You’ve conquered the ethnic foods aisle at your neighborhood grocery store and you want more—more variety, more fun, more choices when it comes to cooking dinner. But when you hit the noodle aisles at Uwajimaya (Chinatown–International District, 600 Fifth Ave. S; 206.624.6248; uwajimaya.com) it’s hard not to panic. They’re endless. With the help of the noodle-buying team at “Waji’s,” we combed the store’s four (!) noodle aisles for the best fresh, frozen and dry brands, and concocted easy ways for experienced home cooks to use the noodles for weeknight dinners. The recipes are designed for people who are comfortable with approximations. There’s everything from a warm Korean-inspired beef bean-thread noodle bowl to quick sesame soba for kids, to a lip-smacking rich pork-neck ramen. We’re not claiming authenticity here—just giving you a few new ways to explore Seattle’s most famous Asian grocery, one delicious, inexpensive dinner at a time.
SHIRATAKI (Japanese yam or tofu noodles)
Buy: Shirakiku (white yam noodle), $2.49, refrigerated
Seen in: Grocery carts of women who have been told by Dr. Oz that they should make their Italian favorites with these fibrous (zero-calorie, zero-carb!) yam noodles (or their new relatives, tofu shirataki)
Recipe: Quick green curry noodles
Drain and rinse noodles (don’t mind that fishy smell—it doesn’t kill the experience once they’re swathed in curry), then simmer sliced carrots, onions and/or mushrooms in a mixture of coconut milk (a full can) and Thai-style green curry paste until soft. Add shrimp, tofu, pork or chicken and noodles, and simmer for a few more minutes. Shower with chopped cilantro and lime juice before serving. Serves 1–2.
KWAY CHAP (rice flake noodles)
Seen in: Thai recipes, such as pad kee mao or the northern Thai noodle dish guay chap
Buy: Golden Pak, $.99, dry
Recipe: Rice flake pad see ew
Pour boiling water over the noodles in a bowl, let soften 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, then drain. In a hot wok, separately stir-fry, in a few tablespoons of vegetable or grapeseed oil and garlic: 1 head chopped broccoli, one egg, thinly sliced raw pork shoulder or loin. Set each aside as you work. Sauté noodles in wok until they curl, then add cooked ingredients back in. Season to taste with soy sauce, a splash each of rice vinegar and fish sauce, salt, pepper and/or chili sauce. Serves 3–4.
FRESH BANH PHO (Vietnamese rice noodles)
Buy: Sincere Orient Food Co., $1.29, refrigerated
Seen in: Vietnamese pho, a broth-based soup served with noodles and meat
Recipe: Easy pho ga (chicken pho)
Cook noodles in boiling chicken broth for a few minutes, then transfer noodles to bowls. Add raw, very thinly sliced chicken (meat will cook in broth) and garnish with bean sprouts, Thai basil, sliced jalapeños and onions, Sriracha chili sauce, lime wedges and hoisin sauce. Serves 3–4.
FRESH RAMEN (Japanese egg noodles)
Buy: Sun Noodle, $3.99 for two-pack, refrigerated (also available frozen)
Seen in: Japanese ramen, stir-fries
Recipe: Ramen with homemade pork neck broth
Cook 2 packages of noodles according to package directions with the flavor packets, then add sliced cooked pork, half a hard-cooked egg (with a soft center, preferably), sliced scallions and cooked greens, plus soy sauce, shichimi togarashi (a zesty seven-spice seasoning blend common to Japanese tables), sesame oil and/or miso for flavoring to taste. Serves 4. For a pork-neck broth recipe that yields pulled pork for topping ramen, click here.
PANCIT BIHON (rice stick noodles)
Buy: Excellent, $1.59, dry
Seen in: Vietnamese banh hoi—they’re the noodles used inside fresh spring rolls
Recipe: Filipino pancit bihon
For this lemony take on stir-fry, pour boiling water over the noodles in a bowl, let soften 10 minutes, then drain. Sauté chopped onion, carrots and garlic in canola oil until soft. Add thinly sliced raw chicken and bell pepper or cabbage. Add chicken broth to cover, simmer until cooked through. Add soy sauce and noodles, salt and pepper, and cook until noodles absorb half of broth. Serve with lemon wedges. Serves 4.
CHOW MEIN (Chinese egg noodles)
Buy: Wan Hua Foods, $1.99, refrigerated
Seen in: Chinese-style pan-fried noodles, lo mein and chop suey
Recipe: Pork chow mein
Stir-fry thinly sliced cabbage, celery, onions and grated carrots in vegetable oil and set aside. Add more oil, then stir-fry thinly sliced pork (from the store’s “hot pot” section) with finely minced ginger and garlic. Set aside. Place noodles in the pan, add chicken broth to cover halfway and cook until the pan is dry. Return vegetables and pork to the pan, season to taste with oyster sauce, soy sauce, a pinch of sugar and a splash of Shaoxing rice wine. Serves 4.
SAIFUN (bean thread noodles)
Buy: L&W, $2.99, dry
Seen in: Chinese and Southeast Asian stir-fries
Recipe: Warm Korean-inspired beef noodle bowl with shiitake mushrooms
Pour boiling water over the noodles in a bowl, let soften 10 minutes, then drain. While noodles cook, sauté raw, very thinly sliced rib-eye steak and shiitake mushrooms in vegetable oil with lots of chopped garlic and ginger. Stir in a large handful of spinach until wilted. Add sauce made with equal parts soy sauce and sesame oil, season with chili paste. Serve over noodles with sesame seeds and chopped scallions. Serves 2–3. For the full recipe, click here.
SOBA (Japanese buckwheat noodles)
Buy: Hakubaku (organic), $3.39, dry
Seen in: Kake soba, served in warm broth with condiments, or mori soba, served cold on a bamboo lattice with dipping broth
Recipe: Cold sesame noodles for kids (and grown-ups!)
Cook noodles according to package instructions, rinsing with cold water as directed. Dress with equal parts soy sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar (stop there for picky kids), plus grated fresh ginger, minced garlic and chili oil, if desired. Serve plain or top with scallions, toasted sesame seeds and grilled tofu or chicken. Serves 4.
HONG KONG SHRIMP NOODLES
Buy: Noodle House, $1.79 and $2.79, dry
Seen in: Hong Kong–style wonton soup. These wheat-based noodles have tiny flecks of shrimp roe, hence the name (and flavor)
Recipe: Quick Hong Kong–style shrimp wonton noodle soup
Simmer 4 bundles of noodles in seafood or shrimp broth until the noodle bundles break apart naturally, about 3 minutes. Add frozen shrimp wontons or dumplings, cook 3 minutes more. Serve with sliced scallions. Serves 4.
UDON (Japanese wheat noodles)
Buy: Shirakiku “Sanukiya” frozen five-pack, $5.59 (also available fresh)
Seen in: Japanese udon soup or stir-fries
Recipe: Quick shrimp udon soup for one
Cook a package of noodles according to directions, using the flavor packet, and drop a handful of raw shrimp and vegetables in with the noodles. Garnish with scallions and fish cake; season with shichimi togarashi. Serves 1.