There are numerous variety of noodles both fresh and dried. Each gives a special character to a dish and everyone has her favourite noodle. While for certain dishes, the type of noodle is crucial, in many cases one could choose to replace the noodle with the type you like so long as it is suitable for the cooking technique employed. Noodles are usually eaten boiled, stir fried and sometimes deep fried. Occasionally they're used for decoration, glass noodle is especially suitable for this purpose.
There are in general three big catagory of noodles, wheat noodles such as egg noodles, bean noodles(glass noodle) and rice noodle such as rice vermicelli. There are noodles made from other ingredients such as sweet potato flour but they are not very common and one should certainly try them out whenever they're available. Treated as a staple like rice which accompanies various other dishes, subtlety in taste is important. However, there are subtle differences depending on the ingredients used. It ranges from natural to nutty to prawn or seaweed flavoured. Shapewise, they maybe flat, round, thick, thin, you name it! Rice cake is a flat oval piece and rather thick, not the long thin noodles most are familiar with. There are many other examples of such noodles.
In Southeast Asia, there are many freshly made noodles available such as Kway Teow/Hor fun(flat rice noodles), mee hoon/mai fun(rice noodles) and mee(egg/oiled noodles). However, certain variety of noodles are only available dried such as bean noodles which are mostly imported from China.
So how do you choose your noodles? It's most important to consider how it is to be cooked and served. In other words, choose by texture. Certain noodles are suitable only for noodles soup while other stir fry dishes. Due to the inconsistant quality of the various type of noodles, it is impossible to list. The best way, I'm afraid, is still the tiral and error method! As a rough guide, however, noodles that has a tougher texture and somewhat chewy could be satisfactory used for both stir fried dishes as well as soup while soft textured noodles are best in soups. Taste, in most cases, is of secondary importance since most noodles are subtle in taste.
Most noodles soup need to be served and eaten immediately, as many will soak up too much soup and become soggy and loose the texture it's supposed to have. If you had any experience with those popular instant noodle soups, you'll undoubtly know what I mean. So never overcook noodles. For that reason, noodle soup is definitely not a buffet item. Canned noodle soups as you have them in the West is quite unthinkable. No thanks, no soggy noodles please!
When trying out Southeast Asian recipes, always used fresh noodles unless specially specified or when fresh noodles are unavailable. They're smoother and taste better. Most dried noodles need to be soaked in warm or hot water for a number of minutes, read the instruction on the packet and take care not to oversoak. Noodles that need further cooking should not be thoroughly soaked or it will get soggy.
Apart from noodles made from egg or sea weed, some are artificially colored and tend to appear unnatural, avoid such products.
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