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Japanese ramen noodles, udon and soba. What is the difference?

Japanese ramen noodles, udon and soba. What is the difference?

Widely popular ramen bowls, udon, soba are a staple of the Japanese diet and while nowadays the entire world enjoys this delectable trio of Japanese noodle meals not many people know what is the difference between each of them. We simplify it for you! 

 A brief history of Japanese Noodles

japanese ramen bowl noodles

Ramen (ラーメン) noodles

While being a staple dish in modern Japan, ramen actually has Chinese origins. There are many different ramen recipes thanks to the fusion of tradition and cuisine. Wheat noodles of the Chinese variety, like those seen in many Asian restaurants nowadays, are used to make ramen. In the middle of the 19th century, when Japan began to welcome merchants and tourists from all over the world, there was a cultural exchange between China and Japan. Chinese noodle soup rose to prominence at the time due to its hearty flavor, nutritional content, and affordable pricing. Many street vendors began serving ramen after the Japanese adaptation of Chinese recipes swiftly gained popularity, with other variants emerging.


Japanese ramen udon noodles

Udon (うどん) noodles

Its precise origin is uncertain, although the earliest theory—among many—posits that it originated in China around the year 700. During the 1600s Edo era, it attained widespread public acclaim.  Around 124 AD, a monk reportedly transported wheat milling technology from China to Japan. Udon noodles, which were the ideal diet for the inhabitants at the time, could therefore be produced thanks to this. Udon became a very straightforward noodle throughout all of Japan as the milling industry slowly spread across the nation.



japanese soba

Soba (そば) noodles

The practice of consuming soba dates back to the Tokugawa period, commonly known as the Edo period, which lasted from 1603 to 1868.

Similar to udon, soba is thought to have originated in China in the 700s but did not become well-known until the 1700s.  Buddhist monks who traveled for extended periods of time in meditation to study in China consumed soba while on their long treks. When they returned to Japan, the locals there made noodles out of it. 

Anatomy of the noodles 

ramen noodles 


Ramen noodles are manufactured from wheat flour, water, and salt, just as udon. However, ramen noodles have a component that udon (or soba) do not. This is kansui, or mineral water with an alkaline pH. Ramen noodles get more bounce and flexibility with kansui.  

While Udon noodles are thicker than soba noodles for the most part, ramen can be either. They are typically white or yellow in hue as well. Addition of eggs can provide the yellow color.

Most popular types of ramen

Tonkotsu ramen

Tonkotsu ramen comes from modern-day Fukuoka and is produced by boiling pork bones for hours to give the tonkotsu broth a creamy, hazy appearance. Tonkotsu ramen is popular in Tokyo's Asakusa neighborhood.

Miso ramen

Miso ramen hails from the Hokkaido island of Sapporo, where it gets its name from the primary component. This soup looks opaque and tastes robust and flavorful. There are many distinct kinds of miso paste as well, including white miso, red miso, barley miso, and soybean miso.

 Shoyu Ramen

The Japanese word for soy sauce is shoyu, and this particular sort of noodle dish was the precursor to ramen and is still popular today. There are numerous variations of shoyu ramen, however they all have a similar flavor.

Shio Ramen

Shio is Japanese for salt, and this kind of ramen is typically light and translucent. It is frequently created by simmering chicken bones, and ingredients like dried sardines, dashi stock, and bonito flakes are used to flavor it.


These substantial, thick ramen noodles are cooked, dropped into a bowl of tare ramen broth, and then served. As you dip the noodles, the rich soup coats each one with delectable wetness. Tsukemen soup comes in a wide range of flavors, from shellfish to salty pork broth.


udon noodles


This thicker and chewier noodle characterizes for its bright and in color and shine, are produced with wheat flour, not buckwheat flour. Udon noodles are moreover more slippery and thick in general than soba. They also have extra bounce because salt is added during preparation. 

Udon noodles don't have the same unique earthy flavor as soba noodles they are more of a neutral option.

