Being the largest continent in the world and comprising numerous countries, Asia is incredibly diverse and rich, reflecting thousands of years of cultural exchange, trade, and agricultural practices. Among this region’s many delightful and iconic dishes, Asian noodle soups are an enjoyable culinary adventure.
The first thing that strikes you about Asian noodle soups is their incredible variety. Each country in Asia has its distinct style of noodle soup, with different types of noodles, broths, and toppings. These soups are a hallmark of Asian cuisine and vary in flavors, ingredients, and preparation methods. Let’s embark on a culinary adventure through some of the most popular Asian noodle soups:
1. Ramen (Japan)
Ramen is a famous Japanese noodle soup dish with rich, delicious broth and wheat-based noodles. Shoyu (soy sauce), miso, tonkotsu (pork bone), and shio (salt) are just a few of the various types of ramen.
Among the most popular, Shio ramen is one of the four main types of flavored ramen. It is distinguished by the use of salt as the main seasoning in the broth. Although pork is sometimes added, most versions use a seafood or chicken broth, creating a light, clear soup with a rich, savory flavor.
The broth is usually accompanied by thin, straight noodles and topped with Japanese-style pork belly called chashu, scallions, boiled egg, and wakame seaweed.
Another famous ramen is miso ramen. It is a delicious dish made by cooking miso base, broth, and vegetables in a pan. This dish was invented in 1955 in Sapporo when a customer at the noodle restaurant Aji no Sanpei asked the chef to add noodles to his pork and miso soup. From then on, bean sprouts, ground pork, garlic, sweet corn, and (sometimes) local seafood like crab, scallops, and squid became popular.
Meanwhile, tonkotsu ramen is usually topped with scallions for brightness and vibrancy, bamboo shoots for a nutty crunch, nori seaweed for crunch, and sweet corn for a more savory taste. The rich broth is created by cooking pork bones for a very long time until the collagen and fat dissolve, giving the dish a unique creamy texture.
2. Tom Yum (Thailand)
Tom Yum is a Thai-style spicy and sour soup with shrimp or chicken. It includes ingredients like lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and chili peppers, creating a rich and aromatic broth. Due to its fame, different soup versions evolved, such as tom yum gai, with added chicken version, and tom yum talay, with added mixed seafood. This soup dish is usually served as an appetizer, traditionally garnished with coriander leaves on top.
3. Gamjatang (South Korea)
Gamjatang is a delicious Korean stew made with pork and potatoes as the main ingredients, along with bean paste, chili powder, and garlic that are also simmered in a pot. The dish is usually made with toppings of sesame leaves and served in a rice bowl. Its origin is believed to be in the Incheon area, where construction workers used to cook this soup throughout the day so it would be consumed by the time they were finished working. Traditionally served with soju, this stew is a popular hangover cure in Korea.
4. Laksa (Malaysia and Singapore)
Laksa is a spicy and greasy noodle soup that combines coconut milk with herbs and spices. It has evolved under the influence of different culinary traditions, creating a wide variety of regional dishes that vary in taste and ingredients. There are two main types: laksa lemak, made with coconut-based broth, and asam laksa, which has a tamarind-flavored broth. Both versions are usually served with vermicelli and various accompaniments.
5. Rasam (India)
Rasam is a famous South Indian soup or broth made with tamarind juice and adding ingredients such as pepper, cumin, chili pepper, lemon, lentils, and tomatoes, giving it a pungent and sour taste on the plate. It is a staple in South Indian cuisine and is often served as a part of a traditional meal. Rasam is delicious and has digestive and soothing properties, making it a favorite choice for many.
Originally, rasam was only made with tamarind and black pepper because these ingredients are abundant in southern India. This dish soup is usually served as an appetizer with rice. It is traditionally eaten after the sambar and followed by the main course with curd rice.
6. Sayur Asem (Indonesia)
The name “Sayur Asem” translates to “sour vegetable” in Indonesian, accurately describing the dish’s taste. It gained popularity in Indonesian dishes, specifically from the Sundanese region of West Java. It’s a sour tamarind-based vegetable soup known for its refreshing and tangy flavor.
