It’s the time of year when you try to run away from the winter blues by eating warm, delicious and comforting food. For many of us international students, noodles often remind us of home. As a tribute to all my cold and homesick Asian brothers and sisters out there, here are some of the best noodles dishes that you can find in Asia.
Noodles in China date all the way back to the Han Dynasty and are a staple food within the Chinese community, especially in northern China where wheat is used more than rice. The well-known noodle dish from Lanzhou, La Mian, is usually served with beef-flavoured soup. The intense process of kneading and pulling the dough by hand to separate the noodle strands is an art and skill that chefs master only after a lot of practise. Slurp loudly when enjoying a hot steaming bowl of La Mian to show just how delicious it is.
Similar to China, Pho was born in northern Vietnam during the 1880s and is heavily influenced by French and Chinese cuisine. The French influence is reflected in the use of red meat, such as beef, while the noodles were imported from China. Pho uses rice noodles and is served with slices of beef in beef soup that has been cooked with star anise, cinnamon and ginger. The condiments to accompany a bowl of Pho are usually fresh bean sprouts, chilli, lime wedges and fresh basil. The spices in the broth make each sip refreshing, especially after you have squeezed over the lime.
The Japanese were also inspired by Chinese wheat noodles. Tonkotsu Ramen, pork bone ramen, is one of the best ramen dishes originating from Fukuoka in Kyushu. The broth is made by boiling pork bones for at least eight hours to capture the flavour of the meat in the soup, giving it a cloudy appearance. Before it’s popularisation, Tonkotsu Ramen was made as a fast food for labourers at the fish market, but after World War II, the trade of flour with the US made it cheaper to make ramen, hence there was a spike in ramen stalls in Japan. A bowl of Tonkotsu Ramen can be enjoyed on its own, or with a side dish of gyoza (dumplings).
For those who like spice, Laksa is the way to go. This noodle dish originates from the Chinese immigrants who settled on the coasts of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia – the Peranakans. It is influenced by both the Chinese and Malay/Indonesian cooking style where rice noodles are served with a spicy soup that is either chicken, prawn or fish based. The two main Laksa variations are Curry Laksa (coconut based) and Asam Laksa (tamarind based). A bowl of Laksa may look intense and overwhelming, but with just one mouthful you can taste a unique blend of flavours and spice.
Pad Thai, from Thailand, was also influenced by the Chinese, but the locals added their own twist by adding in dried shrimp, fish sauce, peanuts and palm sugar for that sweet after taste. The popularity of Pad Thai grew post WWII when there was a shortage of rice and the government encouraged the consumption of rice noodles, helping to establish Thailand’s national identity. It’s an affordable dish found at almost every street food market in Thailand and is known worldwide.
Noodles themselves may be just a simple staple food, but cooked in different flavours and with local twists, there are hundreds of dishes that can be made from them.