The other day I asked a friend who had recently come back from many years living in Hong Kong what they most missed about their life there. "Hole-in-the-wall noodle bars," came the speedy reply. "When you've had a big night out drinking or been working really late, no matter the hour there's always a tiny noodle shop open and ready to cook you up a big plate of noodles. I miss that taste, it's just so good."
He got me there. I started thinking about being in Kuala Lumpur and discovering the beloved Malay dish of char kway teow noodles - a smoky, slightly greasy noodle dish that's utterly addictive. I've never been able to recreate these noodles at home as my wok just doesn't get hot enough but, luckily, there are a million other ways to prepare noodles that don't require the ferocious heat of a commercial gas burner.
Toothsome, slurpy and oh-so-comforting, noodles lend their starchy goodness to everything from soups, salads and stir-fries to fillings for spring rolls and fried pastries. They're also delicious mixed into braises and tender stews.
Unlike pasta, most noodles are made without salt, the exception being Chinese wheat noodles, which are salted. There can be a huge variation in cooking time between types of noodles and even brands so it's best to follow the cooking instructions printed on the packet. Dried wheat noodles for example, can take anywhere between one and seven minutes, depending on their thickness. Fresh, uncooked wheat noodles will need between two and five minutes of cooking and pre-cooked vacuum-pack wheat noodles require a brief blanching in boiling water or a soak in a bowl of boiling water for two or three minutes before carefully loosening and draining (if you try and separate them when they are cold they will just break). Fresh rice noodles should also be soaked in boiling water for a few minutes, mung bean vermicelli takes five to 10 minutes to soak. Rice stick noodles take anywhere from 10-20 minutes (or until softened), depending on their thickness, their width and whether they are going to be further cooked after soaking.
Once your soaked rice noodles are tender, take care not to over-soak as they'll fall apart. To halt the softening process, drain into a colander then rinse them under plenty of cold running water. You can do this an hour or two in advance of adding them to a recipe – run them under the tap to loosen and then shake off the excess water before adding to your soup or stir-fry.
Quick to cook, hard to mess up and universally loved, noodles are one of my go-to pantry ingredients. Here are some of my favourite ways to enjoy them.
Singapore Prawn Noodles
These lightly curried fried noodles make a great lunch or quick dinner. The recipe is easily doubled.
Ready in 15 minutes
300g raw shelled prawn tails
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
150g dried egg noodles
2 Tbsp neutral oil
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1½-2 tsp curry powder, or more to taste
2 handfuls snow peas, trimmed
3 spring onions, thinly angle-sliced
½ red pepper, thinly sliced
1½ cups baby corn, halved
½ cup water
2 handfuls bean sprouts
In a small bowl combine prawns, garlic, 1 Tbsp of the soy sauce and ginger. Set aside.
Cook noodles according to packet instructions. Drain and leave in sieve.
Heat oil and fry prawns, carrots and curry powder until prawns turn pink (2-3 minutes). Rinse drained noodles under hot water to loosen, then snip with scissors in three or four places. Add to pan with snow peas, spring onions, pepper slices and baby corn. Add water and the remaining soy sauce. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the snow peas turn bright green. Mix in bean sprouts and serve hot.
Soba Salmon Bowl
Keep a packet of dried soba noodles in the pantry and a bag of shelled edamame beans in the freezer for the speedy assembly of this power food salad next time you pick up some salmon from the fishmonger. You could even use a good-quality can of salmon instead of fresh salmon. Traditionally soba noodles are made entirely with buckwheat flour but many commercial varieties these days use a mix of wheat and buckwheat, so check the label carefully if you need this to be gluten-free.
Ready in 15 minutes
1 cup thinly sliced raw salmon or flaked cooked salmon ( you can even use canned salmon)
¼ cup ginger sesame dressing (see below)
2 radishes, very thinly sliced
1½-2 cups finely shredded red cabbage
1½ cups cooked soba noodles
1 cup shelled edamame, thawed if frozen
3 Tbsp chopped roasted peanuts
1 Tbsp black sesame seeds
Combine salmon with dressing in a large serving bowl and toss to coat. Add all remaining ingredients, reserving a few of the nuts and seeds to garnish and toss to combine. Serve garnished with reserved nuts and seeds.
Ginger Sesame Dressing
You'll only need half of this dressing for the soba salmon bowl, but it keeps in the fridge for a couple of weeks and is great for an Asian salad or stir-fry. The recipe scales up easily.
1 long red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 Tbsp neutral oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp miso
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp black sesame seeds
1 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
Place all ingredients in a small jar and shake to combine. It will keep in the fridge for up to a week.
Chicken Noodle Soup
So nourishing for body and soul, and just the trick for when you have a cold or flu or are in need of some TLC. You can buy crispy shallots at Asian food stores. Don't be tempted to soak or cook your noodles (or any noodles) in the soup or stir-fry you are using them in, as they'll soak up all the liquid and it's really easy to get the timing wrong. If you are adding any type of cooked noodles to a soup, it's best to slightly undercook them before adding. This will prevent them from overcooking once they're in the soup.
Ready in 30 minutes
250g dried wide rice stick noodles
2 spring onions, green and white parts separated and thinly sliced lengthways
8 cups chicken stock
¼ cup coarsely grated or shredded fresh ginger
3 skinless single chicken breasts, very thinly sliced
2 tsp soy sauce, or more to taste
2 tsp fish sauce, or more to taste
2 tsp sesame oil, or more to taste
4-6 heads bok choy, quartered lengthways
1 cup bean sprouts
1 cup coriander leaves
½ cup crispy shallots (optional)
Place noodles in a large bowl, cover with plenty of boiling water and allow to soak for 10-15 minutes until tender.
While noodles are soaking, place white parts of spring onions in a large pot with stock and ginger and bring to a boil. Add chicken, soy sauce, fish sauce and sesame oil, bring back to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Add bok choy and simmer until just wilted (2 minutes). Adjust soy sauce, fish sauce and sesame oil to taste.
Divide drained noodles between six large serving bowls and divide the chicken, vegetables and soup over the top. Top with spring onion greens, bean sprouts, coriander and crispy shallots, if using.
Yvonne Lorkin's drinks matches
(Soba Salmon Bowl)
Butterworth Martinborough Chardonnay 2020 ($48)
Crammed with roast cashew, grilled peach and creamy nougat notes, this refreshing new release from fruit grown on the Te Muna Terraces is dangerously drinkable and will absolutely appeal to chardonnay lovers of all ages and stages. Perfect with the plump, oily salmon and the ginger sesame dressing, it's a rich, toasty triumph. The J-knot on the bottle? That's a nod to both the vineyard's founder, Wim Julicher and the sailing pedigree of new owners, the Butterworth family.
(Singapore Prawn Noodles)
Misty Cove Landmark Series Marlborough Rosé 2021 ($20)
I poured this wine and said to my husband, "When we win Lotto, I want a pink diamond rock on my finger in exactly this shade thanks," to which he mumbled, "Sure" and went back to perving at fishing lures on his phone. I know you're thinking it'd be hard to match that sort of romantic intensity but this rosé is well up to the task. Made from pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay, this dry Mediterranean style roars with raspberry and watermelon and absolutely wins with the niceness of these spicy noodles.
(Chicken Noodle Soup)
Sawmill Brewery Hazy East Coast IPA 330ml ($22 x 6pk)
There's nothing more comforting than a heaving, steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup, right? But why not have a bit of sexytime with your cuddlytime by sipping this saucy, trop-fest of a beer with this broth? It's a super-soothing, passionfruit, papaya and citrus-centric hazy beer that's incredibly juicy and refreshingly lengthy.