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Udon and ramen are the two biggest stars of the Japanese noodle scene. They appear in all sorts of dishes throughout Japanese cuisine. One is thin and wavy, the other thick and chewy – giving a new definition of noodle variety. So, which one is your favorite?
The two rivals are both delicious and have their own particular set of strengths. But what are the main differences between these two popular noodles? And what are the similarities?
So let’s get started! Read more about the differences between udon and ramen noodles.
Udon noodles are thick and chewy. Their unique texture is unlike any other noodle out there. Udon is simple and delicious, making it one of the more versatile noodles in Japanese cuisine.
They can be flat or round, as the noodles absorb the broth and give a nice hearty feeling to the soup with light ingredients. But udon is also impressive in stir-fried dishes.
Because the noodles are so thick, they stay intact well during the stir fry process and are coated with the delicious sauce.
The process of making udon is unlike any other noodle in the world. The quintessential aspect about udon noodles is the springiness of the noodles.
Udon is made with wheat flour, water, and salt, that’s it! The salt is dissolved into the water before being mixed in with the flour, which helps to incorporate the salt throughout.
This contributes to the springy texture.
Fun Fact: Artisan udon noodle makers in Japan will change the ratio of water to salt, depending on the season. The ratio is 3:1 in the summer, 6:1 in the winter, and 5:1 in the spring and fall. They may even change depending on the weather that day!
Another factor that makes udon uniquely springy is the kneading process. To achieve the springiness they’re after, udon makers actually stomp on their dough to knead it. This works the gluten incredibly hard to get a nice springy dough.
Udon and ramen are really quite different. There are very few similarities between the two. The texture is different, the thickness is different, the ingredients are different, and one is straight while the other is curly.
The main similarity between them is that they are both made with wheat flour. Other noodles in Japan, such as soba, are made with buckwheat flour.
Another similarity between the two is that both are commonly used in soup. But there are even some differences with that. Ramen is exclusively served in soup form, while udon has other applications outside of soup.
In addition, ramen broth is rich and jam-packed with umami, while udon broth has a lighter flavor, often just a simple dashi broth.
Ramen is one of the most flavor-packed noodle dishes out there, and it has exploded in popularity throughout the world. The dish can be accessible and incredibly high-end, with instant ramen costing pennies on the dollar and craft ramen being an expensive meal.
The process of making ramen noodles also varies from how udon noodles are made. While udon dough is rolled out and then cut into noodles, the ramen dough is made into strips that get stretched, folded in half, then stretched again, and the process repeats.
Ramen noodles became exceptionally popular towards the end of the 20th century with the invention of instant ramen. Instant ramen offers a quick meal that could be prepared in minutes, and all you needed was boiling water.
Instant ramen spread throughout Japan, into the US, and then throughout the world. This drastically increased the dish’s popularity, and now, high-end ramen shops can be found in every major city in the world.
Ramen noodles are also made with wheat flour, but they include eggs as well, which gives them a light yellow color. One unique ingredient for ramen noodles is alkaline water.
Instead of using regular water, ramen makers use alkaline water, containing sodium carbonate and potassium carbonate. This raises the pH level of the water to about 8, which is part of what gives the ramen noodles that curly look and uniquely soft texture.
Udon noodles are far thicker than ramen noodles. Udon tends to be about an eighth of an inch thick on all sides. This makes it thicker than even Italian noodles like fettuccine.
Meanwhile, ramen noodles are quite thin, about the size of spaghetti noodles.
There are quite a few differences between ramen and udon noodles. From the way they're made to the dishes they get put in. Let’s walk through each difference.
The first big difference is how the dishes are prepared. We’ve already talked about how differently the noodles themselves are made.
Udon noodles mix salt into the water and stomp on the dough to work the gluten and make the noodles springy and chewy in the best way.
Ramen noodles are made with alkaline water and eggs and stretched out again and again until they’ve achieved the desired size.
However, the dishes that the noodles appear in are also quite different. Ramen noodles typically only appear in the soup dish by the same name. There are many different varieties of this dish, containing different broths and noodles, but, generally speaking, all varieties of ramen are nearly the same.
On the other hand, Udon is used in a variety of different dishes. Although it’s typically made with a lighter broth, there are varieties of udon soups that feature richer, thicker broths.
One big difference is that udon can be served cold. It is common to see a dish called “hiya-hiya,” cold noodles served with a cold broth. It’s a lovely, refreshing dish usually served in the summer.
Sometimes udon noodles are served with a dipping sauce. You grab the noodles with chopsticks and dip them into a rich sauce.
Udon can also be made into a stir fry. Their springy texture is on display with brilliant contrast to the crispy vegetables and tender meat. Not to mention, because the noodles are so big, they’re able to be covered in the stir fry sauce to make each bite absolutely full of flavor.
So udon definitely has more applications, but ramen has become one of the most popular dishes in the entire world.
We’ve already briefly mentioned this, but the broth used for ramen and udon soups tend to be very different.
Udon broths tend to be quite simple and light. Often you’ll get a simple kombu (a delicious kelp, rich in umami) and fish dashi broth. Sometimes, udon might just be flavored with soy sauce.
Ramen, on the other hand, focuses on rich broths that are exploding with umami and saltiness. Ramen broth will often be made from chicken and pork bones with added seasoning. There are creamy pork broths, like Tonkotsu ramen, and there are rich miso broths with creamy butter, like Sapporo ramen.
