We’ve always depended on noodles for a cheap, fast meal, and with the economy on the skids, we’ve never needed them as much as we need them now.
Luckily, there are more types to choose from in New York than ever before. The recent flood of Chinese immigrants, popularization of regional Italian fare, glamorization of Japanese cuisine, and introduction of new noodles from Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Tibet, and Peru have enlivened our pasta-scape in profound ways. These days, you can find noodles made from wheat, whole wheat, buckwheat, chestnuts, corn, rice, mung beans, sweet potatoes, and even breadcrumbs.
In fact, with their infinite variety and rib-sticking munificence, noodles are the new steak in an era of economic indigestion. Now that Dr. Atkins has been discredited by nutritionists, we realize that a pasta meal—whether a soup, stir-fry, or salad—can be every bit as nutritious (and delicious) as a grease-dripping hunk of meat. With spring in the offing, noodles mean lighter eating, too.
Here’s a catalog of my favorite noodles, arranged alphabetically. It’s not intended to be comprehensive, just tasty and entertaining. A single source is suggested for each type. For reasons of space, we haven’t included dumplings, layered pastas, pastas rolled around fillings, or such hybrid curiosities as pasta pie or Rice-A-Roni. So get out your fork or chopsticks, and dig in!
The Surinamese take on Chinese lo mein came via Indonesia in the 19th century, carried by indentured field hands from Java to what was then Dutch Guiana. Salted palm syrup substitutes for soy sauce, and scallions provide verdant flavor, while boiled eggs and spicy sambal serve as garnish. Warung Kario, 128-12 Liberty Avenue, Richmond Hill, Queens, 718-322-4774
While often served cold in southern Vietnam, this rice vermicelli is also featured with pork pâté and sliced beef in bun bo hue, a tart, fiery soup from the Central Vietnamese city of Hue. World of Taste, 2614 Jerome Avenue, Fordham, the Bronx, 718-584-5228
The word means “noodles,” but, in practice, it refers to coiled angel-hair pasta tossed into soups. One of the most memorable local uses is in a mellow hen soup with lots of root veggies. Casa Adela, 66 Avenue C, East Village, 212-473-1882
These handmade wheat noodles formed into long tendrils may have been the pasta that Marco Polo tasted in Central Asia and took with him back to Italy. Central Asian restaurants drop them into hearty mutton soups. Café Arzu, 101-05 Queens Boulevard, Rego Park, Queens, 718-830-3335
Lanzhou Hand-Pulled Noodles—China
The skein of dough goes thwap, thwap, thwap in the hands of the noodle-master, who extrudes the wheat noodles thinner and longer by repeatedly doubling the dough. They’re attributed to Lanzhou, a city in Gansu on the edge of Inner Mongolia, and served in a spicy beef soup. Super Taste, 26N Eldridge Street, Lower East Side, 212-625-1198
These near-translucent noodles are made from wheat starch without the gluten, rolled into big sheets, and cut irregularly with a knife, like freaked-out fettuccine. A version at Stall #36 (“Xi’an Famous Snacks”) also adds spongy pads of wheat gluten to an oily Sichuan-peppercorn gravy. Golden Shopping Mall, 41-28 Main Street, Flushing, Queens, no phone
Here are the wheat noodles that started it all: stir-fried with soy sauce and shot with vegetables in the Cantonese fashion, or served with a trickle of broth in the newer Hong Kong variety. Hong Wong Restaurant, 300 Grand Street, Lower East Side, 212-925-1662
Mac and Cheese—United States
Known as “macaroni pie” throughout the Caribbean, mac and cheese is 19th-century fusion food par excellence, featuring English-style cheese and Italian elbow macaroni. The best evocations are often found at soul food spots. Mitchell’s Soul Food, 617 Vanderbilt Avenue, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, 718-789-3212
It’s no secret that southern Italians prefer dried pasta to fresh, and maccheroni is a catch-all term for dried pasta that may be tubular, like ziti, or elongated, like spaghetti. Baked ziti in the Sicilian style, with eggplant and cheese, is a favorite of mine. Frost Restaurant, 193 Frost Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-389-7190
