Egg noodles, rice noodles, ramen, udon — these are a few of the more common varieties featured on restaurant menus, but what about us home cooks?A homemade bowl of instant ramen can hit the spot, but a great adventure awaits at the Asian market. In Houston, both Viet Hoa and 99 Ranch Market have big selections to choose from. Admittedly, walking down the noodle aisles can be dizzying. Choosing the right kind to use in a recipe can be difficult when there are dozens of choices, and shoppers who are not familiar with the selection can feel intimidated. Here is a list of seven not-so-common noodles to try in your own kitchen.
Bánh Pho Tuoi or fresh rice stick noodles
These are specifically used in pho (beef noodle soup)
Bánh pho noodles come in both dry and freshly made versions. It’s a matter of preference as far as which to use. The fresh variety should be soaked in hot water prior to serving. There is no need to actually “cook” fresh bánh pho. If it's hot enough, the temperature of the pho broth will cook the noodle to the correct semi-al dente texture.
A wider type of bánh pho is used in Thai stir-fry dishes such as pad thai and pad see ew. Another kind, chow fun, is even wider and is used in “flat rice noodle,” a popular Chinese dish.
Mien or Bún Tàu, also called glass noodles, cellophane noodles or bean thread
This thin, transparent noodle can be used in a multitude of dishes and can be either the star or a silent, behind-the-scenes extra. Glass noodles absorb flavor easily and quickly. These never require cooking. To prepare, soak in a bowl of hot water for 15 to 20 minutes, and the noodles are ready to add to a stir-fry or chicken soup, to use in egg rolls or to incorporate in stuffing. Look for mien gà (chicken broth with glass noodles, chicken breast and vegetables) on the menu at local Vietnamese restaurants, including Vietopia, 5176 Buffalo Speedway, and La Viet, 11328 Westheimer.
Hu Tieu Dai or chewy tapioca noodle
Made with tapioca instead of rice flour, this noodle is one of the more interesting varieties. The noodle is thicker, translucent and chewy. Unlike the other two noodles mentioned above, hu tieu dai should be cooked in rolling, boiling water. Because these are made of tapioca flour, they need to be moved constantly within the pot or they will clump.
These noodles are used in hu tieu my tho (a dish named for the city of My Tho in Vietnam), and a bowl of hu tieu dai is topped with boiled shrimp, fish balls, pork and fresh herbs alongside a separate bowl of piping hot pork or chicken broth. Traditionally, Vietnamese diners will add the broth a spoonful at a time while enjoying this meal, but it is okay to skip the pageantry and order the soup and noodles together in the same bowl. It’s hot and satisfying either way.
Mì Xào Trung Gà or Chinese chow mein
This egg noodle, used in stir-fry, comes in both fresh and dried versions. Use the fresh kind if it is to be cooked right away or within a few days of purchase. As with other types of dry pasta, dried mì xào trung gà can be kept in the pantry for future use.
The thicker kind, mì xào trung gà, is most often used in Chinese lo mein (stir-fried noodles with a protein, like meat or tofu, and vegetables). Houston restaurants such as Tan Tan feature it in a variety of dishes, and it can also be added to any of the noodle soup bowls. It can also be lightly dressed in sesame or sate oil for nutty or spicy flavors.
The thinner version is more commonly served with Chinese wonton noodle soup or with hot pot meals.
Bánh Canh or Udon
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These thick white noodles, made of wheat flour, are typically identified as Japanese but are very popular in Vietnamese cuisine as well. Bánh canh is available fresh, both as a bulk item and packaged. The kind found in bulk are not bad, but in this case, the packaged versions are better. Each bag is a perfectly sized individual portion for a bowl of bánh canh. The seasoning package that accompanies the noodle lends just the right amount of umami flavor. Throw in a few shrimp, mushrooms and an egg, and a perfect bowl of udon is born.
Shirataki, also called yam noodle or miracle noodle
Shirataki means “white waterfall” in Japanese. Some types of shirataki are called “miracle noodles” because they have no cholesterol and zero net carbohydrates and are gluten-free. These are great for low-carb diets. When they're substituted in dishes like rice vermicelli bowls or jap chae (a popular Korean noodle stir-fry), the flavor of the dish is not compromised if the noodles are prepared correctly.
Have you used any of these noodles in a dish not mentioned here? Leave a comment below and share your dish ideas!