Generally speaking, ramen dishes tend to put more focus on the broths, while udon dishes might put more focus on the flavor of the noodles.
Udon and ramen also vary with what kinds of toppings go in the soups. Ramen has all sorts of rich toppings like chashu pork, but you’ll also see soft boiled eggs, bamboo shoots, tempura, green onions, or sweet corn.
Udon toppings vary wildly depending on the dish you’re preparing. If you’re making a simple udon soup with a light soy sauce broth, you might just top with green onions and some nori.
Udon and ramen also vary distinctly in how long it takes to cook them. Freshly made ramen noodles are thin, so they can be cooked in just a few minutes. But the thicker udon noodles can take up to 15 minutes to cook, even when they’re freshly made.
Ramen is always presented in the same way because it only gets put into one dish. But udon can be presented in all sorts of ways. Whether it's soup, stir fry, or just a bowl of noodles with dipping sauce.
Udon and ramen also have distinctly different looks. Udon is straight and thick and has a pleasant, soft white color. Ramen is thin, wavy and has a soft yellow color.
How healthy your noodle is depends on how you cook it. A well-made vegetarian ramen dish will probably be more nutritious than an udon stir fry made with a lot of oil, but an udon soup with a simple broth will be healthier than really rich tonkatsu ramen with all the fat from the pork and pork broth.
The noodles on their own have similar nutritional value. They both have only a few ingredients, so, on their own, they’re both perfectly healthy.
If you’re looking to expand your Japanese noodle horizons, there are several other Japanese noodles out there that are all delicious and have their own special dishes. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Soba is another very popular type of Japanese noodles. What sets soba apart from other noodles is that it is made with buckwheat flour.
While some soba is made exclusively with buckwheat flour (called juwari soba), any noodle can be considered soba if it is made of at least 30% buckwheat flour.
Soba can go in all sorts of dishes. It can be served cold with a light sauce or delicious soup. Because of the buckwheat flour, soba tastes nutty and earthy, adding a new layer to your meal. There’s nothing quite like a delicious bowl of soba!
Somen is another unique type of noodle. It is surrounded by unique traditions as well! It’s made with wheat flour and water, but it also includes vegetable oil. This noodle is stretched, similarly to ramen, but somen gets even thinner than ramen noodles do.
Unlike most noodles you might be familiar with, Somen noodles are usually served cold. It’s a lovely summer noodle that is often served with a dipping sauce called Mentsuyu (めんつゆ) or sometimes called Tsuyu (つゆ), which is made from bonito flakes.
A fun tradition with somen is called nagashi somen, which translates to “flowing noodles.” In nagashi somen, cold water flows through long, open bamboo stalks to form a sort of noodle water slide. A mound of noodles is pushed down the slide, and the diners are at the ready with chopsticks to grab the noodles as they pass. They then dip in the tsuyu and enjoy!
Don’t be fooled by the similar name, but yakisoba and soba are very different noodles. Part of the confusion is that the word “soba” is often used to describe noodles in general, as well as the particular type of buckwheat noodle.
Yakisoba is made from regular wheat flour. Yakisoba is most commonly served in a stir-fried dish with a rich sauce. But another popular yakisoba dish is called “yakisoba-pan,” where the noodles are placed in a hotdog bun with mayonnaise and pickled ginger.
Hiyamugi is another type of thin noodle made from wheat flour. They are thicker than somen and are mostly dried out and bundled for easy cooking later. Hiyamugi is also commonly served cold in the summer.
Shirataki are a very unique type of noodles. They’re not made from flour at all. Rather, they’re made from the root of a plant called konjac. It has a beautiful white color and is famous for only having about five or six carbs per serving.
Harusame is probably better known by the name “glass noodles.” Harusame is made from mung beans, and it’s a dried starch noodle. It is not really eaten for its flavor. Rather, it’s used to add texture and nutrition to a dish.
You can use them as a noodle substitute in a stir fry, soup, or whatever you’re making.
Making udon and ramen at home is an enjoyable thing to do with friends, family, or even by yourself. It’s so satisfying to bring those famous dishes that you love into your own kitchen.
When cooking ramen at home, there are plenty of delicious instant ramen out there for you to try that are fantastic.
But if you’re looking for something a little fancier than instant ramen, you can always make your own ramen broth with chicken and pork or with miso to make miso ramen. You can also spice up your instant ramen by topping it with a soft boiled egg, green onions, some shiitake mushrooms, or some pork.
And if you’re craving udon, there’s also instant udon that you can buy or go with standard udon. Cook your udon up in a stir fry with your favorite stir fry sauce and some veggies. Or make your own dashi with kombu and bonito flakes, and then add soy sauce and mirin for a simple udon broth. You could also use your dashi to make shoyu ramen.
Udon are versatile, so you can add them to all sorts of your favorite dishes.
Udon and ramen are distinctly different, but they’re both incredible noodles in their own ways. Now you know the differences between the two so you can pick your favorite. So go and get into the kitchen and whip up some delicious noodles!
And if you need udon, ramen, or any other Asian ingredients, head to Umamicart. We’re an online Asian grocery store that delivers right to your doorstep. So what are you waiting for? Quality Asian groceries are only a click away!
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