Yakisoba: a Versatile Japanese Stir-Fried Noodle Dish

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Asian countries are popular for making delicious noodle dishes.

Every country gives its twist, some making it with soup, some without soup, some with copious amounts of condiments and spices, and others with very simple ingredients.

The noodles dish we’ll be talking about today stands somewhere in the middle between the two extremities.

It’s called yakisoba, a sweet, tangy Japanese staple that finds its fans everywhere there’s a Japanese restaurant.

Yakisoba noodles with chopsticks

Yakisoba is a stir-fried Japanese noodle dish prepared with Mushi Chukamin, the Japanese version of traditional Chinese noodles made with water, flour, and Kansui. It is filled with different vegetables, proteins, and condiments, primarily soy sauce and oyster sauce. 

This article will discuss everything you need to know about this super delicious dish, from its very name to all its types and everything in between.

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What is Yakisoba?

Yakisoba is a Japanese noodle dish stir-fried with meat and vegetables.

It is often called the Japanese version of Chinese lo mien, another vegetable and protein-based noodle dish flavored with soy sauce.

The noodles used in the yakisoba are mushi chukamen, or simply chukamen noodles, which are inspired by traditional Chinese noodles.

These are prepared using water, wheat flour, and kansui and have a distinct flavor.

There’s also a version of chukamen noodles that uses eggs.

Compared to traditional mushi chukamin, these noodles are a little firm and don’t break apart easily during cooking.

Traditionally, yakisoba is prepared with very selective types of proteins, including chicken, pork, shrimp, or calamari.

However, there are many options if you want to give the dish your own unique touch.

Some popular protein choices other than the aforementioned include:

  • beef
  • fish fillet
  • minced meat
  • Japanese sausage

During cooking, proteins like chicken and pork are chopped or thinly sliced to make them cook quicker, along with the vegetables and noodles.

Vegetables that are primarily used in the dish include:

  • carrot
  • cabbage
  • capsicum
  • mushroom
  • pepper
  • bean sprouts
  • bok choy
  • spring onion
  • celery
  • broccoli
  • baby corn

The main flavoring ingredient of the dish is, of course, the sweet and savory yakisoba sauce. However, as we explain, everyone has his take on the yakisoba sauce.

Traditionally, it is prepared with soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and sugar as the main ingredients.

Some versions of yakisoba sauce also include tomato sauce, but you can skip it if you don’t like it much.

When stirred together, all the ingredients make a beautiful combination, making up a dish that looks tantalizing and tastes amazing.

In Japan, Yakisoba is a very common dish.

Like hot dogs in America, you can find yakisoba being sold on stalls on every second street. Moreover, it’s the heart of every festival in the country.

Talking about the amazing taste of yakisoba, how about a mix between okonomiyaki and yakisoba? It exists and is called okosoba!

What does yakisoba mean?

“Yakisoba” is a combination of two Japanese words, “yaki” and “soba.”

The word “yaki” means grilled, broiled, or pan-fried in Japanese, and “soba” refers to the noodles used in the dish.

When combined, both words translate into “fried noodles.”

There’s also confusion about the term “soba” in “Yakisoba”. Soba noodles are brown Japanese buckwheat noodles, but not the type of noodles used in yakisoba.

“Soba,” in this case, refers to the chukamin noodles inspired by Chuuka soba, or traditional thin Chinese noodles.

Want to try the buckwheat type of soba noodles? Make this quick & healthy Soba noodle salad recipe

What does yakisoba taste like?

Yakisoba tastes sweet, savory, and tangy when prepared using traditional ingredients.

It gets the flavor mainly from the ingredients used in its sauce: sugar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and tomato sauce.

There are also some variants of the recipe that uses oyster sauce.

This turns the sweet and tangy flavor of the dish into something more complex, which is also known as umami.

Umami is a flavor derived when sweet, salty, bitter, and sour all combine, giving birth to a 5th taste that is hard to describe for someone who hasn’t tried it before.

It’s more like MSG, if you’ve used it.

People who like some heat also tend to add sriracha sauce to the dish, giving the dish a spicy touch.

However, we wouldn’t highly recommend that. Yakisoba tastes better with traditional ingredients!

How is yakisoba cooked?

When looked at, yakisoba might seem like a highly complex dish.

And why not? Almost all Japanese dishes require a certain level of culinary skill to perfect.

