Simply delicious — The Asian noodles Americans are crushing on

Noodles — whether they’re straight or squiggly, thick or thin, served chilled or in a steaming hot broth — Americans are crazy for them.

For years, noodles simply meant pasta to most people in the U.S. But lately, our growing love affair with Asian cuisine has delivered a new slate of trendy, crave-able noodles.

Americans’ appetite for noodles is substantial — to the tune of 5.95 billion pounds of them consumed each year, according to Grandview Research. The report predicted a market growth rate of nearly 4% per year through 2030.

From the intriguing springiness of ramen noodles to the delicateness of rice vermicelli, the satisfying chew of udon, and the playful appeal of squiggly knife-cut noodles, Asian noodles offer a vast range of distinct textures and flavors. Their stories reveal the secrets of their burgeoning popularity and illustrate the diverse influences shaping America’s food scene.

Tracing the noodle revolution

Much of the modern noodle mania can be traced to Momofuku Ando, the man who invented the world’s first instant noodles in 1958. His instant chicken ramen was an immediate hit with customers who were dazzled by the magic of a tasty and nutritious meal that could be prepared in two minutes.

First celebrated as a satisfying and affordable meal, instant ramen was embraced by college students and budget-conscious families alike. Then, in 2004, David Chang opened NYC’s Momofuku Noodle Bar, elevating ramen to previously unimagined gastronomic heights.

Like most trends, the growing appreciation of ramen and other Asian noodles is being driven in large part by young adults, people in their 20s and 30s who have a bit more spending power than they did in college but are still watching their food budgets.

“They wind up eating more upscale versions of the foods they ate in college like pizza and ramen,” Chef Noah Michaels told Symrise at their recent Ramen Invitational. Increasingly fast-paced lives, rising food costs and increased availability of Asian products are also driving the trend.

Diverse Asian noodles

Twenty years after David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar helped change ramen’s image from a affordable fast food to a trendy food phenomenon, influencers have taken to social media to show off their favorites and inspire home cooks. One trend, dubbed TikTok Ramen, has them upgrading instant noodles by adding their own sauces and toppings. Using pantry staples like soy sauce and garlic, the final dish is a piping-hot plate of springy, chewy noodles in a savory sauce, reminiscent of Japanese mazemen or Indonesian mi goreng.

And it’s not just super-simple TikTok recipes that home cooks are experimenting with. Rice stick noodle recipes, for example, are increasingly popular.

Hokkien noodles are another example of a versatile and delicious dish that’s having a social media moment. Similar to Chinese chow mein or Filipino pancit bihon, it’s a stir-fry of thin egg noodles fried with meat or seafood and vegetables in an umami-rich sauce. It can be prepared in under 30 minutes and in just one pan, which makes it a perfect option for home cooks.

Versatile soba noodles are made from naturally gluten-free buckwheat, a superfood that Whole Foods recently predicted will be one of the top 10 food trends of 2024. Eaten hot or cold, soba noodles are a delicious way to enjoy the many health benefits of buckwheat.

Spotlight on knife-cut noodles

If you think making noodles is as simple as mixing flour and water, you technically wouldn’t be wrong. But, as the recent meteoric rise of squiggly noodles illustrates, some noodles are far more than the sum of their ingredients. Knife-cut noodles, or “dao xiao mian,” have surged in popularity since Trader Joe’s began selling a quick-cooking, air-dried version. (The style of noodles isn’t new — A-Sha Foods has been selling a version of them in the U.S. since the 1990s — but once they hit TJ’s shelves, the internet was all over them.)

These popular noodles are made using a mechanical process, but they’re meant to be eaten like the traditional Shanxi-style, knife-cut noodles that are painstakingly made by hand. Trader Joe’s Squiggly Knife Cut Style Noodles, as well as a Momofuku-branded version made by A-Sha, are quick to cook, and they come with their own convenient and easily upgradeable packet of sauce.

Robin Donovan is the author of more than 40 cookbooks, including the bestselling “Campfire Cuisine,” “Ramen Obsession,” and “Ramen for Beginners.”

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