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The Essential Noodle Dishes From Around The World (And Where To Try Them In The U.S.)

“I prefer dry noodles,” chef Kasem Saengsawang tells me. “As a chef, I think a good, dry noodle has more texture and crunch when you bite into it. Also, it holds the sauce better.”

Saengsawang is chef-owner of the renowned Farmhouse Kitchen, which now has outlets in Portland, San Francisco, and Oakland. As we chatted, he prepped for Foodbeast’s Nood Beach, an all-noodle food festival held on September 1st, where he was serving a ramen-pork-belly umami bomb dubbed, “The Tornado Cup.”

Our conversation — in which Saengsawang shouts out Pad Thai as his favorite noodle dish and sings the praises of the very versatile rice noodle — underscores the fact that noodles are an integral part of global food culture. The building blocks of infinite dishes and holders of a multitude of sauces. And while there’s a massive chasm between a plate of fried chow mein in a Safeway heating tray and a bowl of bún chả on the streets of Hanoi, both can be transcendent under the right circumstances.

The 20 noodle varieties below are must-try dishes for anyone who wants to broaden their palates. We’re talking straight up noodles, though — no dumplings or mantu or tortellini. It’s also important to note, this isn’t a comprehensive list by any stretch. There are 350 noodle varieties in Italy alone with only two of those styles (three, technically) making this list. Still, if expanding your awareness of food culture is a personal goal, this primer will do the trick while taking you around the world.

If you want to get your fix closer to home, we’ve also included one of our favorite US iterations of each dish.

RAMEN — Japan

What To Talk About:

Ramen is synonymous with Japanese cuisine. However, this is a Chinese migrant dish. Chinese wheat noodles are the base of this dish and were brought over by Chinese migrants to Japan sometime between the 1600s and 1800s. Origins aside, each region of the island nation now has a version to call their own.

The real game-changer for Japanese ramen came post-WWII when Momofuku Ando changed the food world forever with “instant” ramen noodles. That fast-food revelation propelled ramen to every dorm room, office canteen, and corner shop around the world.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Momofuku (multiple locations)

Chef David Chang’s Momofuku (yes, it’s named after Ando) is one of the best places to grab a bowl of ramen in the country. Hands down. There are eleven spots between New York, DC, Vegas, and L.A., but we’d suggest hitting the Noodle Bars in New York for this dish. It’s closer to a fast-casual/hole-in-the-wall concept that you can easily walk into without a reservation.

LAGHMAN — Central Asia

What To Talk About:

Laghman is a cornerstone dish in Central Asia between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Uyghur and Dungan China, Tajikistan, and parts of northern Afghanistan. You can find the dish served either dry with wok-fried lamb or beef and root veg or in a thin, tomato-based soup with plenty of spice and the same ingredients as the dry version.

The noodles are a local, hand-pulled variety. Wheat is at the base with an egg, salt, and water. These aren’t eggy noodles like you find in Italy by any stretch. They’re softer in texture with a bit more gumminess. There’s a definite heft that works with the big spicy notes and fatty lamb.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Kashkar, Brooklyn, NY

Kashkar is a Russo-Uyghur joint in Brighton Beach amongst the American-Russian community. You can try “Lagman” both ways at this spot. The hot appetizer menu has the dry version, Geiro Lagman, which uses Lagman noodles and tops them with fried meat, spices, and vegetables. Their Lagman soup has a lamb-bone broth, potatoes, lamb, spices, and tomato. Both absolutely rock.

TTEOK-BOKKI — Korea

What To Talk About:

One of our favorite expressions of the Korean oeuvre is Garae-tteok. These are long, thick, steamed rice noodles sometimes called “rice cakes” (also similar to Cantonese chow fun). The noodle is made by pounding and rolling rice flour into long tubes and then steaming them.

The resulting noodles can go through a lot of iterations. Babies often get simple fried versions on sticks. From there, the world’s your oyster when it comes to jazzing up these noodles with sauce. Enter, Tteok-Bokki. The base version fries the noodles in gochujang. Adding meats, more spice, kimchi, veg, and cheese is only the tip of the iceberg in how deep you can go from there.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: YUP DDUK LA, Los Angeles, CA

YUP DDUK LA’s signature dish is a spicy stew made with rice cakes. Their second signature dish mixes it up by adding fish cakes to the spicy rice cake stew. From there, YUP DDUK LA keeps things fresh with varying bases and toppings (melty cheese? Believe it!).

