Ramen’s rise helps drive interest in other Asian noodle dishes
April 3, 2018
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In the past few years, ramen’s reputation among US diners has skyrocketed, and its popularity is giving rise to other dishes made with Asian noodles.  

Authentic ramen made with high-quality ingredients has taken the noodle dish far beyond the familiar convenience food, and the National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot culinary forecast has named ramen as a hot trend every year since 2013.

Chefs are finding new ways to use ramen noodles beyond the traditional soup flavored with pork bones, miso or soy. The springy egg noodles can be swapped in for pasta or other noodles types, or used to create new formats such as the ramen burger. Invented by a ramen blogger turned ramen chef, the dish sandwiches a burger patty between two fried ramen “buns,” and has been picked up by restaurants including burger chain Red Robin.  

Another ramen dish gaining popularity in the US in mazemen -- a style of ramen served with sauce instead of broth. Consultancy Baum+Whiteman predicted the dish would be a top food trend for 2018, and it is a popular late-night order at Boston-based UNI, executive chef Tony Messina, recently told Food Newsfeed.

“[Mazemen] can be made with any kinds of toppings, such as traditional chashu (pork belly) and ajitama (Japanese ramen egg) or bacon, avocado and poached eggs or sun dried tomatoes and basil pesto,” said Chris Wilmoth, corporate executive chef for TMI Trading, which manufactures the Twin Marquis brand of noodles in Brooklyn, N.Y.

These types of modern fusion dishes are also helping to elevate the profile of other Asian noodles such as udon and yakisoba.

“The great thing about Asian noodles is that they are very diverse,” Wilmoth said. “They can be stir-fried, boiled, chilled and deep-fried...and substituted for any base, such as pasta, rice, breads, potatoes, and salads. They hold flavors better and add interesting texture.”

Yakisoba is a Japanese-style noodle with a round, thin shape. “It is most notably used for stir-fry dishes but it is also great for salads,” explained Wilmoth, who said Twin Marquis’ yakisoba noodles are pre-steamed, which cuts down on cooking time and keeps the noodles from becoming soggy.

Like ramen, udon are noodles traditionally used in soup, but chefs are finding creative new ways to utilize them in a wider range of dishes. The thick noodles have a dense texture that can work in cold noodle salads or pasta riffs such as udon carbonara that uses the chewy noodles in place of traditional spaghetti.

“Pan searing with protein and vegetables is also a great way to serve udon,” said Wilmoth. “It holds the sauce flavor well and caramelizes with soy sauce.”

These dishes are only a small sample of what’s possible with Asian noodles. Menu items featuring Asian noodles grew 3.9% per year between 2011 and 2016, and the market for Asian noodles in foodservice is expected to grow 9% by 2020, according to Technomic. Eateries can capitalize on this growing trend by finding the noodle dish that’s right for their menu -- whether it’s an authentic classic or an innovative original.

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