Noodles are a serious bussiness in Japan. The Japanese have invented a variety of noodles, with different thinknesses, shapes and made from different flour from different wheats, each served in unique broths, soups or sauces. Udon are think and chewy wheat noodles. They are made from wheat flour kneaded with salt and water. Their texture can be adapted according to taste by varying the cooking time, and they are usually served in a hot broth, together with ingredients like prawn, tempura, aburaage, raw egg or vegetables. They can also be served cold with a dipping sauce. There is also a flattened variety of udon called kishimen from the Nagoya region. Udon is available in dried, fresh or pre-boiled form.
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour. As buckwheat contains no gluten, wheat flour is usually added to prevent the noodles from falling apart, although 100% buckwheat varieties are available. Soba comes in fresh and dried form and can be eaten either hot in soup or chilled and served on a bamboo tray called a zaru, with a dipping sauce called mentsuyu. Chilled soba are often garnished with nori seaweed and eaten with wasabi to add a sharp, pungent flavour.
Somen noodles are made from wheat flour kneaded with salt and water but are thinner than udon noodles, infact they are the thinnest noodles made in Japan and are just under 1.3 millimeters thick when uncooked. When they are thicker than this, they are known as hiyamugi. It is thought that somen acquire a better texture when dried and allowed to mature for up to three years. Somen and hiyamugi are commonly eaten cold, especially in summer, together with a dipping sauce and garnishes such as grated ginger and spring onion. They are also eaten hot in broth (nyumen).
Chukamen are Chinese noodles and are often called ramen noodles. They are kneaded together with egg, salt and a special kind of carbonated water. The noodles come in different styles, the most common being long and cylindrical, but there are also curled and flattened varieties. Chukamen are most commonly served in soup in the hugely popular dish ramen, which has three basic flavours: soy sauce, salt and miso. Ingredients such as pork, fried vegetables and seaweed are often added.
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