ZARU SOBA — Japan

What To Talk About:

First off, you should know that buckwheat noodles, or Soba, are gluten-free — since buckwheat is not a grass (it’s a seed related to rhubarb). Next, the textural nuance achieved through the buckwheat turning into a noodle has an earthen depth that you just don’t get with wheat or rice.

While buckwheat is common from Italy to China these days, it’s really the Edo period in Japan (the 1600s to 1800s) where the idea of soba morphed into what it is today. Zaru Soba is one of the best places to start your soba journey. The dish is served on a flat bamboo sieve with diced nori seaweed and soba tsuyu for dipping. That’s a sauce of dashi, soy sauce, and mirin, adding a funky, umami, sweet edge to the dish.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Tsukushinbo, Seattle, WA

Seattle has one of the U.S.’s oldest Japanese populations and Tsukushinbo is an institution of the local dining scene. Their sushi is legendary. They also serve an awesome Zaru Soba on their cold noodle menu. It comes with the requisite soba tsuyu for dipping along with a small serving of shrimp and veg tempura.

LAKSA — Malaysia

What To Talk About:
Laksa is an experience. Malay-Indo communities from Southeast Asia to Australia to Europe and beyond have made sure to bring this gem of a dish with them.

The base is a wide rice noodle (think tagliatelle width and heft) that’s topped with bright green onion, sprouts, fried tofu, a medley of seafood, and an egg. Sometimes there’s a little chicken or another fish involved. The kicker? The Laksa broth is a blend of stock, coconut milk, peanut, and sambal olek chili paste with asam gelugur — a sour tamarind and garcinia paste.

This is lush tropical stew that’ll have you hooked for life after one slurp.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Taste Good Malaysian Cuisine, Queens, NY

This Malaysian joint is little more than a Flushing hole-in-the-wall. Photos of all the dishes adorn the walls and everything is very low-key. Their laksa hits the perfect notes of nourishing, sour, creamy, spicy, and nutty. The bowls aren’t huge, so know that we won’t judge if you order two bowls for yourself.

PORK NOODLES — Singapore

What To Talk About:

This dish shot to prominence in the West when a small hawker stall in Singapore was awarded a Michelin star for seemingly simple dishes of chicken rice and pork noodles. We’re 100-percent here for these straight-forward meals and massive culinary organizations giving them love.

Pork Noodles is a utility dish wherein a piece of pork is slow-roasted with sugars and spices and then served with perfectly executed Chinese egg noodles. It’s not far from classic ramen noodles but not quite that either. The noodles are thin, long, and carry the weight of a hefty, soy-based sauce and fatty piece of pork. The additional crunch of lightly braised bok choi leaves brings the whole dish together.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Seasons Kitchen USA, Anaheim, CA

Finding a Singaporean hawker stall in the U.S. is not an easy task. Seasons Kitchen USA in Anaheim comes close with a sit-down setting. Their menu serves egg noodles with wonderfully roasted chunks of pork that’ll get you close to Singapore’s streets without the 16-hour flight.

IDIYAPPAM — India

What To Talk About:

Idiyappam has been part of written South Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine for at least 2,000 years. The rice flour noodles are usually hand made by mixing rice flour, salt, water, and a touch of ghee (clarified butter) into a dough. The dough is then pushed through an idiyappam press to create the noodles.

After being pressed, the noodles are then steamed and ready to serve. That’s when the fun starts. In Kerala, you’ll find a sweet version with coconut shavings, coconut cream, palm sugar. In Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, it’s a bit more common to see idiyappam served with a small bowl of curry or chutney for dipping.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Sangam Chettinad Indian Cuisine, Houston. TX

Houston’s South Asian population has brought some amazing food to Texas’ biggest city. Sangam Chettinad Indian Cuisine has an extensive selection of Idiyappam on their menu under “Steamed Tiffin.” You can snag a plate of the sweet coconut variation or spicy and savory versions with veg, lamb, or chicken curries.

ASH RESHTEH — Iran

What To Talk About:

Ash Reshteh bridges the western reaches of Central Asia towards Turkey. Ash means “thick stew” in Persian. Reshteh is Persian for “thin noddles.” It’s a pretty direct name, but trust this — there’s so much more to the dish.

