info for vegetarians
Tokyo Vegetarian-friendly
Restaurant Guide
Diary - Living in Tokyo
as a Semi-Vegan
Recommended Readings
Written in Japanese
Articles about Vegetarianism
written by Hiroko Kato
Online Vegetarian/Vegan Handouts
Shopping Guide
Good News & Good News
Links for Vegetarians

- Japanese Vegan Foods Found in Oriental or Natural Food Stores
- How to Eat at a Japanese Restaurant the Vegan Way (written for Vegetarian Journal)
- A Vegan Wedding (Special to The Daily Yomiuri, June 29)
- Vegan Japanese Noodle Dishes (written for Vegetarian Journal)

Vegan Japanese Noodle Dishes (Vegetarian Journal 2003 Issue 3 -Quick and Tasty-)

By Hiroko Kato (written for Vegetarian Journal)

Since childhood, I have loved eating noodles all the time, but it was only lately that I noticed my addiction to this long, thin, smooth food. Traveling in the United States and frequently to some Asian countries in recent years, I found myself seeking all kinds of noodle dishes, from Italian spaghetti to stir-fried Chinese lo mein. I could eat noodles at least four times a week. Fortunately, I easily found what I wanted at most of my destinations and saw many other people enjoying noodle dishes. Observing their satisfied smiles, I now believe I'm not the only one who has fallen in love with noodles. They are easy to cook, they are healthy enough if you don't smother them with a heavy cream sauce or too much oil, and on top of that, they are delicious. Fortunately, my mother country, Japan, has a variety of noodles that I can enjoy almost every day if I wish.

While I was living in Baltimore three years ago, it was such a great joy to find various types of Japanese noodles. Americans knew their original names, such as soba or udon, instead of calling them more generic ones, like buckwheat noodles or Japanese wheat noodles. Still, I noticed that it was difficult for vegetarians to eat noodle dishes in Japanese restaurants since fish extract is often used in the dipping sauce or the soup accompanying the noodles. It seemed that the only way to enjoy noodles in those places was to order a cold noodle dish and then eat it with soy sauce, not the traditional fish-based dipping sauce. However, if you were to cook Japanese noodle dishes at home, there would be no problem since you could leave out the fish extract. Japanese noodles themselves are vegan.

There are primarily four types of Japanese noodles that you can find in supermarkets, health food stores, or Asian stores in the United States. The following is a quick description of these noodles:

SOBA:In Japan, these noodles are generally served hot in soup broth or cold with dipping sauce, but soba also works well in stir-fries and salads. I often cook soba with tomato sauce, as I do with Italian pasta, and enjoy the good result of "East meets West." Cha Soba, a variation flavored with Japanese powdered green tea, is popular among Americans, but you may need to be careful since the green tea flavor is strong and will not be suitable for some dishes. Please note, in rare cases, soba contains egg whites; check the label to be on the safe side.

UDON: There are numerous types of udon, a noodle simply made of wheat, salt, and water. We enjoy udon dishes from plain Kishimen (wide and flat-shaped udon often served in miso broth and mainly eaten in central Japan) to hot Kama-age udon (cooked noodles served warm in hot water and eaten with a cold sauce) to Nabeyaki udon (a hotpot-style dish cooked with other ingredients). Though the availability of udon in the United States may be limited compared to Japan, this plain, chewy white noodle could certainly please everyone's taste buds. Besides being sold dried, udon is also sold frozen, a means that keeps its flavor as well as its soft texture.

SOMEN: This delicate noodle is my favorite. These are also made of wheat, salt, and water; however, sesame or cottonseed oil is added to somen. Somen is very thin and the quickest to cook, taking less than five minutes. It's good for simple cold dishes, in hot soup, for stir-frying, and in some nontraditional arrangements, such as Vietnamese Pho (a type of noodle soup) and Italian cappellini. You may see colored variations of somen noodles, but beware that yellow ones possibly contain egg yolks.

RAMEN: Ramen originally came from China in the late 19th century and was modified to the Japanese palate. It is now listed at the top of Japan's national food list, being especially popular among the younger generation. Usually, ramen noodles served in restaurants are not vegetarian because the soup contains high amounts of meat fat. However, some vegan products containing instant ramen noodles are available. (Instant soba or udon packages can be found, too, but note that the soup powder is not vegetarian.) In the U.S., Nisshin's Oriental Top ramen Noodle is vegetarian and can be found in major supermarket chains at a very cheap price.

These recipes include both authentic and modified Japanese dishes. I believe prepared Japanese noodle dishes would be appealing to Americans, including the traditional way of serving the meal. You can experiment with these recipes by using other types of noodles instead of the ones suggested. For example, stir-fry udon instead of soba, and soba or somen served with sesame sauce would be fine, too.