However, when it comes to yakisoba, this isn’t the case. It’s one of the simplest dishes you will ever make.

To break it down, cooking yakisoba begins with finely chopping vegetables and cutting the bite-sized protein pieces.

The next thing you do is cook the protein and vegetables in two separate pans.

Afterward, add the vegetables to the chicken pan, add all the sauces, and cook them together for a minute.

In the end, you add boiled noodles to the pan and fry them with the protein and the vegetables for a few minutes so that the noodles can absorb the flavors.

And, well, that’s it! It’s ready to serve.

Best noodles for yakisoba: Hime Chukamen

Can’t find yakisoba noodles in your nearest supermarket and have no Asian market anywhere near in sight?

Well, you always have the option to go for something like Hime Chunkamen.

Best noodles for yakisoba- Hime Chukamen

(view more images)

Hime is a well-known brand for producing gourmet Japanese foods, and their noodles don’t disappoint.

Hime chukamen noodles have a very fine texture with a delicate taste that goes well with almost every Asian soup and stir-fries.

You can conveniently use these noodles to satisfy your midnight craving for ramen while allowing you to make something unique and delicious, like yakisoba or hibachi noodles.

How to serve and eat yakisoba?

Yakisoba is served as a main course without any sidings.

However, many people still like to combine it with other traditional Japanese dishes like gyoza, takoyaki, and chicken karaage to make the experience more fulfilling.

In traditional settings, yakisoba is supposed to be eaten with chopsticks.

However, if you’re at home, you can also use a fork- whatever you enjoy the most. Some people like topping dishes like chow-mein with ketchup etc.

However, remember that no extra condiments should be added to yakisoba after cooking, as it is supposed to be enjoyed in its authentic flavor.

If you still want to give it an extra kick, topping it with some beni shoga and aonori can be a great option.

History of Yakisoba

Yakisoba has roots in the Chinese lo mein, a noodle dish seasoned with salt and Chinese soy sauce.

Japanese made their version of low mein using traditional Japanese sauces around the 1950s.

At that time, flour was in scarcity and rather expensive.

Hence, to make a bowl of noodles affordable for the common folk, the sellers started mixing it with cabbage to increase its volume.

However, then there was another problem. The dish was primarily seasoned with soy sauce.

Due to the water released from the cabbage, the sauce would get diluted; hence, the dish wouldn’t remain as flavorful.

To tackle this problem, the chefs started thinking of something more potent and thick that would provide the same flavor but wouldn’t be affected by all the water oozing out of the cabbage.

Thus, they started using Worcestershire sauce instead.

The experimentation was an instant hit, and yakisoba became one of the most popular dishes among people and children.

With time, the dish became a household food and an affordable part of every restaurant’s menu.

Moreover, people also started selling it on stalls due to its popularity.

In the years that followed, yakisoba was exposed to further experimentations. Hence, many variations of the dish came into being that we shall discuss later in the article.

To this day, yakisoba remains one of the prima donnas in the Japanese culinary world.

You can now find this dish at restaurants, food stalls, or even temporary booths at festivals.

People can’t get enough of the dish, and it’s no surprise why!

What’s the difference between yakisoba and lo mein?

Lo mein and yakisoba are more similar than they are different.

In fact, yakisoba is even called the Japanese version of Chinese lo mein.

However, when we get into the technicalities, they do differ from each other.

In Chinese, the word “Lo” means tossed/stirred/mixed.

Hence, it doesn’t matter whether the noodles are mixed with some salad or cooked/stir-fried with vegetables and protein in a wok; it will classify as lo mein.

On the other hand, yakisoba is prepared by stir-frying noodles, protein, and vegetables, mixed with a special yakisoba sauce.

If it’s not fried, it cannot be called yakisoba.

Another thing that makes both dishes different is their flavor.

Generally speaking, the authentic lo mein is flavored only with soy sauce, sugar, and ginger, making it a super-simple dish with a generally salty-sweet taste.

In contrast, the mainstream version of yakisoba is prepared with a very complex sauce consisting of ingredients like soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, and in some cases, tomato sauce.

Combining all these unique tastes results in a super complex flavor with hints of everything, including salty, sweet, sour, and a little bitter.

It’s an umami bomb that awaits to explode as you put it in your mouth.

Another big difference is the type of noodles used in both dishes. Lo mein is prepared using Chinese egg noodles.

