The ramen craze of the past few years has certainly accomplished a lot. Not only has this shown America that ramen is much more than brittle stuff with a bundle of spices in a Styrofoam cup (or plastic wrapped noodle blocks that look like Justin Timberlake’s’ 90s hair) , he also opened up a corner of Japanese gastronomy that was hardly known on these shores before.
And for every regrettable gimmick that has come out of the ramen wave (ramen burgers, ramnuts), there have been dozens of talented chefs who have taken the notion of the perfect bowl a step further.
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That being said, we’ve definitely hit ramen peak. It’s impossible to throw a rock in any moderately hip neighborhood of a moderately hip city and not land it in a puddle of tonkotsu broth. The Chowhound community has even gone so far as to question whether the craze it was all a big hype.
But just because the ramen juggernaut has run its course doesn’t mean there’s no land to plow. Japan is home to a surplus of excellent noodle dishes that are not ramen. Between soba, udon, somen, and shirataki (the other four main Japanese noodles), there are many iconic traditional recipes as well as more obscure regional specialties that any noodle finisher can explore.
A Japanese noodle revolution doesn’t have to stop on the island nation’s shores, either. After all, noodles are just starch; they can easily take on a whole range of flavors. To lead the charge, here are nine Japanese noodle recipes that lie in a league beyond ramen, from super traditional to shattering borders.
Soba, which is made from nutrient-dense buckwheat, first established itself in the United States as a healthy option for macrobiotic diets. To some extent, he still hasn’t lost that health-conscious reputation. It’s not that this is a bad thing: this intake enriched with miso with a full serving of vegetables makes a healthy diet look good. Get our Soba noodle recipe with chard and miso pesto.
Tonkotsu ramen gets by with its flashy excess, with a rich fatty broth and lots of pork. Traditional soba, on the other hand, is all about mystery and restraint. Usually served with tsuyu, a soy sauce based broth and just a handful of simple toppings, it might seem stoic at first. But it rewards with lots of earthy, deep flavors that come in waves. Since it’s served cold, it’s a perfect summer option. Get the Recipe by Zaru Soba.
Udon are thick, bouncy and chewy noodles made from wheat. They are perhaps the most fun to swallow. Simply put them in a hot soup, like this one with white miso, add a few veggies on top, and get ready for some rippling action. Get our Nappa cabbage and udon miso soup recipe.
Another refreshing cold dish, tanuki udon is topped with puffy tempura crumbs. That’s right, these are noodles topped with crispy, crispy fried stuff. Now imagine how awesome it would be if all the fried leftovers in the world were reused as noodle toppings. Nice genius, eh? Get the Tanuki Udon recipe.
Kitsune udon is topped with squares of fried tofu, which have a spongy texture that may turn off some. But they also have a sweet and salty side which can get quite addicting. The name of the dish literally translates to “fox udon” – legend has it that pieces of tofu are the animal’s favorite food. Get the Kitsune Udon recipe.
Somen are thin, wispy wheat noodles, practically shrinking violets alongside the big, bouncy weight of udon. Because they are so delicate, they go particularly well with light, summery dishes, like this cold noodle dish with radishes and peas with a fine broth. Get the Sōmen Snow Pea and Radish Noodle Recipe.
OK, so technically yakisoba is made from ramen noodles. But it’s decidedly a ramen dish without ramen, with dry, pan-fried noodles that suck in the flavors of their salty-sweet seasoning. If you’re after the heady heart of Japanese comfort food, this is where you start. Get the yakisoba recipe.