Chinese noodles

Misua noodle making in Lukang, Taiwan

Noodles are an essential ingredient and staple in Chinese cuisine. There is a great variety of Chinese noodles, which vary according to their region of production, ingredients, shape or width, and manner of preparation. They are an important part of most regional cuisines within China, as well as in Taiwan, Singapore, and other Southeast Asian nations with sizable overseas Chinese populations.

Chinese-style noodles have also entered the cuisines of neighboring East Asian countries such as Korea and Japan (dangmyeon and ramen, for example, are both of Chinese origin), as well as Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, and Cambodia.



A Northwest hand-pulled noodle restaurant in Australia

Nomenclature of Chinese noodles can be difficult due to the vast spectrum available in China and the many dialects of Chinese used to name them. In Chinese, miàn (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; often transliterated as "mien" or "mein" ) refers to noodles made from wheat, while fěn () or "fun" refers to noodles made from rice flour, mung bean starch, or indeed any kind of starch. Each noodle type can be rendered in pinyin for Mandarin, but in Hong Kong and neighboring Guangdong it will be known by its Cantonese pronunciation. Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and many other Overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia will use Hokkien (Min Nan) instead.


The earliest written record of noodles is from a book dated to the Eastern Han Dynasty period (25–220).[1] Noodles, often made from wheat dough, became a prominent staple of food during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE).[2] During the Song Dynasty (960–1279) noodle shops were very popular in the cities, and remained open all night. During the earlier dynastic periods Chinese wheat noodles were known as "soup cake" (湯餅), as explained by the Song Dynasty scholar Huang Chaoying (黃朝英) mentions in his work "A delightful mixed discussion on various scholarly topics" (Chinese: 靖康緗素雜記; pinyin: jìngkāngxiāngsùzájì, Scroll 2) that in ancient times dough foods are referred collectively as "bing" and differentiated through their cooking methods.[3]

In 2002, archaeologists have found an earthenware bowl containing world's oldest known noodles, 4000 years old, at the Lajia archaeological site of the Qijia culture along the Yellow River in China.[1][4][5] The noodles were well-preserved.[1][4] After research with parts of the noodle remains in 2004,[4] scientists have determined that the noodles have been made from foxtail millet and broomcorn millet.[1][4][5] The findings were published in October 2005 by Houyuan Lu et al. in the journal Nature.[6]


Pulling wheat dough into thin strands to form lamian

Chinese noodles are generally made from either wheat flour, rice flour, or mung bean starch, with wheat noodles being more commonly produced and consumed in northern China and rice noodles being more typical of southern China. Egg, lye, and cereal may also be added to noodles made from wheat flour in order to give the noodles a different colour or flavor. Arrowroot or tapioca starch are sometimes added to the flour mixture in low quantities to change the texture and tenderness of the noodles' strands.

Peeling thin strips of dough from a loaf directly into a container of boiling water to make daoxiaomian

The dough for noodles made from wheat flour is typically made from wheat flour, salt, and water, with the addition of eggs or lye depending on the desired texture and taste of the noodles. Rice- or other starch-based noodles are typically made with only the starch or rice flour and water. After the formation of a pliable dough mass, one of five types of mechanical processing may be applied to produce the noodles:

English Chinese Pinyin Process
Cut qiē The dough is rolled out into a flat sheet, folded, and then cut into noodles of a desired width.
Extruded 擠壓 jǐyā The dough is placed into a mechanical press with holes through which the dough is forced to form strands of noodles.
Peeled xiāo A firm dough is mixed and formed into a long loaf. Strips of dough are then quickly sliced or peeled off the loaf directly into boiling water.
Pulled The dough is rolled into a long cylinder, which is then repeatedly stretched and folded to produce thinner and thinner strands.
Kneaded róu A small ball of dough is lightly rolled on a flat surface until it is several centimetres long and spindle shaped.
Noodle maker in Peng Zhou extruding noodles directly into a pot of boiling water.

While cut and extruded noodles can be dried to create a shelf-stable product to be eaten months after production, most peeled, pulled and kneaded noodles are consumed shortly after they are produced.


Noodles may be cooked from either their fresh (moist) or dry forms. They are generally boiled, although they may also be deep-fried in oil until crispy. Boiled noodles may then be stir fried, served with sauce or other accompaniments, or served in soup, often with meat and other ingredients. Certain rice-noodles are made directly from steaming the raw rice slurry and are only consumed fresh.

Unlike many Western noodles and pastas, Chinese noodles made from wheat flour are usually made from salted dough and therefore do not require the addition of salt to the liquid in which they are boiled. Chinese noodles also cook very quickly, generally requiring less than 5 minutes to become al dente and some taking less than a minute to finish cooking, with thinner noodles requiring less time to cook. Chinese noodles made from rice or mung bean starch do not generally contain salt.



These noodles are made only with wheat flour and water. If the intended product are dried noodles, salt is almost always added to the recipe.

