TL;DR Oodles and oodles of doodles of noodles.
I use the words “noodles” and “pasta” interchangeably. I remember being teased in middle school at an Italian classmate’s house for asking for more “noodles” at dinner. We were eating spaghetti and meatballs. I felt embarrassed back then. But now I’m an adult and couldn’t care less what you think of my noodly vocabulary. Pasta was likely invented in China anyway, which means pasta = noodles.
Without further ado, a discourse on noodles.
A Quick History of Noodles:
- The world’s oldest known noodles were discovered at an archaeological site by the Yellow River in China, and carbon-dated to be more than 4,000 years old (can you say yum).
- Marco Polo was likely the source of introducing noodle/pasta to Italy.
- Early Spanish settlers were among the first to bring pasta to America
Types of Flour: Pasta/Noodles can be made from many types of flours, here are the most common ones.
- Soft, may be eggy, potentially yellow due to alkalinity
- Wheat noodles are the most popular type of noodles in China and definitely in Italy
- The Chinese usually eat pasta/noodles in broth, while Italians prefer pasta boiled, strained, and tossed with sauce
- Dishes to Note: Beef Noodles, Spaghetti Bolognese
- Very soft, white
- Typical in the cuisines of Southeast Asia
- More delicate than wheat noodles, rice noodles require less cooking time and can usually be added to soup dishes in the last few minutes
- Can also be stir-fried after boiling – be sure to undercook the noodles a bit if you plan to do so
- Dishes to Note: Pho, Pad See Ew
- Chewy, springy, flavorless, clear/see-through
- Commonly used in Korean and Northeast Chinese cooking
- Dishes to Note: Japchae
- Nutty, toasty, slightly bitter, light brown/gray in color
- Buckwheat noodles contain a ton more fiber and half the calories of wheat noodles
- Buckwheat noodles are best served cold with a side of dipping sauces
- Dishes to Note: Cold Soba
- Flavorless, chewy yet crunchy, slippery, grey or clear/see-through
- 0 calories! Shirataki has long been a miracle diet food of Japan and has only recently picked up by the American market
- Shirataki can be substituted into any dishes that call for noodles/pasta, but does not has any traditional recipes of its own
- Dishes to Note: Shirataki Stir-fry
While pasta and noodles can be made into any shape (Hello Alphabet Soup!), here are some general guidelines on when to use which noodle.
Wide Noodles: Generally wide noodles will pick up less sauce and is better suited for heavier sauces (think alfredo). Example: Fettuccine
Skinny Noodles: Generally skinny noodles will pick up more sauce and is better suited for lighter sauces (think tomato-based). Example: Angel-hair
Fancy-shaped pastas: Great to show-off in a salad. Example: Tri-colored Rotini
Twisted Pastas: Great to catch lighter sauces (think Pesto). Example: Fusilli
Flat sheets: Casseroles, or get creative and make a flappy soup. I like to make soup with wonton wrappers. Example: Lasagna
Minis: Great for soups or to thicken up a stew. Example: Orzo, Pastina
And that’s it!
To read more about Japanese noodles specifically, check out our guide to Japanese Cuisine.
Some Helpful Pasta Related Equipment: