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What is Yakisoba?

By Amanda R. Bell
Updated May 16, 2024
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Yakisoba is a fried noodle dish popular in Japan. Originating in China and very similar to chow mein, it is made with one of two different types of noodles, protein, vegetables and a sweet sauce cooked together in an iron pan. The dish is often served with a variety of toppings. Yakisoba is on the menu in restaurants and at festivals and is sold by street vendors and in convenience stores.

This Japanese dish can be made with soba noodles, also known as buckwheat noodles, or chuckamen noodles, which are made from wheat flour. The latter are the most common noodles in traditional Japanese ramen. On mainland Japan, thinly sliced pork is the most common protein source used; in Okinawa, ham is a popular choice. In addition to the meat and noodles, thinly sliced vegetables are cooked in the dish; onion, cabbage and carrots are the most common.

The noodles are first boiled, then added to the sauteed vegetables and proteins to cook briefly. Yakisoba is typically cooked in an iron pan or on an iron cook top; the pan is usually flat, with plenty of room for the dish to lightly brown. Cooking yakisoba in a too-small pan often results in the dish boiling rather than frying; frying food in a flat iron pan is known as teppanyaki in Japanese.

Once the food is cooked, a sweet sauce is added to the pan and the food is further cooked until the noodles absorb the sauce. Yakisoba sauce, often sold in prepared form in stores, is similar to a thick Worcestershire sauce, with a hint of soy, garlic, and brown sugar. Yakisoba is often served with condiments. In Japan, mayonnaise, pickled ginger, dried fish flakes, and ground seaweed are popular.

Different versions of the fried noodle dish are served in nearly every Japanese restaurant and it is a common family meal in Japanese homes. Street vendors often make the dish during festivals, and it can be found at stands, similar to hot dog stands in the U.S., in large Japanese cities. Vendors often provide a variety of meats and vegetables, and customers can pick what they want in their fried noodle dish.

In Japan, it is common for mobile vendors to drive around residential areas serving one style of food. This Japanese dish is often served in this way. Vendors usually provide different communities with a schedule, and on the night the van will be passing through, residents leave a light on indicating they would like to purchase it. As with street vendors, vans selling yakisoba often provide a variety of options.

Prepackaged, instant yakisoba is also common in convenience stores in Japan, as well as many grocery stores all over the world. Water is added to dehydrated noodles, meat, and vegetables and then cooked. The sauce is then stirred into the dish, and it's ready to eat. Larger convenience stores in Japan often serve fresh fried noodles; this is a popular lunch for Japanese workers.

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Discussion Comments
By anon335653 — On May 22, 2013

Soba and yakisoba noodles are two different noodles that are commonly interchanged.

By arbell — On Mar 26, 2012

After living in Japan for six years, I can assure you that soba is fried by both street vendors, home cooks, and in sit-down restaurants. It is also delicious.

By anon256749 — On Mar 23, 2012

This Japanese dish is never made with soba noodles in Japan, as soba is never fried. Only outside of Japan do you see this most popular mistake.

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