The Italians and Chinese both claim to have invented the noodle and that is a debate that will never be settled.
As popular a food as it is, most of us are familiar with just a few of the dozens of styles of pastas that the Italians enjoy and maybe a handful of the equally numerous Asian varieties.
The Italians make their pasta from Durum wheat or occasionally buckwheat, but the Asians use everything from rice, wheat, buckwheat, mung bean to kudzu. The legend that Marco Polo brought pasta back from his travels to China is only a legend and the most likely conclusion is that this wonderful food idea was developed in different places at different times.
The term noodle comes from the German nudel and the word pasta is of course Italian, but derived from Latin and before that Greek. The Chinese have many names for specific kinds of noodle, but miàn refers to noodles made from wheat and fen describes noodles made from rice or mung bean.
There are just a few basic types of noodles you will find in a local Asian grocery store, but they come in an amazing variety of styles and flavors.
Rice stick, banh pho, is served with the traditional beef soup of Vietnam, pho, and comes in small, medium, large and extra large thickness.
Rice vermicelli, bun, comes in two sizes, small like Capellini and wide like spaghetti and is served with grilled pork and shrimp and in spring rolls.
Bean thread noodles, or cellophane noodles, mein, are made from mung bean and are soaked for 30 minutes before being served and are used in soups, stir-fries and salads. You might also find egg noodles, Japanese somen, udon and soba noodles and fresh rice noodles in the refrigerated section.
In a category all by themselves are the instant noodles that originated in Japan and were based on the ramen noodle. That snack food has become wildly popular throughout the world and can be found in a variety of flavors; soy sauce, pork, duck, chicken, beef, shrimp, crab, fish and cabbage are common. You also will find different styles of instant noodles; Thai style, Vietnamese, udon, Phnom Penh and hot and spicy to name a few.
A case of 30 packages can cost as little as $8 to $10, so they are an economical snack.
VIETNAMESE BEEF SOUP AND RICE STICK NOODLES
2 quarts best quality chicken stock
4-6 star anise
4-6 whole cloves
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
1 chopped onion
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
Black pepper for seasoning
1/2 pound thinly sliced beef
1 pound cooked rice stick noodles
Garnish: bean sprouts, basil, hot chilies, lemon, and cilantro
Place all of the ingredients except the beef and garnish in pot large enough to easily hold everything and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain to remove solid ingredients and season with black pepper. Place cooked noodles in individual serving bowls, add the broth and drop in the raw beef to cook in the hot broth. Allow each guest to garnish their own soup.
GRILLED PORK AND RICE VERMICELLI
4 thin cut pork chops
1 package rice vermicelli, cooked according to package directions
2 chopped green onions
1 chopped shallot
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Pinch of salt
Black pepper to taste
Cilantro for garnish
Combine the green onions, shallot, fish sauce, brown sugar, salt and pepper and mix well. Add the pork chops and marinade for 30 minutes. Preheat indoor grill or broiler to high. Remove the pork from the marinade and drain but do not dry. Grill until done and the edges are charred. Plate the noodles first followed by the pork chops and the cilantro garnish. Serve with julienned Daikon and carrot for texture.
BEAN THREAD NOODLES AND SHRIMP
1 package bean thread noodles
1 pound shelled shrimp
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup grated carrot
4 cloves chopped garlic
Soy sauce as needed
Salt and pepper to taste
Green onions as garnish
Oil as needed
Soak the noodles in warm water for about 10 minutes or until they soften. Separate carefully and drain in a colander. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper and sauté in oil for 10 minutes over medium heat, remove and add the shrimp to the same pan and sauté quickly until done. Toss the vegetables and shrimp together, season with soy sauce and serve on top of the noodles. Garnish with green onion.