Fast Track: Fastfood

Forget munching on a burger - noodle slurping is the new way to snack

Fast food. Does merely the mention of those two words bring to mind a giant yellow M? With its re-invention in the nineties, fast food has become much healthier, more nutritious and less calorific. And the humble noodle, devoured in vast quantities in the East, has now become the post modern minimalist's snack of choice.

While most of us are closely acquainted with the Italian egg noodle, there are many different types of Asian noodle. Some are wheat-based, others are made from ingredients such as rice or potato flour, buckwheat, corn, yam or soyabean starch. In Thailand noodles are known as khnon, in Singapore as mee, and in Japan, they're udon. The beauty of the noodle is its versatility and openness to interpretation. Boiled or steamed, wok or crisply deep fried, sweet or plain, noodles come in many guises.

Originally "an invention of the common people", according to the Chinese historian Shu Hsi, by the end of the Han period even the Emperor was eating them. Noodle making was introduced to Japan by monks who had travelled to China. Udon noodles, long, chubby and square, are generally associated with the southern part of Japan and are made from wheat flour typical to the area, while up North thinner buckwheat noodles called soba are more plentiful.

Wagamama in London's West End is the flagship for the new breed of noodle bar. This trend-setting eatery attracts around 8,000 diners a week to slurp on a variety of ramen, soba and udon noodle dishes in an ultra-minimalist, smoke-free environment. The formula is proving so popular, a third West End restaurant is under construction

While mastering the art of chopsticks is an absolute must, according to Japanese lore it is bad luck to break a noodle. And throw your Western table manners out the window: you have to slurp your ramen (noodle soup) to cool it down and smack your lips loudly to show your appreciation. Wagamama, 0171-292 0990

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