There are a large group of noodles in Chinese cuisine, you may wonder about the types of Chinese noodles, what are the differences between each type, the names, different tastes, how to use them, etc. And this is a guide to different types of Chinese noodles.
It is recorded that the custom of eating a bowl of longevity noodles on a birthday originated from the Han Dynasty. The longevity noodles have been regarded as a blessing of a long life. In China, the earliest noodles found by archaeologists can be traced back more than 4,000 years. Noodles have a quite long history of being the staple food for the Chinese people.
A variety of traditional delicacies are made of noodles, for example, hot dry noodles, Lanzhou hand-pulled noodles with beef(Lanzhou Ramen), luosifen(river snails rice noodles), Guo Qiao Mi Xian, and so on. There exist different types of noodles which vary in textures and flavors, and probably we can divide them into three categories: wheat noodles, rice noodles, and noodles made of other grains.
The statistics show that China is the largest producer and consumer of wheat at present. As a significant staple food for the Chinese, wheat noodles are the most common food in the daily diet, especially in the northern part of China.
The key ingredients of wheat noodles are wheat flour, water, and salt. And by adding other ingredients or additives to the dough, noodles in different flavors can be produced. For example, spinach juice can be added to make spinach noodles that appear light green with the flavor of spinach. Also if you replace spinach juice with tomato juice, pumpkin juice, or carrot juice, you can get tomato noodles, pumpkin noodles, or carrot noodles. You can make a handmade wheat noodle via this instruction.
Wheat noodles usually are hung and dried out either naturally or in the factory. So the Chinese name for all types of wheat noodles in Chinese is "挂面", which means hanging noodles. The purpose of drying the noodle is for transportation. Drying noodles is a traditional method of preserving them for later use. When noodles are dried, the moisture content is reduced, which inhibits the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms that can cause spoilage. This means that dried noodles can be stored for longer periods of time without going bad. Additionally, dried noodles are easier to transport and can be more shelf-stable than fresh noodles.
handmade fresh noodles
Fresh noodle made by hand is known as "手擀面". The noodle is made from wheat-based dough by cutting a super larger piece of dough into small and uniform noodle strips.
Hand pulled noodle
Hand-pulled noodles are mainly used for biang biang noodles. The noodles can either be super flat and wide or in a thick round shape.
How to use wheat noodles: Wheat noodles in most cases are sold as dried noodles. They can be directly cooked for noodle soup. Topping with various types of meat sauce or stir-fries. Following are some of the Chinese wheat noodle cooking ideas.
Egg noodles are made of wheat flour, eggs, water, and salt. Egg noodles can be made fresh or dried for sale. They get their name from the addition of egg to the noodle dough, which gives them a yellowish color and a slightly richer flavor compared to regular wheat noodles. Chinese egg noodles can be found in a variety of shapes and sizes, including thin, vermicelli-like noodles, flat noodles, and thick, round noodles. Egg noodles are also much chewier than regular wheat noodles. We have an egg noodle instruction too.
How to cook with Chinese egg noodles: you can use egg noodles in lo mein recipes, chow mein recipes, or soup recipes.
If you go to Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei Province, you cannot miss the traditional snack --- hot dry noodles, the most popular breakfast for Wuhan people. The noodles for making hot dry noodles are alkaline noodles. Alkaline noodles are made of wheat flour, water, salt, and dietary alkali. The purpose of adding dietary alkali is to get rid of the sour flavor of the dough and it can also help the noodles to be softer and whiter.
In other regions, people also have alkaline noodles in their daily diet. In Guangdong Province and Hong Kong, lo mein, chow mein, and wonton noodles are the most popular alkaline noodles. In Chongqing, people often take a bowl of Chongqing spicy noodles(in Chinese called Chongqing Xiaomian) as their breakfast. The noodles used for making Chongqing spicy noodles are also alkaline. Alkaline noodles are much chewy than regular wheat-based noodles.
As the signature dish of Shanxi Province, sliced noodles are named after the way they are made. With the dough in one hand and a knife in the other hand, the noodles cut by the cook directly fall into the boiling water. After being cooked, the sliced noodles will be served in a bowl with delicious sauce and toppings, which differ as per your own preference.
Rice noodles are much more popular in the southern area of China where rice is widely planted as the staple food. Rice noodles can be separated into rice vermicelli, rice sticks, and chow fun(hefen in Chinese).
Rice vermicelli, made of rice flour and water, appears to be as thin and white as silk. They are usually dried and sold in bunches. Before cooking, you’d better soak rice vermicelli in hot water for fifteen to twenty minutes because the dried rice vermicelli is in a quite hard texture. After the rice vermicelli is softened, you can cut it into short pieces, which will be convenient for you to eat. Rice vermicelli can be used to make dishes with minced meat or to boil with soup.
