What Is Yakisoba?

Everyone loves ramen. It’s hard to beat a big bowl of udon. Dipping and slurping soba noodles is super satisfying. But there’s another noodle on the block that deserves its place among the elite. Of course, I’m referring to yakisoba. Too often, yakisoba can get left behind in noodle conversation. People will include it in the soba category or say that it’s just ramen noodles. But yakisoba is its own thing! So, what are yakisoba noodles? What’s the difference in the case of yakisoba vs udon? Who would win in a fight, udon vs yakisoba? Let’s yak about some yakisoba!

What is yakisoba?

Yakisoba is a Japanese stir-fried noodle dish believed to come from Asakusa, a district in Tokyo, originating around the 1930s. The popular street food consists of a special noodle, a thick, sweet, and savory yakisoba sauce, vegetables like cabbage, carrots, onions, and bean sprouts, and usually meat or seafood. It’s a favorite in the U.S. at teppanyaki restaurants like Benihana and those Japanese mall food court restaurants. On the surface, it sounds like any other noodle, protein, and veg dish. So, what sets it apart? Good yakisoba starts with its noodles and its sauce.

What are yakisoba noodles?

Yakisoba noodles are called mushi chukamen. Yakisoba has the word “soba” in its name. So a lot of people assume the dish is made with soba noodles. Those people are wrong. A traditional soba noodle is mostly made of buckwheat with a little wheat flour mixed in. The noodles in yakisoba are not buckwheat. So, what are yakisoba noodles made of? They are steamed Chinese-style noodles made with wheat flour, kansui (an alkaline solution), and water. 

Udon vs yakisoba: what’s the difference?

Yakisoba noodles are very different from udon, so it’s hard to do a straight up udon vs yakisoba comparison. Udon noodles are thick, soft, and made of wheat flour, water, and salt. Yakisoba noodles look yellow and springy so they are sometimes thought to be egg noodles or even ramen. But nope, yakisoba noodles are their own thing. 

What is yakisoba sauce?

Japan has a history of borrowing food from different cultures. Tempura was introduced by the Portuguese. Ramen is made with a Chinese-style noodle. And yakisoba sauce is considered a British-style sauce. But while some of the sauce’s ingredients (like Worcestershire sauce and ketchup) sound a little British, the end result is a distinctly sweet and savory Japanese flavor. 

Yakisoba sauce generally consists of Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, ketchup, soy sauce, and sugar. If you want to go the vegetarian route, you can use a vegetarian stir-fry sauce in place of Worcestershire and oyster sauce. If there’s no yakisoba shops around you or you’re just too cheap to go out to eat, you can make your own yakisoba at home. The sauce is pretty easy to make or you can buy it bottled. And many Japanese specialty markets carry yakisoba noodles. But look for them packaged in the refrigerated section, not with the other dry noodles.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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