Japanese Noodles

The general term used to describe noodles in Japanese is men.  Japanese cooking contains four categories of menmen means noodle.
Japanese spelling is めん and the Kanji for this word is 麺.
: ramenJapanese spelling is ラーメン. There is no Kanji for this word.
Click here to jump to the ramen section.
, sobaJapanese spelling is そば. The Kanji for this word is 蕎麦.
Click here to jump to the soba
, sōmenJapanese spelling is そうめん. The Kanji for this word is 素麺.
Click here to jump to the sōmen section
, and udonJapanese spelling is うどん. There is no Kanji for this word.
Click here to jump to the udon section

A Brief Introduction to Japanese Noodles

Type Description
Bowl of ramen noodles

Bowl of ramen noodles

A thin noodle used in a soup base.  3 regional differences of this noodle soup define it’s taste, making this dish an interesting choice if you can try the different types.  These include Hokkaido ramen, which consists of a miso or shioaji taste and includes a vegetable called moyashi which is bean sprouts, Tokyo ramen, which consists of a soysouce taste and is relatively simpler than the other regions and Kyūshu ramen which consists of hosomen and tonkoto soup with benisyoga, which is red ginger.

soba A thin noodle, thicker than somen, eaten in a similar manner.
somen noodles

somen noodles

A very thin noodle eaten by dipping it into a soy flavored sauce called mentsuyu. The mentsuyu is placed in a small cup, like the one shown in the picture (right).  Additionally, wasabi and shredded nori is added to the sauce.

udon A thicker noodle used in a soup base.

Noodles, generically known as menrui, are a significant part of the Japanese culinary experience.  There are a number of different types of noodles shown in the table.  Geographic differences create different flavors the soup bases make up, imparting a different taste to each dish.  Additionally, noodles are part of many celebrations throughout the year.


The origins of ramen are Chinese and reflected in the katakana spelling of the word.  The Western World has been influenced by this noodle dish mainly in the form of the inexpensive small one serving size bags such as “Oodles of Noodles” and “Cup of Noodles”, but the real thing is something different.  Here is a list of different types of ramen with the ingredients used as toppings:

  1. chashu ramenramen noodles with pork.
  2. tanmenramen noodles with vegetables.
  3. moyashi ramenramen noodles with bean sprouts.
  4. wakame ramenramen noodles with wakame, a type of seaweed.
  5. negi ramenramen noodles with scallions.
  6. Basically the list grows to include whatever topping you put on the ramen noodles.



Soba noodles originated during the 18th century and is a staple in the Japanese diet.  It is also a prime choice for those eating in a hurry.  But for gourmets or what is known in Japanese as tsu, only te uchi or hand made soba will do.  Soba served cold is called mori soba and soba served hot is called kake soba.  Soba served on a bamboo mat is called seirō soba and may be eaten with grated wasabi, chopped negi, tempura, tororo, which is grated yam, or daikon.  Soba served with nori on top is called zaru soba.  Lastly, an appropriate choice for summer is hiyamugi, which is soba served with an assortment of colorful vegetables, after being fully immersed in ice water.  Here is a list of different types of soba with the ingredients used as toppings:

  1. sansai soba (山菜蕎麦 / さんさいそば) – soba noodles with mountain vegetables.
  2. wakame soba (若布蕎麦 / わかめそば) – soba noodles with wakame (seaweed).
  3. nishin soba (鯡・鰊蕎麦 / にしんそば) – soba noodles with herring.
  4. nameko soba (滑子蕎麦 / なめこそば) – soba noodles with mushrooms.
  5. chikara soba (力蕎麦 / ちからそば) – soba noodles with mochi.
  6. kitsune soba (キツネ蕎麦 / きつねそば) – soba noodles with strips of deep fried tofu.
  7. tanuki soba (タヌキ蕎麦 / たぬきそば) – soba noodles with deep fried tempura batter crumbs.
  8. tsukimi soba (月見蕎麦 / つきみそば) – soba noodles with a raw egg.
  9. kamo nanbam soba (鴨南蛮蕎麦 / かもなんばんそば) – soba noodles with sliced duck or chicken.



Often considered a noodle eaten during the summer time, and a common gift during ochūgen, the mid year gift giving season, sōmen is the thinnest of the noodles.  The process of making sōmen differs from the other noodles in that it is stretched rather than cut, like ramen, soba and udon.  In fact, the government created a standard that each noodle can not be greater than 1 millimeter in diameter.  Te nobe, or hand stretched sōmen, is considered the tastiest.  Sōmen also makes up part of an interesting summertime activity called nagashi sōmen, in which split bamboo is connected together forming an aquaduct and used to stream sōmen to those waiting at the other end, who pick it out with their chopsticks.  Somen is also used in Hiroshima style okonomiyaki.    -top


The noodle with the largest width is udon which is served both hot and cold and differs in the types of toppings.  A country style udon dish is called kishimen, which is indigenous to the Nagoya region.  A popular winter dish, because it’s served very hot, is nabeyaki udon.  It is served in a clay pot (i.e. nabe) with chicken, shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, green vegetables and an egg.  Like somen, udon is also used in Hiroshima style okonomiyaki.    -top

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