Asians regard noodles as a symbol of long life and good health. When served in dishes created to make use of local or
ingredients and to provide an alternative to rice, they offer a message of goodwill, a gesture of wishing well to others.
Noodles are an ancient ingredient in Orient. Long supposed to have originated in China, they spread rapidly to the tables of
the rest of Asia. Marco Polo claimed to have eaten noodles at the court of Kubla Khan in fabled Cathay. On the island of Sumatra, now a part of Indonesia, he tasted a kind of lasagna which he noted was made from breadfruit flour.
With a variety of names in the languages of the region, Asian noodles are often translucent, finely cut sticks or paper-thin
squares. Mostly gelatinous, they are made from ingredients that differ considerably from the durum wheat pastas of Europe.
The rice-stick noodles of China and the Philippines are made from rice flours, while buckwheat flour is the ingredient of the sweet-sour Japanese noodles. White wheat flour is made into egg noodles and a noodle that closely resembles Italian spaghetti. Mung-bean starch is made into cellophane noodles; potato starch is the basis of the harusane and sai fun noodles of Japan. Starch from acorns is used to make the Korean noodles known for their delectable nutty flavor.
Prepared differently from Western-style pasta, Asian noodles are softened first in either hot or cold water and then briefly cooked in mixtures of fried or simmered ingredients. When prepared in this manner, the noodles expand in size and become pliable and chewy. They are added to soups for body and texture, and to other dishes for textural interest as well as flavor.
Noodle dishes are either dry, with just a touch of sauce, or brothy. When served dry and sautéed with vegetables, thin slices of meat, or seafood, they resemble the pasta dishes of the West. When brothy, they are similar to the Vietnamese favorite known as pho, a soup dish of noodles, thin slices of meat, and sprinklings of spring onions and fresh bean sprouts, all blended with the juices extracted from seafood.