Here are just a few tips to cook Japanese noodles. (You may already know how easy it is to cook instant ramen.)

First, cook noodles in plenty of boiling water. If there is not enough water, you'll sense an uncomfortable starchy taste in your noodles. Second, be sure to stir the noodles right after putting them in the pot, otherwise they'll stick to each other. Third, do not overcook. The term al dente is important here, just like when you cook Italian pasta. Finally, rinse noodles well in cold water, using your hands to remove any gooey texture. (Be careful not to burn yourself.)

If you dare to follow the authentic way, slurp when you eat your noodles. I know this is regarded as bad manners in other countries, but this is the best way to enjoy noodles and to feel them as they are going from your mouth down your throat. Enjoy!

Note: If you find any unfamiliar ingredients in the following recipes, you can purchase them in health food stores or Asian food stores.

Basic Japanese Vegan Soup Stock (Shojin Dashi)
(Serves 4)

Kombu (kelp) seaweed and dried shiitake mushrooms are essential ingredients for good vegan soup stock. There are several ways to make shojin dashi, and this is one of the easy variations. Keep extra dashi in the refrigerator or freezer so that you can use it anytime you want.

1 piece kombu (about 10 inches long), cut in thirds crosswise
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
5 cups water

Wipe kombu and shiitake mushrooms with a dry cloth if necessary. Soak kombu and shiitake mushrooms in water overnight. Remove kombu and shiitake from the dashi when you serve.

Note: Reserve the removed kombu and shiitake mushrooms for later use in cooking, such as making soup or stir-fried vegetables.

Total calories per serving: 12 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 3 grams Protein: <1 gram
Sodium: 15 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram

Green Tea Soba Salad
(Serves 4-5)

This westernized soba recipe is good as an appetizer, as well as for a light meal.

12 ounces green tea soba noodles
4 Tablespoons rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon wasabi paste
1/4 cup sesame oil (clear-colored)
1 yellow bell pepper, peeled and cut into small pieces
1 red bell pepper, peeled and cut into small pieces
5 romaine lettuce leaves, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
1/2 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
1 sheet Nori seaweed, torn into bite-sized pieces

Cook soba noodles according to the package instructions.

Combine vinegar, soy sauce, wasabi, and oil in a small bowl for the dressing.

Mix the noodles with the vege-tables and the dressing. Sprinkle Nori seaweed as a garnish.

Note: You can substitute commercial vegan oriental salad dressing, if available.

Total calories per serving: 436 Fat: 14 grams
Carbohydrates: 69 grams Protein: 14 grams
Sodium: 440 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Stir-fried Soba
(Serves 4)

If you have leftover cooked soba, the cooking time for this dish is only 10 minutes.

12-14 ounces soba noodles
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 piece kombu (used in making dashi), cut into bite-sized pieces
4 shiitake mushrooms (used in making dashi), stems removed, then caps sliced
1/2 cup cooked dark leafy greens, such as bok choy, kale, or spinach
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
Pepper to taste

Cook soba noodles according to the package instructions.

Warm the oil in the frying pan over medium heat. Place ginger, carrots, kombu, and shiitake mushrooms in the pan, then stir-fry well. Add greens and soba. Add soy sauce and pepper to taste.

Total calories per serving: 364 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 67 grams Protein: 14 grams
Sodium: 946 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Daikon Soba Noodles (Oroshi-Soba)

(Serves 4)

Enjoy the fresh taste of this authentic soba recipe.

12-14 ounces soba noodles
1 cup dashi
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon vegan granulated sweetener
1 cup grated daikon radish
2 pickled plums (umeboshi), pitted
1 sheet of Nori seaweed, torn into bite-sized pieces

Cook soba noodles according to the package instructions.

Mix dashi, soy sauce, and sweetener in a pot over medium heat. Allow to cool before serving.

Place soba in a soup bowl, and top with grated daikon and the pickled plums. Pour the sauce over, and sprinkle Nori as a garnish.

Total calories per serving: 307 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 68 grams Protein: 13 grams
Sodium: 1,472 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Simple Udon

(Serves 4)

When you have a chance, purchase high-quality udon (often claimed as "hand-kneaded" on the label), and remember eating simple is the best.

12-14 ounces udon noodles
2 Tablespoons grated ginger
1/2 cup chopped scallions
Soy sauce to taste

Cook udon according to the package instructions. Rinse under cold water and drain well.

Place udon in a soup bowl, and top with ginger and scallions. Add soy sauce to taste and serve.

Total calories per serving
(without soy sauce): 244
Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 50 grams Protein: 6 grams
Sodium: 513 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram

with Sesame Sauce
(Serves 4)

The rich sesame sauce satisfies your appetite.