The noodles are wheat, egg, water, and salt base and always handmade. They’re not too far from Laghman noodles but have a little more lightness to them. Then there’s the “thick stew.” In this case, green botanicals, beans or legumes, and a few roots vegetables are blended together to make a vegetarian stew. The final cherry on this sundae is a dollop of kashk (a sour-cream-like yogurt made with fermented whey).

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Darya, Los Angeles, CA

Darya in Los Angeles is a bit of an icon amongst the local Persian community (there’s also a location in Orange County). Their All-Day Menu offers a rad Ash Reshteh served with noodles, red kidney beans, chickpeas, parsley, green onions, cilantro, spinach, fresh herbs, and kashk.

THENTHUK — Tibet

What To Talk About:

There’s a nourishing subtlety to a piping hot bowl of Tibetian Thenthuk. This is food for extreme conditions, terrain, and weather that’s meant to warm the deepest reaches of your soul.

The dish is unique in a couple of ways. First, these are simple hand-pulled noodles. They’re pounded and stretched until wide. The key, though, is that these noodles are cooked right in the soup. There’s no parboiling here. A soup of yak or mutton with root vegetables is made and, then, as the noodles are pulled, they’re cut right into the soup. This gives the soup a very “stew” feel to it as the excess flour thickens the base.

Like we said, nourishing AF.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Little Tibet Restaurant and Bar, Boulder, CO

Colorado’s Tibetian community is the perfect spot to try a big ol’ bowl of Thenthuk before hitting the Rocky Mountains for a long trek. Little Tibet Restaurant in Boulder serves their “meal in a bowl” Thenthuk with a radish, bok choy, and organic spinach base with either beef (sorry, no yak in Colorado), chicken, or vegetables.

BIANGBIANG — China

What To Talk About:

BiangBiang noodles — also known as youpo chemian — originated in China’s Shaanxi Province. If you’re ever wondering around the province’s capital, Xi’an, you’ll see endless restaurants slinging their own variation of the noodle dish, most of which are centered around heavy chili spices and mutton.

We know we’ve called out a lot of hand-pulled noodles already, but these ones are special. The wheat noodles are worked and worked to a point that they take on a unique texture that’s just the right amount of gummy, elastic, and light. Add in plenty of chilies, local earthy spices, and fatty mutton and you’ve got a dish worth traveling to Central China for.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Xi’an Famous Foods, New York

Well, you don’t have to go all the way to China, really. Xi’an Famous Food has multiple locations all over New York City. Their signature dish is Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-ripped Noodles. If you’re in the city, eating these noodles is pure bucketlist fodder. They’re fatty, funky, spicy noodle bliss.

PAD THAI — Thailand

What To Talk About:

Pad Thai is a complex dish in history and execution. The history is steeped in Thai kings wanting to create a dish that was purely Thai and moved away from “Chinese” ingredients during the mid-20th century, when post-WWII Thai nationalism was on the rise.

The rice noodle dish is a stir-fried combination of eggs, tofu, tamarind, fish sauce, dried shrimp, shallots, chili pepper, palm sugar, lime, and roasted peanuts. Prawns, chicken, and certain fish are added from time to time. Many purists still don’t add pork, as that ingredient was deemed “Chinese” at the time of the original recipe’s inception, and while this National Dish of Thailand has become a cliché white persons’s Thai takeaway order, it’s also well deserving of serious culinary respect.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Farmhouse Kitchen (multiple locations)

Farmhouse Kitchen in Oakland, San Francisco, and Portland does a phenomenal version of Pad Thai. The base is rice noodles, fried tofu, cage-free egg, bean sprouts, chives, shallot, and peanuts, a special sauce and — if you’re ordering right — some fried prawns up top.

BÚN CHẢ — Vietnam

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What To Talk About:

Bún chả is an event in a meal. The Vietnamese treat has a lot of moving parts, so bear with us.