Chinese egg noodles can be either thin, medium-sized, or thick and generally have no flavor. Plus, they are also a little firm than usual.

On the other hand, yakisoba is prepared with mushi chukamen, a type of ramen noodles inspired by Chinese noodles.

Chukamen noodles are specifically thin and have the texture same as Japanese ramen noodles.

The aforementioned are the three most fundamental differences between yakisoba and lo mein.

Although yakisoba is compared mostly with lo mein, it’s closer to chow mein in terms of overall flavor, ingredients, and cooking method.

Also find out exactly how lo mein compares to hibachi noodles (crucial differences!)

What’s the difference between yakisoba and ramen?

When we talk about yakisoba, it’s almost impossible not to mention ramen in some form due to the type of noodles used.

But guess what? This is just about the only similarity between both.

When we talk about the dishes specifically, they are completely different. Yakisoba is a stir-fry dish, while ramen is a noodle dish with soup.

In other words, both dishes do not overlap except for the type of noodles used to prepare them.

Types of yakisoba

Here’s Just One Cookbook with their recipe:

You can serve yakisoba on a plate. But some fancy restaurants will use a hotplate instead to keep it piping hot for longer.

On top of the dish, you can sprinkle a little bit of aonori (green seaweed flakes), katsuobushi (bonito flakes), or benishōuga (pickled red ginger).

You can try many versions of yakisoba as you move through Japan. Following are some of the most popular varieties of the dish you can try out:

Sosu Yakisoba

It is the mainstream style of yakisoba, where the noodles are seasoned with Worcestershire sauce and oyster sauce.

The color is a bit brownish due to the sauces.

Other popular ingredients in the dish include some protein, like chicken, pork, and shrimp, along with different types of vegetables, including, but not limited to, cabbage, bell pepper, and bean sprouts.

Shio Yakisoba

This is the yakisoba with a lighter flavor as it does not use any brown sauce as seasonings.

The dish is prepared with fresh shrimp, asparagus, and noodles, drizzled with some fresh lemon sauce to give it a zingy taste.

Compared to the traditional version of yakisoba, this one’s a refreshing take on the original recipe, mostly served in summer.

Other than taste, it also looks different than traditional yakisoba, having a generally white color.

Kata Yakisoba

Also known as Agesoba, Barebosa, and Ankake age yakisoba, it is a deep-fried variation of yakisoba.

In this variation, the steamed noodles are fried until brown on each side and then topped with other ingredients like sauce, stir-fried veggies, and protein.

Some of this dish’s most common protein choices include shrimp, squid, and pork. Vegetables like carrots and cabbage are also a common choice.

The unique ingredient used in this dish, though, is mushrooms. For their extra umami kick, shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular choices for Kata yakisoba.

Otaru Ankake Yakisoba

This version of yakisoba has translucent thick starchy sauce instead of being served dry like regular yakisoba.

People mostly use seafood instead of meat for this dish.

You can find Otaru Ankake Yakisoba in ramen restaurants, izakayas, cafes, and even wester-style restaurants.

Aside from Japan, this variation of yakisoba is also popular in China.

Yokote Yakisoba

Originally from the Akita Prefecture, Yokote Yakisoba uses thick and straight noodles as its main ingredients.

The dish will include a soft-cooked sunny-side egg at the top of the serving.

The most common protein choice for Yokote yakisoba is minced pork, and the main seasoning used for flavoring the dish is Worcestershire sauce.

Compared to a typical yakisoba, this variation is slightly more moist than usual, with very few vegetables.

Fujinomiya Yakisoba

This variety comes from Shizuoka Prefecture.

Fujinomiya Yakisoba uses local noodles with a chewy texture, deep-fried intestines, and local dashi broth powder. Even the cabbages are from local farms.

More creations

Even the ready-to-eat Yakisoba dish can be processed further to make a whole new dish. Here are some food creations made from yakisoba:

Yakisoba-pan

It is a hot dog bun stuffed with yakisoba. The word “pan” means bread in Japanese.

Yakisoba-pan is another practical way to bring your noodles as an easy lunch. To make this dish, ensure your yakisoba is dry, or your bread will turn soggy.

Modan-yaki

It is a style of Okonomiyaki from Osaka. Yakisoba is put on top of the Okonomiyaki dough while being grilled.

And then, you flip it, so the Yakisoba layer gets grilled as well. The meats and veggies of the yakisoba give the okonomiyaki a rich, savory flavor.

