Yakisoba: The Japanese Noodle That Conquered The World

A Quick History of The Famous Yakisoba Noodles

One of Japan’s  local (and delicious) cuisines is the yakisoba. Much like ramen, donburi, sushi and its other siblings, yakisoba’s popularity extends even outside of Japan. Aside from restaurants that offer authentic Japanese dishes in other parts of the world, the popularity of the yakisoba can also be attributed to the rise of multi-million company Nissin, who made Japanese style noodles easily accessible to anyone.

For those who are still unfamiliar with what yakisoba is, they are basically stir fried noodles. In fact, the name “yakisoba” translates to “fried buckwheat noodles” in Japanese. While yakisoba is one of the most popular Japanese dishes right now, it’s predecessor was actually an immigrant from Japan’s neighboring country - China. Prior to arriving in Japan, the Chinese have already been making noodles out of buckwheat flour way back 10,000 B.C.

Historians claim that two forms of Chinese noodles, the soba, and the udon immigrated to Japan around the time of the fourth century. However, it was only around the eight century when the Japan started growing their own crops of buckwheat.  In time, Chinese soba evolved into what is now the yakisoba, veering away from the original soba which is similar to “chow mien”.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, yakisoba gained its popularity as a Japanese street food when it started to dominate small-scale food cart businesses. To this day, it is still one of the most popular street food in Japan, along with yakitori and takoyaki. Its complimentary yakisoba sauce that is based on oyster sauce has dominated the hearts of millions all over the world.

Yakisoba Uncovered: Calories and Nutritional Content

People who are fond of eating yakisoba may wonder if it is healthy, and what are the benefits and/or risks from eating yakisoba. The answer to that question is that depends on what type of yakisoba is being eaten. It is important to note that there are two forms of yakisoba: instant yakisoba, and yakisoba that is made from scratch. This is the deciding factor whether the yakisoba being eaten is healthy or not.

Real yakisoba or one that has been prepared from scratch is far healthier than the instant one. A lot of Japanese fast food chains and restaurants offer yakisoba, and these provide fewer health risks. A single serving size yakisoba dish should contain around 200 calories, assuming that it contains stir-fried vegetables and chicken as toppings. Of course, if there is red meat, the calorie content will be higher.

The healthiest way to eat yakisoba would be to prepare it at home, from scratch. In the latter parts of this article, a simple and healthy recipe is available for those who are interested in making it at the confines of their own kitchen. There are several reasons why it is better to make yakisoba at home. The primary advantage of homemade yakisoba is that it allows the person cooking to modify the proportion of ingredients, such as making tweaks to the recipe to make it healthier or to suit personal tastes. Several ways to do this would be to increase the ratio of vegetables versus the meat toppings, to swap the meat to something with less fat content such as white meat, or to eliminate the meat completely. The usage of salt and msg can also be controlled while cooking yakisoba at home.

The other advantage of cooking yakisoba at home is that there is a control on where the ingredients are coming from. Since restaurants work with suppliers who are profit-oriented, there are several practices that can affect the nutritional content of the ingredients being used. For example, sourcing from local market vendors would most likely decrease the chances of getting vegetables that have been infused with pesticides. The risk is not completely eliminated, but it is reduced.

Making homemade yakisoba also ensures that their ingredients being used are fresh, and not frozen. Using fresh ingredients, such as vegetables, not only produces better taste but are also richer in nutrients. Freezing vegetables reduces the nutritional content.

On the other hand, instant yakisoba is far more unhealthy than the ones that were made from scratch. Aside from having absolutely zero vitamins, eating too many instant noodles (not just yakisoba) can pose serious health risks. First of all, the amount of msg used to preserve the noodle are ridiculously high. The calorie content of instant noodles is also double of that from homemade versions, with a majority of the calories coming from fat.

Yakisoba Pan: A Unique Way To Eat Yakisoba With Bread

As if plain yakisoba isn’t delicious enough, the Japanese have devised an even more delicious way to eat it through the yakisoba pan. This is basically yakisoba stuffed inside a long roll of bread, resembling closely a hotdog bun. Eating the yakisoba pan is also similar to the way a hotdog bun is eaten.

The origin story of how the yakisoba pan came to be is quite uneventful. In the earlier parts of the twentieth century, it was common practice for restaurants to serve a side dish of bread to customers who have ordered yakisoba. This is completely reminiscent of western practice to eat pasta with a side of garlic bread. It was a common practice in Japan to accompany yakisoba with a side serving of bread for many years. After all, the bread complimented the rich and savory taste of the yakisoba coming from the oyster sauce and soy sauce.

The innovation that was the yakisoba pan came about in 1950, when a restaurant selling yakisoba suggested to their patrons that they combine the two. The reason behind this suggestion is that it would be far easier to eat the yakisoba with the bread this way, and it was indeed correct. The Japanese loved the idea of the yakisoba pan, that it has become more and more popular through its seventy-year existence.

