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Chinese noodles

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Chinese noodles
Chinese noodles at a noodle shop in Tuen Mun, Hong Kong
Place of originChina

Chinese noodles vary widely according to the region of production, ingredients, shape or width, and manner of preparation. Noodles were invented in China, and are an essential ingredient and staple in Chinese cuisine. They are an important part of most regional cuisines within China, and other countries with sizable overseas Chinese populations.

Chinese noodles can be made of wheat, buckwheat, rice, millet, maize, oats, soybeans, mung beans, yams, cassava, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and meats such as fish and shrimp. There are over 1,200 types of noodles commonly consumed in China today,[1] with tens of thousands of noodle dish varieties prepared using these types of noodles.[2]

Chinese noodles have also entered the cuisines of neighboring East Asian countries such as Korea and Japan, as well as Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand.


Noodles at a store in Yuen Long

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 Mandarin, miàn (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; often transliterated as "mien" or "mein" ) refers to noodles made from wheat flour, while fěn () or "fun" refers to noodles made from other starches, particularly rice flour and mung bean 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 ("meen" or "mien" for wheat noodles, "fun" for non-wheat). Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and many other Overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia may use Hokkien (Min Nan) instead (e.g. "mee" for wheat noodles, "hoon" or "hun" for non-wheat). Wheat noodles, for example, are called mian in Mandarin, mein in Cantonese, men in Japanese, mee in Thai and guksu in Korean.[3]

Sometimes, the principal ingredient used in the preparation such as wheat, buckwheat, rice, potato, corn flour, bean, soybean flour, yam flour, mung-bean starch, sweet potato, cassava, etc. may also form the basis of naming noodles.[4]


Two men making noodles in Shanghai

The earliest written record of noodles is from a book dated to the Eastern Han period (25–220 AD).[5][6] Noodles, often made from wheat dough, became a prominent staple of food during the Han dynasty.[7] In the Western Han dynasty, due to demand by the military, it was necessary for the government to implement food processing technologies that would make the food storage easier and more affordable. During this time, “Laomian” emerged, it was made with starch-rich buckwheat, millet and pea flours with lower water content, making it easier to store and transport.[8]

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" (Chinese: 湯餅; pinyin: tāng bǐng), as explained by the Song dynasty scholar Huáng Cháo Yīng (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 bready foods like pasta are referred collectively as "bing" and differentiated through their cooking methods.[9]·

Up until 1992, most dried Chinese noodles in the United States could not be sold labelled as "noodles".[10][11] This is due to fact that many Chinese noodles are made without eggs and do not always use wheat as starch, thus resulting in the United States Department of Agriculture obliging manufacturers to label them as "imitation noodles" or "alimentary paste".[10]


Chinese noodles are generally made from either wheat flour, rice flour, or mung bean starch, with wheat noodles being more commonly produced and consumed with the ancient wooden noodles mold technology 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 color or flavor. Egg whites, arrowroot or tapioca starch are sometimes added to the flour mixture in low quantities to change the texture and tenderness of the noodles' strands. Although illegal, the practice of adding the chemical cross-linker borax to whiten noodles and improve their texture is also quite common in East Asia.[12] In general, the Chinese noodles cooking method involves making a dough with flour, salt, and water; mixing the dough by hand to form bar shapes; bending the bars for proofing; pulling the bars into strips; dropping the strips into a pot with boiling water; and removing the noodles when finished cooking.[8] Chinese type noodles are generally made from hard wheat flours, characterized by bright creamy white or bright yellow color and firm texture.[13]

Before the automatic noodle machine was invented in 1950s, the processing of Chinese noodles were made with four steps, including:

  • Fresh – The noodles are often consumed within 24 hours of manufacture due to quick discoloration. Their shelf life can be extended to 3–5 days if stored under refrigeration;
  • Dried – Fresh noodle strands are dried by sunlight or in a controlled chamber;
  • Boiled – Fresh noodle strands are either parboiled or fully cooked. After parboiling, Chinese noodles are rinsed in cold water, drained and covered with 1–2% vegetable oil to prevent sticking;
  • Steamed – Fresh alkaline noodle strands are steamed in a steamer and softened with water through rinsing.[14]

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 挤压 jǐ yā 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[15]
Pulled The dough is rolled into a long cylinder, which is then repeatedly stretched and folded to produce a single thin strand[16]
Kneaded róu A ball of dough is lightly rolled on a flat surface or kneaded with one's hands until it is formed into the desired shape[17]
Flicked A soft dough is prepared, placed in a bowl, strips of dough are pulled and flicked directly into boiling water using a flexible bamboo stick or chopstick[18]

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.