Bún chả is a vermicelli rice noodle dish that you sort of build as you go. The rice noodles are served on the side of a bowl of pork soup with pork meatballs and roasted pork belly. Then there’s pickled green papaya, fresh cabbage, and herbs (basil, rice paddy herbs, beansprout, and Vietnamese balm), and sides of crushed ginger, garlic, and chili. Finally, there’s the nước chấm. That’s a dipping sauce of lime or vinegar, fish sauce, and sugar. Combined, all of this adds up to one of the best and most flavor-forward noodle dishes you can find.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Cao Nguyen, San Jose, CA

You really need to enjoy this dish at a hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese joint where there’s only good food and zero pretension. Cao Nguyen takes Bún chả beyond the chả (pork) and serves their bún (noodles) with everything from grilled prawns to lemongrass beef alongside all the accouterments.

BAKMI GORENG — Indonesia

What To Talk About:

Indonesia’s Bakmi Goreng (sometimes Mie Goreng) is one of the easiest dishes to find any time, day or night, across the vast island nation. The dish is served from hand-pushed carts on the streets to the highest-end Indonesian restaurants from the villages to the cities. It’s truly ubiquitous and unique.

Bakmi Goreng is a descendant of Chinese Chow Mein (more on that later). The nuance at play is the use of a slightly larger noodle that borders on spaghetti heft. Then, there’s the sambal olek. These noodles have a real spicy kick. There’s also a blend of chicken or seafood with shallots, garlic, leek, eggs, some greens, and local kecap asim manis. The unique nature of the Indonesian ketchup (kecap) is that it has a sweet and sour essence alongside deep umami, not unlike an oyster sauce. Combined with the funky and hot sambal olek chili paste, this is a winner all around.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Taste Of Sumatra, Upland, CA

Out in the Inland Empire of Southern California, you’ll find a few killer Indonesian joints. Taste of Sumatra in Upland is must stop for some legit Mie Goreng. Don’t sleep on their Iga Penyet either (that’s three big beef ribs smeared in a fiery chili paste).

PANCIT BIHON — Philippines

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#pancitbihon 😘

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What To Talk About:

The cuisine of the Philippines has been shaped by colonialist regimes over the centuries, each leaving their mark on the culture. The glass noodle dish, Pancit Bihon is a combination of Chinese rice vermicelli and Filipino-Spanish adobo sauce with local ingredients.

A Pancit can go a lot of different directions, but let’s focus on the classic Bihon version, which is a fried noodle. It starts with glassy rice vermicelli noodles along with wok-fried shrimp and pork or chicken, garlic, pepper, fish sauce, soy sauce, green leaves, and various vegetables. The key component is the addition of Philippine adobo sauce. All the ingredients are cooked using the sauce to deeply flavor the whole affair with meaty umami and spice.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Thelma’s Filipino Restaurant, Waipahu, HI

Thelma’s Filipino Restaurant in Hawai’i is the perfect spot to try your first Pancit Bihon. The family-run spot serves a Pancit Bihon that utilizes locally grown ingredients and still hits the flavor notes exactly.

TAGLIATELLE ALLA BOLOGNESE — Italy

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original Bolognese

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What To Talk About:

As much as we’ve all heard how Marco Polo brought noodles to Italy and Europe, that’s simply a myth. There’s evidence of the Arabs bringing their noodles to Italy (via Sicily) in the 900s — predating Polo’s journies by 300 years. And the Greeks had legit pasta-making machines probably a thousand years before that.

But does it really matter when something got somewhere? The point is, Italy is an epicenter of the noodle arts today. One of the greatest and most accessible examples of Italy’s noodle prowess is Bologna’s Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese (sometimes …alla ragu). The dish is a meat sauce of veal and pork that’s sometimes cut with beef (all minced), onions, carrots, celery, bone broth, tomato paste, and a splash of heavy-fat milk. After that simmers for hours, it’s served on an egg-heavy durum wheat pasta that’s hand-cut and boiled for mere minutes.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Constantino’s Venda Bar & Ristorante, Providence, RI

If you can’t make it to Bologna to try this dish, there are plenty of options amongst America’s Little Italy communities. One of the best spots is in Federal Hill in Providence, Rhode Island. Constantino’s is old-school, with an Italian plaza vibe. The hand-made pasta shines and their meaty ragu is loyal to the home country.

