Here in the West we have been slurping noodles and pasta for years now but many of us don’t seem to know what the difference is and we often confuse the two. Pasta is the term that is only used for Italian style noodles; this is a noodle that is made from strong or hard wheat flour which is always mixed with egg. Noodles however are made from a variety of other grain types including soft flours. Semolina which is sometimes used to describe a wheat used for pasta noodles is simply a finely ground grain kernel. The most common semolina is hard durum wheat but white semolina from rice is used for rice noodles and corn semolina is used for polenta. Durham semolina is used for pasta making because this forms the strongest gluten bonds which creates sturdier pasta.
There are a myriad of choices in the Asian noodle world and they all tend to confuse many Westerners so here is a Noodle Primer:
Cellophane Noodles (also known as Bean thread, glass, transparent, or vermicelli) generally made from bean flours like mung bean, soy bean, fava beans. They are semi-opaque, thin threads of a very small diameter. They look fragile but are incredibly strong and hard to break. Usually used in soups and stews but can be a little slimy in texture.
Rice Noodles are made from rice flour dough these noodles are usually opaque and bright white in color when cooked they can also be semi translucent when dry. Rice Vermicelli is a thin noodle that is perfect for deep frying.
Soba Noodles (also known as Buckwheat or Japanese Wheat) always made from buckwheat flour they have a sweetish taste and the texture is quite unique. The color ranges from grey to pale buff; green soba has green tea powder added. The Heart & Stroke Foundation has a terrific recipe for a cold Soba Noodles with chicken recipe.
Udon made from soft wheat they can be long, thick and round, or square. They have a soft texture and a bland taste perfect in soups. An amazing even kids will eat it vegetarian recipe for udon and tofu can be found here in The Star.
Somen are a very small diameter, round hard wheat Japanese noodle. They are usually bright white but now come in colours from pink to dark green. These are normally served cold and should be al dente.
Ramen the traditional Japanese noodles which are a variation on the Chinese egg and wheat noodles are the crinkly thin kind of noodle often sold in
square cakes. They are usually served with a soya based soup or broth. Check out the Kenzo Ramen House in Toronto for a great bowl of spicy noodles.