This idea is particularly genius for tourists who want to eat yakisoba from street stalls. Eating noodles while walking is in no way an easy task. However, with the yakisoba pan, eating yakisoba became as easy as eating a hotdog, which is extremely portable. Aside from being tasty, this dish is also extremely convenient, making it a sure win for anyone’s stomach.

Quick and Easy Recipe: Healthy Chicken Yakisoba with Sauce

As promised earlier, this section will provide a guideline on how to make homemade chicken yakisoba that is guaranteed healthy. This recipe, in particular, uses chicken breast parts, which offer protein while having less caloric density. Aside from chicken breast, the recipe also uses garlic, sesame oil (a healthier alternative to vegetable oil), onions, garlic, green beans, carrots, cabbage, oyster sauce, and of course, cooked noodles.

The first step in order to prepare this dish would be to start frying the onions and garlic in canola oil until they are cooked. A good indication that the onion and garlic have cooked already is the change in color to a light brown shade. Once they have cooked substantially, move the garlic and onion to the side of the pan, but don’t remove the pan from the heat. Instead, it is now time to cook the chicken.

Cooking the chicken should not take long, depending on the temperature of the stove, it should only take a couple of minutes. Once the color of the meat shows indications that it has already cooked, the meat must be removed from the pan and set aside. It is important to set it aside first, since cooking the vegetables would require adding water to the pan and this could mess up the texture of the chicken.

To cook the vegetables, half a cup of water should be added to the pan. The green beans must be placed on the pan first since they take longer to cook compared to the others. After a few minutes, when the beans are still at a crispy state, the rest of the vegetables can be added. Once all of the vegetables are inside the pan, it is important to cook the vegetables in a stirring motion - hence the name “stir fried”.

Once the vegetables have already cooked, the noodles which have been cooked ahead of time can be added along with a half cup of oyster sauce. More oyster sauce can be used, however, the saltiness, as well as the sodium content of the dish, will be affected if too much is added. The last step would be to return the cooked chicken breast to the pan and stir a couple of minutes before placing the dish into a serving bowl.

The finished dish is not just healthy and tasty, it is also more affordable than eating out. Several changes can be made to the recipe, such as changing the chicken breast to pork, for a less healthy and more hearty dish, and using other spices and condiments such as pepper and ginger.

Nissin vs Maruchan Yakisoba: The Battle of Instant Yakisoba Brands

It is a given fact that not everyone has the necessary resources or skills to prepare homemade yakisoba. This specific need was addressed by Momofuku Ando when he created his massive instant noodle industry. Eating too much cup noodles, as mentioned earlier, can cause serious health risks to anyone. However, eating in between long durations (preferably months) is not as bad.

There are plenty of brands that offer variations of instant noodles. people who living outside of Japan may even see local manufacturers have their own take on instant yakisoba. However, the two big giants in making instant noodles, whose names stand out the most, are Nissin and Maruchan.

The first company, Nissin, is the global leader in manufacturing cup noodles. The business was started by the iconic Japanese businessman, Momofuku Ando in 1948. Since the establishment of Nissin, they have branched out to several other continents under different subsidiaries or partnerships. The Nissin is extremely common in Asia, however, their instant noodle brand that dominates the western market is called “Top Ramen”.

Similar to Top Ramen, Tokyo-based Japanese company Toyo Suisan Kaisha also came up with their own brand of instant noodles for the American market. The brand Maruchan in particularly famous in America for their selection of instant ramen, udon, soba, and yakisoba. The parent company was established in 1953, just a couple of years after Momofuku Ando’s Nissin was founded. The American branch of the company was established in 1972, and they intensified operations thereby building their own plant in California.

In America, Maruchan and Top Ramen are the two market leaders in the instant noodle category. While Nissin has a bigger market share in the Asian region, Maruchan boasts of a bigger market share for the American market - with its market share approximately at 60%. Given that, the real question is: which of the two brands is better?

The answer to whether Nissin or Maruchan is better that the other is completely subjective. For some people, Nissin’s Top Ramen is better and tastes more like authentic Japanese noodles. For some, Maruchan’s taste is more preferable. Some may find both brands equally enjoyable, while others claim that both brands are artificial tasting and awful. It is all a matter of personal preference.

The only way to truly know the answer is to try both variants. There are plenty of online discussions all over the internet that pit the two brands versus the other, however, the responses of the people are surely based on their own preferences. Just remember always that eating cup noodles is best done within months interval to avoid serious health complications.

How To Find Yakisoba Restaurants ?

For those who are not capable of making homemade yakisoba, but do not want to compromise their health by eating cup noodles, the only option left would be to eat out. Luckily, there are so many restaurants all over the world that serve yakisoba, it is no longer a requirement to be in Japan to eat good yakisoba.

With the help of the Internet, it is easy for anyone to search for the nearest restaurant serving yakisoba. It can either be a dine-in only restaurant, or one that offers delivery; it is all up to the user to decide. As an added bonus, the Internet also allows user reviews, which can aid the user to know which places are well-recommended, and which places they must steer clear from.