Sayonara, spaghetti

Food Stuff

Noodle bars are opening in high streets throughout the country and they are proving so popular that half-hour long queues outside are commonplace.

The Seventies' Pot Noodle and its current rival, the Supernoodle, are worlds away from the Japanese noodles that are hot property at the moment. Succulent Japanese noodles which date back to the 17th century are considered to be the Rolls-Royce of the noodle world.

Demand is so high that at the refectory-style restaurant Wagamama, in London's Soho, they are getting though an impressive one thousand kilos of noodles a week.

Not surprisingly the supermarkets are catching on. Sainsbury's has recently launched freshly prepared Japanese noodle meals and Waitrose has just introduced a range of fresh noodles imported by the Japanese food specialists Tazaki Foods.

"We have had spaghetti and every kind of pasta and now people are ready for something different," says Waitrose managing director, Gerald Tyron. "Noodles are good, healthy food. They're quick, cheap and fun to eat as well," he enthuses.

KNOW YOUR NOODLES

Noodles were an invention of Chinese peasants, but once introduced into Japan they rapidly became part of the cuisine.

There are many varieties of noodle but most typical are the fat white noodles made with wheat flour called udon and the thinner brownish ones made with buckwheat called soba. Ramen are thread-like noodles bound with egg; ramen literally means "Chinese-style noodle". Somen are the very slender, vermicelli like, noodles that are made into nests and are traditionally eaten cold in Japan.

Japanese monks who travelled to China were the first to make noodles. At one temple, soba noodles were served to all visitors who came to pay their respects to departed relatives. The practice had to be stopped, however, after crowds of bogus mourners turned up to claim their free soba.

In Japan in the 1800s, it became chic for the aristocracy to eat at humble noodle stalls, but in silence. This only encouraged commoners to slurp their noodles even more noisily, still essential etiquette for noodle eating today.

Nikki Spencer

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