The featured rice vermicelli in Chinese cooking is Singapore mei fun, which is a luxurious chow mei fun with Chinese BBQ pork (Char Siu), red onions, shrimp, and napa cabbage. It is characterized by a bold, savory flavor with a hint of spiciness from the curry powder.
Apart from rice vermicelli made of rice flour, people also make use of other starches to produce vermicelli. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and mung bean are quite common ingredients to be applied for production. The famous brand Longkou vermicelli is a kind of mung bean vermicelli, which is chewy and tasty. The famous Chongqing snack sour and spicy noodles(named as suan la fen in Chinese) is a kind of sweet potato vermicelli mixed with sour and spicy sauce and other ingredients.
Rice sticks(Mi xian)
Rice sticks, called Mi Xian in Chinese, are a little thicker than rice vermicelli in appearance. Rice sticks are also made of rice flour and water. By integrating with different ingredients and seasonings, rice sticks have displayed unique flavors in different regions. In Yunnan province, Guo Qiao Mi Xian is deemed as a signature dish. The rice sticks are firstly cooked in boiling water and then taken out from the water and mix with the hot chicken soup and other vegetables. The rice sticks can perfectly absorb the fresh flavor of chicken soup and are tasted soft and savory. While in Guangxi Province, Liuzhou river snails rice noodles(called Liuzhou luosifen in Chinese) shows a completely different flavor. It features rice sticks soaked in a spicy broth flavored by river snails and topped with ingredients including pickled bamboo shoots, string beans, peanuts, and tofu skin. The pungent smell and spicy flavor help luosifen gain popularity among young people. We have an Homemade rice stick noodles too.
How to cook with rice stick or Mi Xian noodles: the most common way of cooking rice stick noodles is to cook a soup for example Yunan rice noodle soup, which also can be used in salad too. Or sometimes, you can also stir fry rice stick noodles with side ingredients.
Chow fun(Ho fun or He fen)
Chow fun is a kind of flat and wide rice noodle. The process of making chow fun is different from making rice vermicelli and rice sticks. Rice is firstly smashed into rice flour, which will mix with water to form rice milk. The rice milk will be steamed and then cut into wide noodles, thus, chow fun is made.
Beef chow fun, as a traditional Cantonese snack or sometimes as a staple food, is popular in Guangzhou Province and Hong Kong. It is a delicacy stir-fried with chow fun, sliced beef, bean sprouts, spring onions and Chinese chives. Usually, fresh chow fun is chosen to make this dish. However, if you only manage to get the dried chow fun, you need to soak the dried chow fun in water beforehand. You also need some important seasonings, which are light soy sauce, dark soy sauce and Shaoxin wine, which help to form an appealing appearance and add aromas to this dish. The tender juicy beef with soft chow fun makes it a signature snack in Cantonese cuisine.
Soba is noodles made of buckwheat. The appearance of soba is long, thin, and round with a beige or light brown color, quite similar to spaghetti. Soba is rich in proteins and plant fibers, which can help to prevent obesity. Therefore, soba is a good choice for people who intend to lose weight to take on their daily diet.
Tips for Cooking Chinese Noodles
No matter what type of noodles you plan to use, the following are some of the key tips.
- Read the packaging carefully and see what's the possible ways of using it.
- Follow suggested cooking times and water amounts but taste test for doneness. Adjust cooking time if needed.
- Toss noodles immediately with sauce after cooking. Don’t rinse unless specified or noodles may get washed out.
- When pan frying, allow noodles to char slightly for extra flavor. Use very high heat.
- Do not overcook delicate noodles like rice vermicelli or glass noodles that can get mushy fast.
- Prepare sauce and other mix-in ingredients before the noodles are done cooking. Have everything ready to assemble fast.
- Serve noodles immediately or cool quickly if serving cold. Reheating noodles can ruin the texture.
FAQs About Chinese Noodles
Here are quick answers to some of the most common questions about Chinese noodles:
Some of the most beloved Chinese noodle dishes globally are chow mein, lo mein, dan dan mian, biang biang noodles, and glass noodle salad.
Do all Chinese noodles contain wheat?
No. Lots of Chinese noodles including rice noodles, mung bean noodles, buckwheat noodles, and sweet potato noodles are gluten-free Chinese noodle alternatives. They don't contain any type of wheat.
Some do - egg noodles are made with wheat flour and eggs whisked into the dough. But many other Chinese noodles omit eggs completely.
What is the healthiest Chinese noodle?
Rice noodles, mung bean noodles, buckwheat noodles, and sweet potato noodles are healthier options than traditional wheat-based noodles. They have less processed carbs and more nutrients.
So this is all about the different types of Chinese noodles. Next, you can share your creation with Elaine about your favorite brands and types, and how you cook with them. With this guide, you have the knowledge to differentiate the myriad types of noodles and order your favorite dishes like a pro!