PASTA AL NERO DE SEPPIA — Sicily

What To Talk About:

Speaking of Sicily, their love of squid ink pasta is a must for anyone looking to expand their palate. There are two paths to go on your squid ink pasta road. There is pasta that’s tossed in a squid ink sauce. Then there is pasta that’s made with squid ink, giving the noodle a dark-as-night blackness. Either way, it’s a delicious addition to the noodle word, bringing a layer of briny umami to the average egg-based noodle.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Osteria Morini (multiple locations)

Osteria Morini’s lunch menu (in their Manhattan location) serves Torcia. That’s a squid ink pasta with a squid and prawn ragu (sauce). This is a classic version that leans into the seafood depths of the dish.

SPÄTZLE — Germany

What To Talk About:

Spätzle is a sort of proto-noodle from the Germanic, Slavic, and Magyar regions of Europe. The origins aren’t really known, but the basic recipe is a wheat durum dough with eggs that’s formed with water and salt and then sections/pieces are knocked off the dough with a spoon, grater, or knife, forming the noodles.

The brilliance of spätzle is the utility of the taste. You can go in any direction from cheesy mac ‘n cheese like dishes to a base for spicy goulash or chili. And, of course, there are sweet versions with in-season fruits, sugars, and creams.

Where To Find It In The U.S.: Brauhaus Schmitz, Philadelphia, PA

Since the cheesy version, käsespätzle, is pretty much just and old-school version of mac and cheese, you can find this dish at a lot of breweries these days. Brauhaus Schmitz in Philly does a spätzle as a side (easily smothered in their goulash) or a classic käsespätzle that has a mix of three kinds of cheese and caramelized onions.

COUSCOUS — North Africa

What To Talk About:

This might be controversial but, at the end of the day, couscous is a type of noodle. It’s made by making a dough of durum wheat, water, and salt, and then creating tiny balls from the dough. That’s … pasta. In fact, there’s an Italian pasta, acini di pepe, that’s strikingly similar to couscous.

The brilliance of couscous is in its versatility. You can use couscous as a base for stews or cool it and use it in salads. Couscous has been a staple from Morocco to the Middle East for eons and the recipes vary from savory to sweet to hot and cold depending on where you are.

Where To Find It: Baraka Cuisine, Boston, MA

Baraka’s North African menu stretches the imagination and palate with intense flavors and beautiful nuance in every dish. Start off with Aubergine which comes with eggplant, feta, gruyère, olives, and tchekchouka (a type of ratatouille) served over couscous. Hit the Lamb Tajine next and you’ll be set.

CHOW MEIN — International-Chinese

What To Talk About:

Chow Mein (literally stir-fried noodles) is a cornerstone of Chinese cuisine in China and throughout the Chinese diaspora. Because of the breadth of this dish’s footprint, there are too many variations to list here. Hell, we have two descendants already on this list: Bakmi Goreng and Pancit Bihun. Still, this dish is something unique and worth trying every chance you get.

The combination of Chinese wheat and egg noodles with flash stir-fried vegetables and meat with plenty of MSG, soy sauce, meat, and veg makes for the perfect base from which food empires were built in Chinatowns around the world.

Where To Find It: Peking Gourmet Inn, Falls Church, VA

It’s hard not to point to any grocery store Chinese-American buffet and say, eat their chow mein (or lo mein depending where you are in America). But for a little more elevated version, you really need to hit and old-school Chinese-American joints. Peking Gourmet Inn, just outside Washington, DC, is an institution of great Peking duck and heaps of perfectly stir-fried chow mein. Go hungry.

MACARONI AND CHEESE — Pan-European

What To Talk About:

There’s a lot to macaroni and cheese. The recipes date back nearly 1,000 years to when the “macaroni” was basically exactly what spätzle still is today and any ol’ cheese made the dish work. That long history gives this noodle dish a deep comfort food feel. Then an actual macaroni die was invented in Italy to attach to pasta machines and “macaroni” as we know it was born.

From there, macaroni and cheese spread around the world and took on new forms. But, the basics are still the same: Tubed, elbow pasta, fat, cheese. Those three humble ingredients can be twisted and moved into any form from lobster loaded to a seven-cheese #Faturday molten soup.

Where To Find It: The Pig & The Pearl, Atlanta, GA

The American South and soul food have a love affair with mac ‘n cheese and The Pig & Pearl in Atlanta does a cornerstone version of the dish. Their Smoky Mac ‘n Cheese is the perfect side to their delectable barbecue or a great stand-alone as part of a wider sampling from the menu.

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