12-14 ounces udon noodles
1 cup dashi
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon vegan granulated sweetener
1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1/2 cup reconstituted wakame seaweed
Shichimi seasoning (Japanese spice) as garnish (optional)

Cook udon according to the package instructions. Mix dashi, soy sauce, and sweetener in a pot over medium heat. Turn off the heat, and combine with tahini until the mixture becomes smooth. Pour sauce over the udon and wakame in a bowl. Sprinkle shichimi seasoning as garnish.

Total calories per serving: 511 Fat: 18 grams
Carbohydrates: 70 grams Protein: 19 grams
Sodium: 728 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

in Miso Broth
(Serves 4-6)

This hearty dish is especially satisfying in cold weather.

12-14 ounces udon noodles
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 pound tofu, drained and diced
1/3 cup daikon, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/3 cup julienned carrots
1/2 cup potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup sliced onions
4 cups dashi
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
3 Tablespoons dark miso
1/2 cup chopped scallion
2 teaspoons grated ginger
Shichimi seasoning as garnish (optional)

Cook udon according to the package instructions. Heat oil in a large pot, and cook tofu, daikon, carrots, potatoes, and onions over medium heat for 3 minutes. Pour dashi into the pot, and simmer until the ingredients are tender. Add soy sauce to taste, and dissolve miso in the soup. Add cooled udon, and keep simmering until the udon becomes warm. Serve broth topped with scallions, ginger, and shichimi.

Total calories per serving: 488 Fat: 12 grams
Carbohydrates: 73 grams Protein: 25 grams
Sodium: 958 milligrams Fiber: 7 grams

(Serves 4)

This recipe is typical in Okinawa, an island famous for its inhabitants' longevity.

7 ounces or 4 bundles somen noodles
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup julienned carrots
1/2 cup chopped scallions
4 chunks vegan ham substitute (optional)
1/3 cup ground peanuts
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook somen noodles according to the package instructions. Be sure not to overcook. Heat oil in a frying pan. Sauté carrots over medium heat until tender. Add scallions, vegan ham, peanuts, and noodles, and stir them well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Total calories per serving: 267 Protein: 9 grams
Fat: 8 grams Sodium: 920 milligrams
Carbohydrates: 42 grams Fiber: 4 grams

Noodles Vietnamese-Style
(Serves 4)

Pho is Vietnamese, but somen can be a good substitute when you can't find rice flour noodles.

7 ounces or 4 bundles somen noodles
4 cups dashi or vegetable soup stock
1 cup soybean sprouts
6-8 lettuce leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup dried yuba (skin produced when making soymilk), reconstituted cut into bite-sized pieces (optional)
1/2 cup chopped basil leaves
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1-2 Tablespoons rice vinegar, or lemon or (preferable) lime juice
2 fresh red chili peppers, seeded and chopped (optional)

Cook somen noodles according to the package instructions. Heat dashi or vegetable soup stock in a pot. Add bean sprouts and lettuce leaves. Flavor the soup with soy sauce, salt, and pepper. Add cooked somen noodles, and quickly turn off the heat. Place soup into a soup bowl, and top with yuba, basil leaves, and cilantro. Add rice vinegar or juice. Finally, add chili peppers if you prefer a hot taste.

Total calories per serving
(without yuba): 216
Protein: 9 grams
Fat: 2 grams Sodium: 1,183 milligrams
Carbohydrates: 42 grams Fiber: 3 grams

Healthy Ramen Noodles
(Serves 1)

You can use dashi instead of water to cook ramen noodles to make them more flavorful.

1 package instant vegan ramen noodles
2 cups water
1 shiitake mushroom, stem removed, then cap sliced
1/2 tomato, diced
1/2 cup cooked dark leafy greens, such as bok choy, kale, or spinach
1/2 sheet Nori seaweed, torn into bite-sized pieces
Pepper (optional)

Cook ramen noodles in boiling water. When the noodles start becoming tender, add shiitake mushrooms, tomatoes, and dark leafy greens, and heat until the noodles are done. Add 1/2 to 2/3 of the soup powder from the ramen package and serve with Nori seaweed as a garnish. Add pepper if you like.

Note: Save the remaining soup powder to use in other dishes.

Total calories per serving: 219 Protein: 6 grams
Fat: 8 grams Sodium: 542 milligrams
Carbohydrates: 33 grams Fiber: 2 grams

Hiroko Kato is a former VRG intern and a frequent contributor to the Vegetarian Journal. She is a freelance writer who currently lives in Japan.

Copyright(C)2003 Hiroko Kato. All rights reserved.


Copyright (C) 2002 Hiroko Kato, Tomoko Kinukawa(designer).All rights reserved.