This list is just the tip of all the different kinds of Asian noodles on the market. The ones listed are often the easiest to find at the local grocery store and can be used in many ways (outside of the traditional uses). Some Asian noodles are gluten-free but most are made from wheat flour. Many can be made at home (recipes linked below) but I keep most on hand as dry-goods to assemble quick meals.
When one thinks ramen, it's easy to be transported back to the college days of quick meals and instant noodles. Of course, we're not talking about those packets of instant ramen. Instead it's all about fresh or dried noodles made from three simple ingredients: wheat flour, water, and kansui (or baking soda).
Ramen, the meal, is traditionally meat/fish based but a vegetarian ramen bowl can be just as hearty with a warm miso vegetable broth base. In a pinch, ramen noodles can used in recipes as a substitute for soba and udon.
A great gluten-free option, rice noodles and rice vermicelli are made from rice flour and water with the vermicelli being longer and thinner. Rice noodles are made from both white and brown rice but I prefer brown rice versions.
I like to use both types of rice noodles in fresh summer rolls, noodle salads, or homemade pad thai. The rice noodles soak up sauce and flavor- perfect for all kinds of (gluten-free) meals. Rice noodles work in both hot and cold dishes. Just be sure to watch how long you soak/cook them- these noodles turn soft rather quickly.
While I love using all types of Asian noodles, I find cooking with soba to be the most fun. Soba noodles are traditionally made with buckwheat flour (soba is Japanese for buckwheat). However, most dried soba noodles in the markets are cut with wheat flour. If you are looking for strict gluten-free noodles, try making your own or selecting from brands made with 100% buckwheat flour.
Soba noodles have a stronger flavor than some of the other noodles which can add a warm earthy layer to your recipe. Soba noodles can be used hot or cold- perfect for a good noodle soup or a noodle bowl packed for lunch.
Somen noodles are another wheat based Asian noodle but can easily be distinguished by the thickness, or lack thereof, as the noodle is quite thin. Somen has a mild flavor, like most of the other wheat noodles, so a good flavorful sauce is key. I'll often cook up somen noodles for a fast lunch with stir-fried vegetables and tamari (or soy sauce).
These noodles are traditionally served cold for a light, refreshing dish during hot summer months. However, I take the non-traditional route and eat somen throughout the year. If you're having trouble finding somen noodles, thin spaghetti works in a pinch.
Udon are another type of wheat noodle and one of the easiest Asian noodles to work with. Traditionally used in a hot soup, udon can also be used cold (usually by season). Udon noodles are thick (much thicker than somen). These noodles are best fresh but I often use dried udon noodles. If you're looking for fresh udon, check your local Asian market.
Udon noodles have a mild wheat flavor which makes them great as a canvas for more powerful flavors. I like to used udon noodles as a base for stir fries, lunch bowls, or even as a quick meal with raw vegetables and a bit of sauce.