Common English name Characters Pinyin Cantonese Hokkien Thai Thai transliteration Western equivalent Description
Cat's ear 貓耳朵 māo ěr duǒ maau yi do - Orecchiette Looks like a cat's ear
Cold noodles 涼麵 liang miàn lahng mein - Served cold
Dao xiao mian 刀削麵 dao xiao miàn doe seuk mein Relatively short flat noodle peeled by knife from a firm slab of dough
La mian 拉麵 lā miàn laai mein - เส้นบะหมี่ ba mee Hand-pulled noodles from which ramen was derived.
Yaka mein (Yat Ca Mein, Yet Ca Mein) - North American Chinese style wheat noodles similar to spaghetti; sold in Canada and the United States
Lo mein 撈麵 lāo miàn lo mein lo mi - Wheat flour noodles that are stir fried with sliced vegetables and/or meats and other seasonings
Misua 麵線 miàn xiàn mein sin misua หมีซั่ว mee sua Long, short, very fine Vermicelli Thin, salted wheat noodles (1 mm diameter). Can be caramelized to a brown colour through extensive steaming
宮麵 gōng miàn
Saang mein 生麵 shēng miàn saang mein - Soapy texture
Thick noodles 粗麵 cū miàn cho mein Thick wheat flour noodles, from which udon was derived.

Lye-water or egg

These wheat flour noodles are more chewy in texture and yellow in colour either due to the addition of lye (sodium carbonate, potassium carbonate, calcium hydroxide, or potassium hydroxide) or egg. This class of lye water noodles (Chinese: 碱麵; pinyin: jiǎn miàn) has a subtle but distinctive smell and taste, described by some as being "eggy".[7]

Common English name Characters Pinyin Cantonese Hokkien Thai Western equivalent Description
Oil noodles 油麵 yóu miàn jau4 min - Made of wheat flour and egg or lye-water; often comes pre-cooked
Thin noodles 幼麵 yòu miàn jau mein Thin lye-water noodles; one of the most common Cantonese noodles
Mee pok 麵薄 miàn báo - mee pok mee pok Linguine Flat egg or lye-water noodles
Yi mein 伊麵
yī miàn
yī fǔ miàn
yi mein
yee min
yee foo min
ee mee
ee foo mee
- Fried, chewy noodles made from wheat flour and egg or lye-water
Shrimp roe noodles 蝦子麵 xiā zǐ miàn ha tsz min - Made of wheat flour, lye-water, and roe, which show up as black spots
Jook-sing noodles 竹昇麵 zhú shēng miàn zuk1 sing1 min6 a rare type of Cantonese noodle in which the dough is tenderized with a large bamboo log.


Rice based noodles can be:

  1. Extruded from a paste and steamed into strands of noodles
  2. Steamed from a slurry into sheets and then sliced into strands

These noodles are typically made only with rice and water without the addition of salt. Although unorthodox, some producers may choose add other plant starches to modify the texture of the noodles.

Common English name Characters Pinyin Cantonese Hokkien Thai Thai transliteration Western equivalent Description
Kway teow 粿条 gǔo tiáo kwai tiu kway teow เส้นใหญ่ Sen yai Rice fettuccine Flat rice noodles
Ho fun 沙河粉 Shā hé fěn - Rice pappardelle Very wide, flat, rice noodles
河粉 hé fěn ho fun hor fun -
Lai fun 瀨粉
lài fěn laai fun - Rice spaghetti Thick round semi-transparent noodle made from sticky rice
Mai sin 米線
mǐ xiàn mai sin Bee sua เส้นเล็ก Sen lek Rice spaghettini Rice noodles also called Guilin mífěn (桂林米粉)
Rice vermicelli 米粉 mí fěn mai fun bee hoon เส้นหมี่ Sen mee - Thin rice noodles


These noodles are made using various plant starches. Mung bean starch noodles will often be cut with tapioca starch to make them more chewy and reduce production costs.

Common English name Characters Pinyin Cantonese Hokkien Thai Thai transliteration Western equivalent Description
Winter noodles 冬粉 dōng fěn dung fun dang hun - Thin mung bean vermicelli Very thin mung bean starch noodles
Bean threads 粉絲 fěn sī fun sze - วุ้นเส้น Wun sen Mung bean vermicelli Thin cellophane-like noodles
Mung bean sheets 粉皮 fěn pí fan pei - Wide, clear noodles made from mung bean starch
Liang pi 凉皮 líang pí - Translucent noodles made from wheat starch left from producing gluten
Silver needle noodles 銀針粉 yín zhēn fěn ngàhn jām fán Spindle-shaped wheat starch noodles, ca. 5 cm in length and 3–5 mm in diameter
老鼠粉 lǎo shǔ fěn lóuh syú fán ngiau chu hoon
Sichuan-style liangpi, a noodle made from wheat starch

Signature Chinese noodle dishes

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Roach, John. "4,000-Year-Old Noodles Found in China". National Geographic. Retrieved 12 October 2011. 
  2. ^ Sinclair, Thomas R.; Sinclair, Carol Janas (2010). Bread, beer and the seeds of change : agriculture's imprint on world history. Wallingford: CABI. pp. 91. ISBN 9781845937041. 
  3. ^ 黃, 朝英 (北宋), 靖康緗素雜記, 2,靖康緗素雜記/卷二 
  4. ^ a b c d Ye, Maolin; Lu, Houyua. "The earliest Chinese noodles from Lajia". The Institute of Archaeology. Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Retrieved 12 October 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Oldest noodles unearthed in China", BBC News, 12 October 2005
  6. ^ Lu, Houyuan; Yang, Xiaoyan, Ye, Maolin, Liu, Kam-Biu, Xia, Zhengkai, Ren, Xiaoyan, Cai, Linhai, Wu, Naiqin, Liu, Tung-Sheng (13 October 2005). "Culinary archaeology: Millet noodles in Late Neolithic China". Nature 437 (7061): 967–968. doi:10.1038/437967a. 
  7. ^ McGEE, HAROLD (2010-09-14), For Old-Fashioned Flavor, Bake the Baking Soda, The New York Times Company, 

External links

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