I feel like every time I add a new recipe here, it’s some kind of wonderful Japanese dish that I never got to try in the states. There are so many facets of Japanese cuisine, I discover something new every month. Since I moved here in March, I have been enamored of yakisoba, a Japanese-style chow mein that is available in every market and convenience store. It is also a staple at any festival or street market. My favorite breakfast while traveling in Japan is a plate of cold yakisoba from 7-11.
Why am I cooking in the shower? It’s not for the flavor…
My first attempt to cook this at home was a sticky failure. For one, I didn’t have the right sauce, and for two, I assumed that because “soba” was in the name, I could use soba noodles in the dish. Wrong. Do not use soba or other buckwheat pasta. Soba can easily become gluey, which is exactly how my mangled clumps of noodles turned out.
Frustrated, I gave up on them. Since it’s so easy to find yakisoba in Japan, I simply bought some when the craving appeared. But a few weeks ago, I spent an amazing weekend with some friends in Tokyo. One night we stayed in, and some Japanese friends made fresh yakisoba. Combined with the cheerful company and the Japanese ume-shu, our communion of this homemade yakisoba made it taste a million times more delicious.
While I unfortunately cannot always replicate these conditions in my apartment, I decided to make it again (correctly) and just think about my good friends while I ate it. It turned out fantastic! If you have never tried it, you must make some! Once you have the right ingredients, it’s as simple as… well, I was going to say pie, but pie is an art-form and definitely not simple. Why do we say this, as well as “piece of cake”? All baking in general is detailed and precise. Perhaps it is meant to be sarcastic, like “Clear as mud.” Or “Easy-peasy Japanese-y,” because Japanese is in no sense of the word easy. Sorry, I digress…
Chukamen noodles: also called egg noodles, they are similar to ramen noodles but noticeably more yellow. In Japan, and any good Asian market, you can buy these fresh in vacuum sealed packs. In Japan, they usually say “yakisoba” 焼きそば on them. Fresh is best.
Sauce: Also in Japan, yakisoba sauce is sold at any market, labeled: ソース 焼きそば (sauce, yakisoba) and usually in yellow packaging with a yellow squeeze-top. If you can’t find this, you can make your own. One cook recommends oyster sauce mixed with tonkatsu sauce (a thick sauce used for breaded pork) but that still requires a trip to the Asian market. Other cooks state that you can use a mix of ketchup, soy sauce, Worcestershire, mirin and Tabasco. Basically you want a dark, slightly thick sauce with a flavor you like.
Cabbage: chopped roughly
Carrot: thinly sliced or peeled
Yellow or white onion: thinly sliced
Katsuobushi: (dried bonita flake)
Aonori: (powered seaweed)
Beni shoga: pickled ginger. This is a different type of pickled ginger than you usually see accompanying your sushi. It is cut into matchsticks, is bright pink and tastes more pungent because it is pickled in the same liquid used in ume-boshi, a very tart pickled plum. I don’t particularly love this stuff, so I skip it altogether.
Extras: I also added some sliced green onion and enoki mushrooms because I had them lying around. “Traditional” yakisoba doesn’t include this, but it tasted nice, so why not?
Heat a pan medium-high, add a little vegetable oil and sauté your veggies for a couple minutes until softened. Add your desired amount of noodles. You don’t need specific measurements for this recipe, just buy as many noodles as you want and chop veggies for around a 50/50 ratio, equal veggie to noodle.
Then add your sauce, enough to coat the noodles. If you are worried about overdoing it here, just start small and taste as you go. Use two pasta spoons, or tongs, to toss the noodles and coat them more effectively. Turn the heat up to high for a minute to heat through. I add a dash of soy sauce at the end to give them nice dark color, but it’s not necessary.
Once plated, sprinkle a little of each topping and enjoy. Make sure to cook extra so you can have some for breakfast, hot or cold they are delicious! This is the basic vegetarian version, but feel free to add some meat of your preference. Thin sliced pork, chicken, beef or shrimp are a great addition. I hope you enjoy one of my favorite Japanese street foods!
いただきます – Itadakemasu