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Feb 17, 2011 01:42 PM

A few questions about Asian noodles

What part of the meal are Asian noodles? Are they typically an appetizer, a side dish or accompaniment, or an entree? Are they served along with other dishes, or on their own as their own course? Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.

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  1. I like the question. Of course, Asia is at least as diversified as Europe, so it would be good to know if you have any particular kind of noodles or any regional/national cuisine mainly in mind.

    That said, I am interested to see what people with direct experience of Asian tables have to say. For example, if people in Laos or Vietnam prepare Pho, how does it relate to other foods in the meal?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Bada Bing

      Pho is breakfast, eaten at a streatside (or floating) stall. When ever I've bought it in a US restaurant it is the meal - though one Seattle 'chain' always serves it with a side of cream puffs.

      Noodles are a common street food though out Asia. Some Japanese noodles can be traced to carts serving night time workers. There are plenty of noodle dishes that follow the pho pattern - base of noodles, broth, and garnish of vegetables and meats - all serving as a meal, or between meals snack.

      Noodles can also appear in various dishes served in multi course meals, though I don't there's anything as well defined as the pasta course of an Italian meal.

    2. "Asian"' noodles covers a lot of territory. Rice noodles, wheat noodles, Ramen, bean threads, egg noodles (E-fu), Soba noodles, etc. Each has it own place in Asian cuisine. The best direction I can point you in is to read as much as you can about Asian noodles and how they are used in various Asian recipes. From that you'll see which dishes work in each of the categories you've listed.

      4 Replies
      1. re: todao

        Interesting. The reason I asked the question in the first place is that I was wondering if noodles could replace rice as the "starch" in an Asian meal. Of course, the way I look at rice is, I believe, different from the way it is regarded in most "authentic" situations. I regard rice as a side dish whereas I've noticed that many people use it as a base for other foods. In other words, meat, chicken or vegetables might be added on top of the bowl of rice.

        1. re: CindyJ

          Noodles replace rice in dishes like 'fried noodles' (chow mein) (fried rice - chow fan). There also are versions of chow mein in which the noodles are fried crisp, and the meat sauce part served on top (is that Hong Kong style?). And I believe in Japan 'bowl meals' (donburi) can based on either noodles or rice. But I've never read of or seen plain noodles served in an individual bowl like rice.

          1. re: CindyJ

            Rice is not consumed uniformly across Asia. In China you might put food on top of your rice bowl, but in Thailand, you might make balls of sticky rice to dip in food, whereas in the Philippines you would mix a wet main into your rice and eat it moistened.

            Noodles are also consumed differently, depending on their type and what cuisine you're talking about. In Vietnam, rice noodles might be used as a "base" for some protein and herbs. In the Philippines, rice noodles could be a snack. In China, however, they could be a meal unto themselves, stirfried with protein and vegetables. So while sometimes noodles are consumed as the "starch," sometimes they are consumed as a main dish unto themselves.

            1. re: CindyJ

              Yes they are inter-changeable. In Chinese cuisine there are two components to a meal: the Cai 菜 portion (Protein+vegetables) and the Fan 飯 (grains or starch foods.) A balanced Chinese meal has the appropriate amount of both Cai and Fan.

          2. In most cases noodles are a meal by themselves, most commonly seen in noodle bowl soups or in a stirfry or topped with sauce.

            4 Replies
            1. re: joonjoon

              I do understand that. As an example, I've made Pho (from scratch -- labor intensive but well worth it) and that was definitely a meal unto itself. I was thinking more along the lines of noodles NOT in a soup when I asked my question.

              1. re: CindyJ

                Did you use Andrea Nguyen's pho recipe? It's SO wonderful.


                My next purchase is going to be a ginormous stockpot so I can make a huge recipe of the broth and have it without all that part of the work.

                1. re: c oliver

                  Thanks for the link. That DOES look like a great recipe. During my first (and only) attempt at pho, I looked at a number of recipes and then came up with a "hybrid". But Nguyen's recipe looks like it captures everything I'd want to incorporate.

                  Making a large pot of broth is a great time-saving idea; I think I have a couple of containers of pho broth stashed somewhere in my freezer. Time to dig them out!

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    We've had two meals so far (just the two of us) and have about six cups in the freezer. Our daughter and SIL are probably coming up this weekend. I see a little pho in our future. The broth is the only tedious part but, as you say, so worth the effort.

            2. The only thing I can think of are bean thread noodles which are used in casseroles or single dishes (for example ants climbing on a tree) in Chinese cooking. Each dish would be one component of a traditional meal (one soup, one vegetable, one protein, one fried, one braised, etc). These would still be eaten with rice though.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jadec

                In 'ants climb a tree' the noodles are cooked with their sauce. Bean threads are also quick fried, and used as a garnish.

              2. I think that noodles become part of a specific meal or dish (i.e. japchae - a Korean noodle dish; cold soba noodles in dipping sauce; Vietnamese bun, etc...) whereas rice is a vehicle for whatever else is on the table. Growing up, in my family (Korean), plain white rice was mandatory even if there was some type of noodle dish. (I don't necessarily abide by this when cooking for myself though.)

                2 Replies
                1. re: Queen Felix

                  Chap Chae is actually interesting because it's the only Korean noodle dish that's intended as banchan rather than the centerpiece of the meal. Specifically, it's the only noodle dish that gets eaten with rice that I can think of. Every other noodle dish I can think of is supposed to be the main.

                  1. re: Queen Felix

                    So then, as I'm beginning to understand, rice is typically topped with some other food, and the two are eaten together. I've seen people doing that in Asian restaurants -- adding food to their rice bowl. That makes sense to me now.