Noodles often take the place of rice in a meal but as the Japanese appetite for rice is so strong, some restaurants serve noodle-rice combination meals.
Traditional Japanese noodles are often served chilled, especially in summer, with a dipping sauce of wasabi, scallions and grated ginger, or hot in stir fries, salads or in a soy-dashi broth with toppings chosen to reflect the seasons and balance other ingredients.
Common toppings include tempura, often shrimp, abura-age (seasoned deep-fried tofu), kamaboko (fish cake) with shichimi (spice mix) and beni shoga (red pickled ginger) added to taste.Japanese noodles, menrui dishes, come in a great variety of shapes and sizes. There are various traditional, highly popular Japanese and introduced ‘Japanised’ noodle dishes in Japan but primarily there are four types readily available in supermarkets, health food shops and Asian stores.
Noodles are cooked in plenty of boiling water or they will not cook evenly and will have a starchy taste. Keep the water gently boiling and when the noodles first go in the pot stir gently to separate. Most importantly, be careful not to overcook. Just like pasta, drain the noodles when still just a little chewy. A little oil could be tossed through the noodles to stop them sticking.
Unlike Western culture, and even though all other Japanese food should be consumed in silence, it is customary to make a loud sucking sound when eating noodles or drinking green tea. One of the reasons is to show appreciation, the other is the cool air sucked in allows us to eat the noodles steaming hot but interestingly, even cold noodles are consumed just as noisily. It has been suggested that this is because menrui was originally a definitely low class food and the lower classes are noisy, so even in elegant restaurants, it is consumed in its original, highly audible manner!
The Japanese way of eating the solid food from a soup bowl is with chopsticks, then drinking the liquid directly from the bowl. Practical and simple, holding the bowl near the chin to catch any drips.