Types of Noodles for Chinese Dishes

Specialty noodles such as bean threads and rice sticks are described in detail, and for these there are no substitutes. Egg noodles, which are common in the West and are used in the majority of recipes in this chapter, raise more specific questions as to type and shape.

I vastly prefer fresh Chinese egg noodles to the dried Chinese variety. I will buy them fresh or frozen, preferring to get them fresh though I will store what I cannot use in the freezer if need be. Of the many widths available, I like best those that are exactly 1/16 inch thin before cooking. The yet thinner ones are a bit too delicate for a cold or pan-fried noodle dish (though they are superb in soup), while the thicker ones tend to overshadow the sauce and the trimmings. When buying fresh Chinese noodles, I make it a point to inspect them if I can through the wrapper and to feel their texture. They should not appear glued together in clumps and they should feel supple. Otherwise, the too-moist strands will not come apart in cooking or the too-brittle noodles will break up into bits. Frozen Chinese egg noodles should be thoroughly defrosted before cooking, sealed airtight in the bag in which they came against drying. Just before cooking, fluff in a colander and discard any wadded bits that do not separate into strands.

If fresh or frozen Chinese egg noodles are unavailable, fresh Italian egg noodles of a suitable thinness make a perfect substitute. Tonnarelli and spaghettini are often the names given 1/16-inch thin egg noodles. Do not get hair-thin cappellini, which will clump together in a wad in a Chinese dish.

When I do not have access to fresh egg noodles, I look for a Spanish or Italian variety of appropriately thin egg noodle called fideos or fidellini, available in supermarkets. In my experience, they are better-tasting than the Chinese dried varieties.

Japanese soba, or buckwheat noodles, I find to be too heavy to a Chinese taste. Moreover, their otherwise excellent, pronounced flavor overwhelms a Chinese sauce.