A bowl of mala beef daoxiaomian (刀削面)

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 is dried noodles, salt is almost always added to the recipe.

Common English name Characters Pinyin Cantonese Hokkien Description
Cat's ear 貓耳朵 māo ěr duǒ maau ji doe ? Looks like a cat's ear; similar to western Orecchiette
Cold noodles 凉面


liáng miàn loeng mein ? Served cold
Knife-cut noodles 刀削面


dāo xiāo miàn doe soek mein ? Relatively short flat noodle peeled by knife from a firm slab of dough
Lamian 拉麵 lā miàn laai min la-mī Hand-pulled noodles from which ramen was derived
Yaka mein 一個麵
yī gè miàn; yījiā miàn jat go min; jat gaa min ? North American Chinese style wheat noodles similar to spaghetti; sold in Canada and the United States
Lo mein 捞面


lāo miàn lo mein lo mi Egg noodles that are stir fried with sliced vegetables, meats or other seasonings
Misua 面线


miàn xiàn mein sin mī-sòaⁿ Thin, salted wheat noodles (1 mm diameter). Can be caramelized to a brown colour through extensive steaming. Similar to very fine vermicelli
宮麵 gōng miàn gong min ?
Saang mein 生面


shēng miàn saang min senn mī Soapy texture
Thick noodles 粗面


cū miàn cou min chho͘-mī Thick wheat flour noodles, from which udon was derived

Lye-water or egg[edit]

These wheat flour noodles are more chewy in texture and yellow in color either due to the addition of lye (sodium carbonate, potassium carbonate, calcium hydroxide, or potassium hydroxide) or egg (either using only the egg white, yolk, or both). This class of lye-water noodles (Chinese: 碱面/碱麵; pinyin: jiǎn miàn) has a subtle but distinctive smell and taste, described by some as being "eggy".[19]

Common English name Characters Pinyin Cantonese Hokkien Description
Oil noodles 油面


yóu miàn jau min iû-mī Made of wheat flour and egg or lye-water; often comes pre-cooked.
Thin noodles 幼面


yòu miàn jau min iù-mī Thin lye-water noodles; one of the most common Cantonese noodles
Mee pok 麵薄 miàn báo ? mī-po̍k Flat egg or lye-water noodles. Similar to tagliatelle
Yi mein 伊麵
yī miàn
yī fǔ miàn
yī mihn

yī fú mihn



Fried, chewy noodles made from wheat flour and egg or lye-water
Shrimp roe noodles 蝦子麵 xiā zǐ miàn haa zi min hê-tsí-mī Made of wheat flour, lye-water, and roe, which show up as black spots
Jook-sing noodles 竹昇麵 zhú shēng miàn zuk sing min tik-sing-mī 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 to add other plant starches to modify the texture of the noodles.

Common English name Characters Pinyin Cantonese Hokkien Description
Kway teow 粿条 gǔo tiáo gwó tìuh kóe-tiâu Flat rice noodles
Ho fun, Chow fun 沙河粉 shā hé fěn saa ho fan sa-hô-hún Very wide, flat, rice noodles
河粉 hé fěn ho fan hô-hún
Lai fun 瀨粉
lài fěn laai fan luā-hún Thick round semi-transparent noodle made from sticky rice
Mixian or Mai sin 米線
mǐ xiàn mai sin bee sua Rice noodles also called Guilin mífěn (桂林米粉)
Rice vermicelli 米粉 mí fěn mai fen bí-hún Thin rice noodles


Sichuan-style liangfen (凉粉), a noodle made from pea (or rice) starch

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 Description
Winter noodles 冬粉 dōng fěn dung1 fan2 tang-hún Very thin mung bean starch noodles, similar to vermicelli
Bean threads 粉絲 fěn sī fan2 si1 ? Thin cellophane-like noodles
Mung bean sheets 粉皮 fěn pí fan2 pei4 hún-phê Wide, clear noodles made from mung bean starch
Liang pi 凉皮 líang pí loeng4 pei4 ? Translucent noodles made from wheat starch left from producing gluten
Silver needle noodles 銀針粉 yín zhēn fěn ngan4 dzam1 fan2 ? Spindle-shaped wheat starch noodles, ca. 5 cm in length and 3–5 mm in diameter
老鼠粉 lǎo shǔ fěn lou5 sy2 fan2 niáu-chhú-hún
Suān là fěn 酸辣粉 suān là fěn syn1 laat6 fan2 ? Chongqing hot & spicy sweet potato starch noodles


