Everyone loves a good bowl of ramen. The rich soup and delicious toppings create a dish can take you to another world. What if I told you that there’s another noodle dish from Japan that can give you the same comforting feeling ramen does.
Hailing from Kuroishi City in Aomori Prefecture, Tsuyu Yakisoba is a rather unique take on yakisoba that can be enjoyed at any time of the year.
For those of you that don’t know, yakisoba is a classic Japanese fried noodle dish. Noodles are fried with meat (typically pork) and vegetables (such as onion and cabbage), and seasoned with a sweetish, tangy sauce (flavoured by Worcestershire sauce, among other ingredients).
Now, some of you may be wondering what yakisoba has to do with ramen. Tsuyu Yakisoba first appeared on menus around late 50s to early 60s. There are a few different origin stories floating around, such as that the dish started as cold soba noodles were placed in hot tsuyu (soup) to make a more filling meal. Whatever the origins are, the dish eventually morphed into the charming dish it is today. Tsuyu Yakisoba is yakisoba in tsuyu (soup). Yep that’s right, noodles in soup. Just like ramen.
So, what makes it different?
The biggest difference between tsuyu yakisoba and Ramen comes from the noodles itself. Kuroishi Yakisoba is made with noodles that are much fatter than traditional yakisoba or ramen noodles. But it’s not the size of the noodles that makes the dish distinct from ramen, it’s the taste. Simply put, tsuyu yakisoba is fried noodles that have been added to a soup, versus ramen being a noodle soup. Ramen’s flavours typically come from the complex soup bases and its toppings. Ramen’s noodles, while they do contribute to a significant part of the experience, serve as more of a blank state, a platform to enjoy the other flavours of the dish.
The noodles in tsuyu yakisoba are different. Having been fried prior to being added to the soup, the noodles captures the flavour of yakisoba itself. The flavours of the sauce, meat and vegetable, along with the slight fried char coat the noodle. The yakisoba’s sauce and ingredients slowly and gently blend together with the soup, with the dish changing as you eat. The soup enhances the noodles, and the noodles enhance the soup. The noodles don’t suffer from being in the soup either. Though already cooked, they maintain a firm, yet easily chewable texture. If one was to compare tsuyu yakisoba to ramen, the experience is as if the fried noodles are both the noodles and the topping at the same time.
Tsuyu yakisoba has a lot of variation in what you can get, too. Similar to ramen, there is no set standard for the dish. Each restaurant offers their own interpretation of the dish. Some restaurants even use a ramen soup base for their offering. Toppings also differ from shop to shop. The tsuyu yakisoba in this article is topped with tenkasu (lovely crunchy bits of deep fried tempura batter), and spring onions. Depending on where you go, you can even find tsuyu yakisoba topped with an egg or other tempura-battered goodies like prawns and vegetables.
Tsuyu yakisoba can easily be put into the category of a comfort food. Like ramen it has a depth to its flavours, but its depth comes from different aspects. It’s the kind of dish you’d catch yourself craving on a cold winter’s day.