Here’s a quick guide to udon noodles — a favorite noodle in Japanese cuisine, with tips, easy ways to use, and recipes.
Welcome in almost any Asian recipe that calls for long noodles, they’re especially savored as a soup noodle, from which they’re slurped with great relish. (Here’s a cultural history of slurping!)
What are udon noodles and where did they come from?
Udon are long, thick wheat noodles traditional to Japan and other Asian countries. The shape and size of dried udon noodles are similar to fettuccine, though they cook up to a plumper texture.
Fresh udon are rounder and plumper yet. In both cases, the smooth, pleasant texture of these noodles makes them appealing and versatile.
According to some sources, udon noodles are believed to have originated in China, perhaps in a form closer to a dumpling than a noodle.
Other sources cite Japan as their country of origin; this guide to udon dishes describes lots of delicious ways in which they’re served in the many noodle shops around the country.
A third theory places udon noodles’ origin in Korea, where they’re called Garak-Guksu. We’ll stay out of this debate; suffice it to say that udon have been around for hundreds of years and are still a beloved food in several Asian countries.
Udon noodles are delicious stir-fried with tofu and vegetables and flavored with teriyaki or miso sauce.
Varieties of udon noodles & how to cook them
There are countless brands of dried and fresh udon noodles. There isn’t a huge difference between them, so what you purchase depends much on what’s available you. Both types are readily available on many online sources.
Dried udon are most often sold in cellophane-wrapped 8-ounce packages and cook as you would any kind of dried pasta — in plenty of rapidly simmering water. It’s best to follow package directions. They take about 5 to 7 minutes to cook to an al dente texture.
Some directions call for rinsing them briefly after draining, to wash away a bit of the starch. Packaged udon keep nearly indefinitely in the pantry. Dried udon are akin to fettuccine in shape, a bit flatter than the fresh type.
Fresh udon are plumper and rounder than the dried variety. They come in sealed packages in quantities ranging from 12 to 16 ounces (or more). Once purchased, keep them in the fridge and keep your eye on the best-used-by date.
These noodles are nearly ready to use, so you can add them to soups in the last 2 to 3 minutes of cooking. For stir-fries and cold dishes, you still need to cook them for 2 to 3 minutes — as with the dried noodles, it’s best to follow package directions.
Whole wheat udon is a variant that you might find in natural foods stores, though even then, they’re a lot less available. Undoubtedly, they’re more nutritious, though their character becomes a bit closer to soba than to the traditional thick Asian noodle.
For some authentic information on styles of udon cuisine, consult the guide on Koroko, which details styles or udon use, incuding kake, kitsune, curry, yaki, and zaru.
Are udon noodles good for you?
If you tolerate wheat, they’re not exactly bad for you, but honestly, they’re mostly carbs. That’s why it’s best to use udon in dishes that contain lots of vegetables — soups, stir-fries, and salads.
High in carbs and low in fat, a cup of cooked noodles contains 4 grams of protein, and a modest amount of fiber and iron. See the complete nutritional profile of udon noodles.
Easy ways to use udon noodles
A simple side dish: For a tasty side dish, season udon noodles with soy sauce and garnish with scallions or sesame seeds. To make a quick main dish, add some diced tofu.
Peanut or sesame noodles: Combine cooked udon with Coconut Peanut Sauce. Cold udon noodles are also excellent with sesame sauce. These types of dishes can be infused with crispy vegetables and served cold or warm.
Cold noodle dishes: In addition to peanut or sesame noodles, udon lend themselves to other cold noodle dishes. Combine with crisp uncooked or very lightly steamed vegetables like peppers, bok choy, broccoli, celery, carrots, scallions, etc., and dress in Sesame-Ginger Salad Dressing.
In stir-fries: Udon noodles are excellent combined with stir-fried vegetables. Use at least an equal proportion of noodles to veggies to improve the carb and nutrient ratio.
In soups: Break dry udon in half before cooking, then drain and add at the last minute to Asian-style vegetable and miso soups. If using fresh udon, add them close to the end of the soup’s cooking time.
Udon noodle recipes
Here’s a selection of vegan recipes using udon noodles from this site and others. Thanks to the talented bloggers for permission to reprint a photo and link to their recipes.
Hoisin-Ginger Udon Noodles: Featuring plenty of bok choy, this is a 5-ingredient dish with great flavor that’s ready in minutes.
Udon Noodle Salad with Crisp Asian Vegetables: Udon noodle salad is an appealing way to enjoy crisp, colorful vegetables. Full of veggies that need only a little prep but no cooking, this is a tasty, colorful dish for lunch or dinner.
Easy Teriyaki Noodles with Tofu & Broccoli: Embellished with carrots, sweet peppers, and sesame seeds, here’s a simple, naturally vegan udon stir-fry you may enjoy putting on a regular rotation.
Easy Asian Noodle Bowls with Avocado and Baked Tofu: Super easy Asian noodle bowls are as welcome for a quick lunch as they are for dinner. Flavored with sesame-ginger dressing and embellished with avocado and baked tofu, this quick recipe will have you eating in no time.
Cheesy Udon Noodle Bowl with Brussels Sprouts: From Cadry’s Kitchen cheesy udon noodles are spiced with sriracha, miso, and tamari. This cozy bowl is rounded out with Brussels sprouts.
Udon Noodle Soup with Tahini Broth: Also from Cadry’s Kitchen, this udon noodle soup with a velvety miso tahini broth is embellished with tofu and spinach.
Easy One-Pot Vegan Udon Noodle Soup: From Wow, It’s Veggie?! — vegan udon noodles with veggies whip up quickly in one pot and are so tasty and delicious.
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