 Types of Udon

Zara udon
They are frequently served with the dipping sauce tsuyu in a bamboo basket called a Zaru. To add taste, condiments can be added to the tsuyu and dip the noodles as you enjoy them.

Bukkake udon
Pour some soy sauce over the noodles once they have been boiled and strained. Depending on the individual, toppings can change.

Kake udon
The most straightforward variety of udon is kake. Udon noodles that have just been freshly boiled and are placed in a bowl with hot soup stock. In the Kanto region, it's exclusively served with green onions on top; however, in the Kansai region, it's frequently served with a variety of toppings and is referred to as "su udon." With the understanding that you will drink the tsuyu after you have finished the noodles, it is lightly seasoned and on the lighter side. A long wooden spoon is typically included to make the soup easier to consume.

Kitsune udon
Japanese noodle soup with pink-swirl narutomaki fish cake, scallions, and seasoned fried tofu is called kitsune udon. One of the most famous and traditional Japanese noodle dishes is this substantial udon soup.

Curry udon
Cooked in a curry broth that may include meat or vegetables as main ingredient, It is flavored with a hot spices. There are sweet and mild versions too, being the sweet version a favorite among Japanese children. 


soba noodles

Soba Noodles 

Japanese soba is a type of noodle made from buckwheat flour, water, and, occasionally, a little amount of whole wheat flour to prevent the noodles from wilting. Hand-making soba is a remarkably difficult procedure that craftspeople spend years learning. Although the tastiest soba is produced in small batches and sold fresh, In Japan you can easily find soba for your weekday meals at the grocery store.

Types of soba

Soba Zaru
This is a straightforward dish made out of chilled soba noodles and a cool tsuyu dipping sauce. The dish's name comes from the traditional "zaru" basket that holds the noodles when it is served. The majority of zaru soba is made using dried soba that has been boiled and drained, but "te-uchi soba," or fresh soba noodles, are also a delectable delicacy. The tsuyu dipping sauce is produced from soy sauce and dashi (a type of Japanese fish broth), and it can be topped with ingredients like thinly sliced spring onions, daikon radish, and freshly grated wasabi. 

Kake Soba
The simplest method of eating soba noodles in a hot meal is called kake soba. It is prepared with soba noodles that have been boiled, drained, and then covered with a hot broth made with soy sauce, sweet mirin rice wine, and dashi. Since "kake" means "to pour over" in Japanese, the dish's name derives from this broth. Despite the dish's moderate flavor, it can be enhanced by adding shichimi pepper and spring onion slices. Also possible is a piece of kameboko fish cake.

Tempura soba
Japanese soba and tempura are combined in a dish called tensoba, which can be eaten hot or cold. Soba noodles are used in the hot version of this meal, which is served with tempura bits of fish and vegetables on top of a mild dashi and soy sauce broth. Both a pricey version called "ebi-ten" made with shrimp tempura and a more affordable version made with kakiage tempura—a variety of seafood and vegetables deep-fried into the shape of a bird's nest—were available during the Edo period.

Kitsune soba
Soba noodles served hot or cold with a thin sheet of aburaage (fried tofu) on top are known as kitsune soba. The dish is offered throughout Japan, but is known as "tanuki soba" in the Osaka region. It's interesting to note that in the Kanto region, the term "tanuki soba" refers to a separate meal of hot or cold soba noodles topped with crispy pieces of fried tempura batter called "tenkasu." In Osaka, request "haikara soba" if you want tenkasu-topped soba.

Tsukimi soba
Tsukimi soba is a dish of Japanese soba topped with a raw egg that becomes poached when a hot broth is poured over. The name “tsukimi” refers to any egg dish with the yolk served intact, as the egg yolk is said to look like the moon (called “tsuki” in Japanese). Tsukimi dishes are popular to eat during the autumn, when there are many tsukimi (moon-watching) festivals.

Whether is ramen, udon or soba, don’t miss one of Japan culinary jewels and enjoy one of the tastier and most affordable dish in the world. And don’t forget to slurp as you eat them!

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