Okinawa Yakisoba

Who doesn’t like fried noodles, right?! We love them all: pancit, bami goreng, chow mein — you fry it, we’ll probably eat it. But this is my hands-down favorite — Yakisoba made with Okinawa soba noodles. You’re thinking, “Those don’t look like buckwheat noodles — soba noodles are made of buckwheat.” True, in most cases “soba” refers to noodles made with at least 30% buckwheat, but Okinawan noodle manufacturers received special dispensation from the Japan soba-growers’ association to continue to use the term “Okinawa soba” (although these noodles have 0% buckwheat) because the term was so closely tied to the island group’s history and culture.

Okinawa soba is slightly yellow in color and flattened in the middle, betraying its ancestry from the Chinese egg noodle. It is also thicker and has a chewy bite that distinguishes it from the more common ramen noodles which are used to make yakisoba in other parts of Japan. Until we lived in Hawaii, I used to make yakisoba using Chinese egg noodles, ramen noodles, or even leftover spaghetti noodles. But having had access to locally made Okinawa-style soba for 3 years on Oahu I knew it was going to be painful to be without it and have to make do with other noodles again. Happily, I don’t have to yet.

In our 9 months here, we’ve found 2 Japanese grocers in the area and they both carry the same Okinawan soba made by Sun Noodles in Honolulu that we used to buy on Oahu! *and the crowd shouts with joy!* Of course, here the noodles are in the frozen section of the market instead of the chilled section as they were in Hawaii — but c’mon they got here and that’s the important thing. A slight drop in quality is expected, as the freezing and thawing leave the noodles a bit softer after cooking so they don’t have quite the chewiness of the fresh — but again I’m not complaining, just stating a fact. You can find Sun Noodles brand Okinawa Soba, as well as many other Japanese fresh, frozen and dry goods at: Maruichi, Second Floor, Talbott Center, 1049 Rockville Pike (near the point where Rt. 355 merges with Veirs Mill Road), Rockville, MD; and Daruma, 6931-E Arlington Rd., Bethesda, MD. These are both small retailers specializing in Japanese products that the larger pan-Asian markets in the area don’t usually carry. Now if I can only convince one of them to carry Hawaiian-style Portuguese sausage, too, we’ll be REALLY happy.

Of course, you could also prepare Okinawa soba as a soup, the package includes a dehydrated soup base. In truth, we make the hot noodle soup more often than the yakisoba. But sometimes you just have to get that fried noodle fix, and this is how we do it...

Serves 2 as an entree, more if part of a multi-course meal
(If you can’t find Okinawa soba, the best substitute are Chinese egg noodles which are much easier to find fresh or chilled around the country)

1 TBL oil
4 oz/ 113g pork shoulder or thinly sliced pork belly (latter available at Korean grocers)
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/4 medium cabbage, cut into 2” square pieces
1 small carrot, peeled and thinly sliced or julienned
* (optional) 1 piece of flat kamaboko, thinly sliced into strips
1/2 tsp sea salt
3-4 TBL yakisoba sauce or tonkatsu sauce (or in a pinch, Worcestershire sauce)
* (optional) 3 dried shiitake mushrooms, re-hydrated and sliced thinly
(or Braised Shiitake Mushrooms)
1 TBL oil
14-16oz/ 400-450g Okinawa soba noodles (the Sun Noodles package is 14.7oz.), thawed if frozen
1/4 cup/ 60ml water
beni-shoga (red pickled ginger), for garnish
ao nori (powdered seaweed) or fumi furikake (combination of ao nori and sesame seeds), for garnish

Slice pork shoulder or belly into small strips.

Heat wok over high heat and add oil, onions and pork. Stir fry together until onions just start to become translucent, about 2 minutes. Add cabbage, carrots and salt (and kamaboko, if using). Stir to combine and drizzle with 1 TBL. yakisoba or tonkatsu sauce, and mix well. Add mushrooms, if using, and fry together for 3 minutes.

Move all contents of wok up the sides of the wok, leaving a large space in the center. Add oil and soba noodles directly to center of wok, and stir to coat noodles with oil. Push vegetables and meats over the top of noodles, pour water over all, and cover wok for 2-3 minutes or until it stops steaming.

Add 2 TBL yakisoba or tonkatsu sauce, and using 2 wooden spoons or large chopsticks, combine noodles and vegetable mixture so that everything is evenly distributed and sauce has a chance to cook through. Taste and add salt or last TBL. of sauce as needed.

Garnish with pickled ginger and nori, as desired.

Pomai at Tasty Island has a completely different way to make Yakisoba with these same noodles — he uses the soup base that come in the package to season the fried noodles, check out his step by step pictorial on his site.

Want more tastes from Okinawa? Try
Rafute (Long-cooked Seasoned Pork Belly)
Abura Miso (Sake-Seasoned Miso Paste with Rafute)
Kombu (Kelp & Pork Soup/Stew)