taste
½ cup roughly chopped basil, preferably Thai
¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro
¼ cup scallions sliced on the bias
1 cup mung bean sprouts, rinsed
Chile garlic sauce such as Sriracha
In a large saucepan, combine the stock with the water, agave syrup, ginger and soy sauce
and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and simmer over low heat for 2 minutes. Add lime
juice and season to you taste with salt and pepper.
Divide the noodles between 4 bowls. Add the beef and ladle the hot broth over. Drizzle
with the sesame oil and top with the basil, cilantro, scallions, and bean sprouts. Serve
with lime wedges and chile sauce for each guest to add as they like.
*Wrapping the beef in plastic and freezing for an hour or so makes slicing easier.
COLD SOBA NOODLES WITH DIPPING SAUCE
Serves 2 to 4
If you’ve ever been to Japan in the summer, you’ll remember that it can be really hot.
Cold soba noodles with a dipping sauce are a common snack or light meal. The
basement levels of Department stores serve as food courts for shoppers to pick up
something to eat on the spot or to take home so that they don’t have to heat up their tiny
kitchens. You will find many versions of this recipe there. Soba is made from wheat and
buckwheat, and the sauce is based on dashi, the omnipresent Japanese stock. It’s a broth
made from dried Kombu seaweed and bonito flakes. All kinds of recipes exist, and you
should try making your own since it is among the fastest and easiest stocks you can
make. You can also use chicken stock or instant dashi granules which are also widely
available in Asian markets.
1 cup dashi or chicken stock
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
8 ounces soba noodles
Garnishes: Finely grated or minced ginger, wasabi, minced scallions and toasted and
slivered nori and sesame seeds
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook noodles until tender but not mushy.
Drain, and quickly rinse under cold running water until very cold. Drain well.
Combine dashi or stock, soy sauce and mirin. Taste, and add a little more soy sauce if the
flavor is not strong enough. Serve noodles topped with garnishes with sauce on side for dipping (or spooning over).
DUNGENESS CRAB WITH CELLOPHANE NOODLES
This recipe was inspired by Charles Phan of The Slanted Door. The technique of drying
the noodles after soaking yields a noodle with texture, a bit chewy and not soggy
4 ounces dried cellophane noodles
2 tablespoons peanut or other vegetable oil
3 tablespoons sliced shallots
1/3 cup chicken or shellfish stock
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon chile garlic sauce or to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 cup fresh picked Dungeness crab
Garnish: Toasted sesame seeds, cilantro sprigs and bias cut green onions
Soak the noodles in hot tap water for 10 minutes. Drain and let sit in a colander for an
hour or so or until the noodles feel dry to the touch but are still flexible.
Heat a wok or large non-stick sauté pan over high heat until a drop of water evaporates
immediately. Add the oil until shimmering but not smoking. Add the shallots and sauté
stirring until softened and just beginning to brown. Add the stock, oyster sauce, fish
sauce, chile garlic sauce, sugar, and sesame oil and cook stirring for a minute or two.
Sesame seeds and cilantro sprigs for garnish.
Add the noodles and continue stirring for another couple of minutes until the liquid is
absorbed. Top with fresh crab and garnish with sesame seeds, cilantro, and green onions.
John ash © 2021
Visit chefjohnash.com for photos and more recipes