Introduced into Southeast Asia by the Dutch, mie are ribbon-like egg noodles of the kind common throughout northern Europe. But how differently deployed! Indonesians feature them in a series of sweet and aromatic soups, with tidbits of chicken, wontons, fish balls, beef balls, and other formidable inclusions. Mie Jakarta, 86-20 Whitney Avenue, Elmhurst, Queens, 718-606-8025
These translucent vermicelli noodles are made from the strange combo of buckwheat and sweet-potato starch, and are incorporated into a cold noodle salad with chili paste and raw fish. NY Kom Tang Soot Bul Kal Bi, 32 West 32nd Street, Manhattan, 212-947-8482
Pad Woon Sen—Thailand
The noodles—called “woon sen” in Thailand, “fen si” in China, “sotanghon” in the Philippines, and “su un” in Indonesia—are slender, transparent threads of mung bean starch deployed in stir-fries and soups. Thai Market, 960 Amsterdam Avenue, Upper West Side, 212-280-4575
The name commonly means slender rice noodles stir-fried with shrimp or pork and flavored with fish sauce. Many other types of noodles are available in the Philippines, and “pancit” refers to any of them. Sandra’s Kitchenette, 3910 Fourth Avenue, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, 347-529-6683
Sometimes known as knife noodles, peel noodles are rare in town. They’re made by taking a cylinder of wheat dough and turning out oblong swatches by flicking the knife away from you as if whittling a branch. Best in stir-fries with scallions and egg. Sheng Wang, 27 Eldridge Street, Lower East Side, 212-925-0805
Nothing better on a cold day than a steaming bowl of pho, a very rich broth into which are deposited slender rice noodles called banh pho, as well as thin-sliced beef in its many evocations, from rubbery tendon to pink sirloin. Pho was partially inspired by French pot-au-feu. Pho Grand, 227C Grand Street, Lower East Side, 212-965-5366
These wheat-flour noodles were imported from China late in the 19th century, and the Japanese term is a mispronunciation of Cantonese “lo mein.” In recent times, this has become the identifying noodle for Japanese cuisine in New York, engendering ramen wars downtown. Momofuku, 171 First Avenue, East Village, 212-475-7899
Saimin are soft wheat noodles thrown into a broth based on Japanese dashi, along with fish cake, barbecued pork, and Spam. And if you haven’t had Spam in a while, this is your perfect chance to get reacquainted—you may be eating a lot more of it soon. L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, 64 Fulton Street, Manhattan, 212-577-8888
Who’d have imagined that the Germans dreamt up the most anarchistic of noodles? In its most popular form, spaetzle are squiggles of egg-noodle dough dropped into boiling water. Zum Schneider, 107 Avenue C, East Village, 212-598-1098
These fresh pasta ribbons, made from wheat flour enriched with egg, were said to have been invented by a Bolognese chef in 1487, inspired by the golden tresses of Lucrezia Borgia. Served with a rich meat sauce, the dish is known locally as tagliatelle al ragu, a pasta-sauce combo popularized throughout the world as fettuccine Bolognese. Malatesta Trattoria, 649 Washington Street, West Village, 212-741-1207
Brought by Chinese immigrants to South America in the early 20th century, tallarin is lo mein goosed up for Peruvian tastes. That usually means vegetables, beef, and soy sauce stir-fried with Italian spaghetti. Pio Pio Riko, 996 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, 718-349-5925
These flat, freshly made wheat noodles resemble planaria and are surprisingly firm to the touch. They’re used in the stew of the same name, which features chicken or pork and plenty of green herbs like cilantro and scallions. Mustang Thakali Kitchen, 74-14 37th Avenue, Jackson Heights, Queens, 718-898-5088
Udon—white, wormlike wheat noodles with a bouncy texture—are the orphan noodles of Japan, with none of the hip cachet of ramen or soba. Which makes them perfect for a cheap, carefree meal, tossed in plain broth with tempura shrimp, pork cutlet, fish cake, and veggies. Udon West, 150 East 46th Street, Manhattan, 212-922-9677
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 18, 2009
More:ArzuCasa AdelaEast AsiaFood NewsFrostGolden Shopping MallHong WongJapanKom Tang Soot Bul HouseL&L Hawaiian BarbecueMalatesta TrattoriaMitchell Soul FoodMomofuku Noodle BarMustang Thakali KitchenPho GrandPio Pio RikoSheng WangSoutheast AsiaSuper TasteUdon WestVietnamWarung KarioWorld of TasteZum Schneider