Youmian (莜面), cooked oat noodles and tubes

In China, particularly in western Inner Mongolia and Shanxi province, oat (Avena nuda) flour is called yóu miàn (莜面), and is processed into noodles or thin-walled rolls, which are consumed as staple food.[20] The process of making oat noodles relies on twisting them on a marble plate to ensure the dough will not stick on it, and turning them into strips and thin-rolls. It can be boiled or steamed, then served with different sauces to eat.[21]


The oldest archaeological evidence of noodles shows that they came from China and were made from millet, which is an indigenous crop to northern China.[6] In 2005, a team of archaeologists reported finding an earthenware bowl that contained 4000-year-old noodles at the Lajia archaeological site.[22] These noodles were said to resemble lamian, a type of Chinese noodle.[22] Analyzing the husk phytoliths and starch grains present in the sediment associated with the noodles, they were identified as millet belonging to Panicum miliaceum and Setaria italica.[22]

Chinese noodle dishes[edit]

Cart noodle dishes at Chinese Noodle Shop in Yuen Long

The following are a small portion of Chinese dishes that incorporate noodles:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Noodles in Contemporary China: Social Aspects underlying the Noodle Evolution (Qiulun Li) – Noodles on the Silk Road". Retrieved 1 July 2022.
  2. ^ Zhang, Na; Ma, Guansheng (1 September 2016). "Noodles, traditionally and today". Journal of Ethnic Foods. 3 (3): 209–212. doi:10.1016/j.jef.2016.08.003. ISSN 2352-6181.
  3. ^ RAICHLEN, STEVEN (30 January 1992). "Noodle nomenclature". Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA). pp. W/6.
  4. ^ Adejuwon, Ololade H.; Jideani, Afam I. O.; Falade, Kolawole O. (2 April 2020). "Quality and Public Health Concerns of Instant Noodles as Influenced by Raw Materials and Processing Technology". Food Reviews International. 36 (3): 276–317. doi:10.1080/87559129.2019.1642348. ISSN 8755-9129. S2CID 199628755.
  5. ^ Yasmin Noone (7 January 2019). "Who invented the noodle, Italy or China?". SBS Food. Archived from the original on 6 June 2022.
  6. ^ a b Roach, John (12 October 2005). "4,000-Year-Old Noodles Found in China". National Geographic. Archived from the original on 31 August 2021.
  7. ^ Sinclair, Thomas R.; Sinclair, Carol Janas (2010). Bread, beer and the seeds of change : agriculture's imprint on world history. Wallingford: CABI. p. 91. ISBN 978-1-84593-704-1.
  8. ^ a b "AACCI Grain Science Library". doi:10.1094/cfw-62-2-0044 (inactive 13 February 2024). {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of February 2024 (link)
  9. ^ 黃, 朝英, 靖康緗素雜記 (in Chinese), vol. 2
  10. ^ a b Service, Steven Raichlen, Cox News (7 May 1992). "NOODLENOMENCLATURE". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 23 February 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ "Cook's Thesaurus: Asian Noodles". www.foodsubs.com. Retrieved 23 February 2021.
  12. ^ 使用硼砂替代品吃得更安心, 彰化縣衛生局 (Changhua county health bureau), 4 September 2008, archived from the original on 29 July 2013
  13. ^ Ranhotra, Gur (1998). "ASIAN NOODLE TECHNOLOGY" (PDF). Asian Noodle. XX (12): 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 July 2018. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  14. ^ Ranhotra, Gur (1998). "ASIAN NOODLE TECHNOLOGY" (PDF). Asian Noodle. XX (12): 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 July 2018. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  15. ^ 中国美食探秘 (Secrets of Chinese Cuisine), 中国中央电视台 (CCTV), 7 November 2014
  16. ^ 中国美食探秘 (Secrets of Chinese Cuisine), 中国中央电视台 (CCTV), 7 November 2014
  17. ^ 中国美食探秘 (Secrets of Chinese Cuisine), 中国中央电视台 (CCTV), 7 November 2014
  18. ^ 中国美食探秘 (Secrets of Chinese Cuisine), 中国中央电视台 (CCTV), 7 November 2014
  19. ^ McGEE, HAROLD (14 September 2010), For Old-Fashioned Flavor, Bake the Baking Soda, The New York Times Company
  20. ^ "Braised potato and oat noodles". China Daily. Archived from the original on 27 June 2018. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  21. ^ "[Eat it]: Shanxi Oat Noodles". smartshanghai. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  22. ^ a b c Lu, Houyuan; Yang, Xiaoyan; Ye, Maolin; et al. (13 October 2005). "Culinary archaeology: Millet noodles in Late Neolithic China". Nature. 437 (7061): 967–968. Bibcode:2005Natur.437..967L. doi:10.1038/437967a. PMID 16222289. S2CID 4385122.

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