Other traditional Indonesian ingredients in sayur asem include jackfruit, melinjo, long beans, bilimbi, pumpkin, corn, and chayote. It is typically enjoyed with steamed rice and served as a side dish or a main course.
7. Udon (Japan)
Udon noodle soup features thick noodles in a mildly flavored broth, usually made with dashi (fish broth) and soy sauce. It can be served with toppings such as tempura, scallions, and kamaboko (fish cakes). One famous udon is Kitsune, consisting of thick udon noodles served in a fragrant dashi soup stock broth, then topped with sliced or whole deep-fried tofu, known as aburaage.
8. Tinolang Manok (Philippines)
Tinolang Manok is a popular Filipino chicken soup dish. This can be multiple pieces of chicken cooked in a delicious broth accompanied by green papaya and chili or malunggay leaves. It’s known for its comforting and clear ginger-based broth, tender chicken, and various vegetables. This soup is often served over plain white rice, becoming a staple in every Filipino household, often enjoyed as a starter or a hearty main course.
9. Bún riêu (Vietnam)
Bún riêu is a Vietnamese crab noodle soup known for its tomato-based broth. The dish is processed into many versions, typically containing crab or shrimp paste, tofu, and various fresh herbs. Rice vermicelli noodles are used in this dish, but the most popular is with a tomato base and goes under the name bún riêu cua.
10. Shark Fin Soup (China)
Shark fin soup has become a subject of controversy and concern due to its environmental impact and ethical considerations. It is a traditional Chinese delicacy consumed for centuries, primarily at banquets and special occasions. The soup is made from the fins of various shark species, which are believed to add texture and flavor to the dish. The first shark fin soup was thought to have been invented by a Sung Dynasty emperor who wanted to show off his wealth and power to his guests.
11. Pho (Vietnam)
Pho is probably one of the most famous Asian soup dishes in the world. It is made with rice noodles served in a savory broth, usually beef or chicken, and flavored with aromatic herbs such as basil, cilantro, and mint. Bean sprouts, lemon, and chili sauce are popular accompaniments.
12. Curry Mee (Malaysia)
Curry Mee is a popular Malaysian dish known for its flavorful and aromatic broth. It’s a type of noodle soup that combines Chinese and Malay cuisine elements. It is a spicy noodle dish with a creamy flavor due to added coconut milk. Although very similar to curry, curry mee sauce is usually much thinner but rich in flavor. Traditionally, thin rice noodles are used in curries, often cut into smaller pieces to make them easier to eat.
13. Soto (Indonesia)
Across Indonesia, soto is known by various names, such as Makassar coto or Pekalongan tauto.
Soto is a traditional soup famous for its rich and aromatic broth. This is popular with many regional variations, with each region adding its unique twist to the recipe. Soto can be made from various proteins, such as chicken, beef, or seafood, and is often served with rice or rice noodles.
14. Wonton Noodles (China)
Wonton noodles are a popular Cantonese dish with various regional noodles throughout Southeast Asia. Traditionally, it consists of fluffy egg noodles and wonton dumplings combined and served in a delicious chicken, pork, or seafood broth. Dumplings are usually filled with minced pork and shrimp, lightly flavored with sesame oil, soy sauce, and grated ginger. Thin egg noodles are the most commonly found in many dish versions.
15. Khao Soi (Northern Thailand and Myanmar)
Khao Soi is a recognized dish in Northern Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) known for its rich and flavorful combination of noodles and curry. It’s beloved street food in both regions and has continuously gained popularity worldwide for its unique taste. It features egg noodles in a creamy coconut curry broth. Often garnished with crispy fried noodles, fresh lime, and pickled vegetables, its harmonious blend of creamy coconut curry and various textures and flavors from the toppings make it a stand-out soup dish.
Asian noodle soups are not only delicious but also very nutritious. They are usually filled with fresh vegetables, protein-rich meat or seafood, herbs, and spices. Combining these ingredients results in a healthy and balanced meal that is delicious and nutritious. So, what are you waiting for? Look for a nearby Asian restaurant to have a taste of Asian magic.