Omusoba

It is a Yakisoba dish wrapped in a fluffy omelet roll and topped with tonkatsu sauce and mayo.

Omusoba is great for reusing leftover yakisoba as it gives added protein and warmth. Omusoba is one of the most popular comfort foods in cold weather.

Sobameshi

It is a mixture of stir-fried rice, soba, vegetables, and meats. The dish is originally from the Kobe City of Hyogo Prefecture.

Nowadays, sobameshi is available in frozen packs, and you can find them in almost every supermarket in the country.

The taste of yakisoba is irresistible, especially if you know how nutritious it can be. But what makes the food hit it off in Japan is its convenience.

It is easy to make and leaves much room for you to get creative. Even if you are not a fan of cooking, you can always find many variations of yakisoba to taste.

Where to eat yakisoba?

In Japan, you’ll find yakisoba sold in stalls on almost every second street you cross.

However, you would like to visit a specialty yakisoba restaurant if you want a fancier eating experience and a more authentic taste.

If you don’t have any specialty restaurants nearby, don’t worry!

This iconic dish is found in almost any other traditional Japanese restaurant worldwide, including izakayas.

Plus, given the very simple and accessible ingredients, you always have the option to prepare it at home. It will taste great anyway!

Is yakisoba healthy?

Generally, no! Although yakisoba is very rich in protein and fiber, it is still a very poor source of macronutrients required for the body.

A single serving of yakisoba contains roughly 13g of protein, 1g of fiber, and 3.2 grams of iron.

This is more than at least half of the recommended daily requirement.

However, that’s about it.

Compared to the copious amount of sodium you will be getting from all the Worcestershire, soy, and oyster sauce, it doesn’t seem like a healthy option.

Not to mention all the carbs and calories.

Although it is ok to eat yakisoba once in a while to have fun, it’s not something you can incorporate into your healthy diet regimen.

If you still cannot control your cravings, which is understandable, some portion control, a proper workout routine, and using plenty of veggies in the dish might help.

This is especially important if you’re on a weight-loss diet.

FAQs

What are instant yakisoba noodles?

Well, here’s the surprise! Instant yakisoba noodles are neither yaki nor soba.

They are just a pack of ramen containing seasoning that resembles the flavor of yakisoba noodles.

All you need to do is boil some water, mix it with the noodles, and let it rest for a few mins. Afterward, you add the seasoning contained in the package for flavoring.

No need to fry, no need for any mumbo-jumbo recipes.

Although you can call these noodles “yakisoba-flavored instant noodles,” you cannot call them “yakisoba noodles.”

Are yakisoba noodles gluten-free?

No, yakisoba noodles are not gluten-free.

The chukamen noodles used to make yakisoba are made essentially of wheat flour, which contains a fair amount of gluten.

When we talk about the dish, soy sauce is one of the main flavoring ingredients, which, again, is derived from wheat and, thus, contains gluten.

The same goes for Worcestershire sauce as well.

Although some gluten-free versions of yakisoba recipes exist, authentic yakisoba can never be gluten-free in any form, period!

Can I use Yakisoba noodles for ramen?

The texture of yakisoba noodles is almost similar to ramen noodles, with a unique taste that feels delicious in a soup.

The extra toppings in the soup are just a cherry on top.

So yes, you can definitely use yakisoba noodles for ramen! Pre-steamed chukamen noodles are often considered a popular choice for the dish.

Can Yakisoba noodles be frozen?

Yes, you can easily freeze yakisoba noodles and eat them when you want to. However, make sure to store the noodles in small portions.

This way, you can reheat the perfect amount to satisfy your cravings without wasting the whole lot.

Is yakisoba bad for you?

Generally, yakisoba is not quite a healthy food option to include in your daily diet.

However, eating once in a while is not super bad for your health. Your tastebuds need some refreshment once in a while.

Does yakisoba noodles have eggs?

No! Authentic yakisoba noodles are prepared only with wheat flour, water, and kansui. However, some manufacturers use eggs as one of the ingredients when making noodles.

Conclusion

Yakisoba is one of the most iconic Japanese dishes loved as much as when it was first introduced.

The dish has even improved with time with all the variations that somehow find their way into everyone’s favorite flavor zone.

Give it a try for sure, you’ll find yourself craving it more often!

In case you are confused, find out what the three most important differences between Japanese and Chinese food are here

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.