Yakisoba (焼きそば) is the Japanese version of stir fried noodles. The noodles are cooked with sliced pork and plenty of vegetables – cabbage, bean sprouts, carrots, mushrooms and shallots / scallion, then coated with a special sauce.
What distinguishes yakisoba from other Asian stir fried noodles is this special sauce, which is similar to Worcestershire sauce but sweeter, and also the toppings – such as green seaweed flakes called “aonori” (青のり) and red pickled ginger called “benishoga” (紅生姜).
Yakisoba is known as one of the popular street foods in Japan. You will always find yakisoba stalls wherever festivals are held. At the stalls, massive amount of yakisoba is cooked on a huge teppan (鉄板, large iron plate) and when you buy it, a serving portion is taken directly from the teppan and served hot. Yakisoba sold at festival stalls normally has a very small amount of vegetables in it but when you make it at home, you add plenty of vegetables.
About Japanese “Sauce”
As you all know, soy sauce is one of the key ingredients of Japanese cuisine and can be used as dipping sauce. But in Japanese home cooking there is something called “so-su” (ソース, sauce) that is also regularly used. Japanese people even eat shredded cabbage or green salad with so-su instead of using Western style salad dressings. The colour of Japanese sauce is dark brown and it comes in different viscosity. The sauce with a low viscosity is very similar to Worcestershire sauce.
The Japanese famous sauce company called “Bulldog” (ブルドック) named this thin sauce “Bulldog usutar so-su“ (ブルドックウスターソース). The word “usutar” is the Japanese pronunciation of Worcester. There are also Bulldog chuunou so-su (ブルドック中濃ソース) and Bulldog tonkatsu so-su (ブルドックとんかつソース).
The word “tonkatsu” (豚カツ) means bread crumbed, deep fried pork – a Japanese version of a schnitzel. The kanji character 豚 means pig and カツ came from the word “cutlet” but it is shortened to just ‘cut’. So tonkatsu so-su is made specifically for dishes that have been bread crumbed and fried such as schnitzels, croquettes, prawn cutlets. It is the thickest and the sweetest sauce among these three Bulldog sauces.
Chuunou so-su sits between the other two sauces in flavor, and also its viscosity with the word “chuunou “ (中濃) meaning medium thickness.
But just like with any other foods, Japanese people strive to cook the best yakisoba and they have even developed a yakisoba so-su (焼きそばソース) which is almost like combination of usutar so-su and chuunou so-su. I don’t stock yakisoba so-su at home as it is not as versatile as other sauces. So in this recipe, I have mixed two sauces with other ingredients to make a yakisoba sauce.
You can buy these sauces I have mentioned at Asian/Japanese grocery stores. You may not be able to find yakisoba so-su at Asian grocery stores but the other three sauces should not be a problem to find. Japanese grocery stores should stock yakisoba so-su. In Sydney, I saw tonkatsu so-su in a different brand at Coles Supermarket.
Japanese have gone even further to invent the so-su and made a powdered version of yakisoba so-su which is packaged in a single serve sachet. You can buy an instant yakisoba set at Japanese grocery stores which consists of noodles and the powdered yakisoba so-su. They are quite popular among the Japanese business people/uni students for convenience.
About Yakisoba Noodles
Yakisoba noodles are yellow noodles made from ramen noodles which are steamed and coated slightly in oil so that it cooks faster and it is easier to separate each strand of noodle when stir frying.
If you are in Japan, you would be able to buy a packet of noodles labelled as “yakisoba noodles” or “for yakisoba”. But in Australia, I cannot buy such noodles so I substitute it with Chinese yellow noodles. At Asian grocery stores you will find many different kinds of Chinese noodles – some are very thin (the strands are about 1mm), some are flat, some are very thick and very oily like Hokkien Noodles. The most suitable yakisoba noodle substitutes are those noodles which are round and of medium thickness of about 2mm and not oily. Below is a photo of the yellow noodles I used in this recipe, but you do not have to use the same.
About Yakisoba Garnish
Most Japanese people would say yakisoba should have aonori (青海苔, dried seaweed flakes) sprinkled over the top and a small amount of benishoga (紅生姜, red pickled ginger) on the top or the side of the noodles as it makes this stir fried noodle “yakisoba”.
The word “ao “ (青) in aonori means blue and nori (海苔) is the generic term for seaweed. Well, as you can see in the photo below, it is not blue but green. Japanese uses the word “blue” to express the colour “green” quite a bit. For example they say the colours of the traffic lights are red, blue and yellow even though they are red, green and yellow. Green apples are called aoringo (青リンゴ, blue apple).
In Japan, it is said that in the Heian period when the capital of Japan was Kyoto which ran from 794 to 1192, there were only 4 adjectives to describe colours, i.e. black, white, red and blue. So each colour had to cover a wider range of real colours, e.g. calling something blue even if it is green. How interesting!
The word beni (紅) in “benishoga” means red and shoga (生姜) is ginger. It is quite different from pickled ginger which is served with sushi. Pickled ginger for sushi has a much lighter colour – either very faint pink or the natural colour of ginger. It is also slightly sweet while red pickled ginger is a bit salty.
I indicated in the recipe that the garnish is optional but if you are interested to find out why Japanese people insist on having it as a “must’, you may want to try them. Although yakisoba is still good without the garnishes, I think that adding aonori and benishoga would make yakisoba great.
Instant Yakisoba Set
I wanted to compare my yakisoba so-su with the one in an instant yakisoba set which comes with steamed noodles and a powdered sauce I mentioned earlier.
Because the noodles are ready to cook and the sauce is there to add at the end, all you need to do is stir fry chopped meat and vegetables, add the noodles and stir, then mix in the powdered sauce at the end.
The photo below shows the instant yakisoba set and the end result. I found that the noodles were too soft and broken easily when mixing together with the vegetables and coating the powdered sauce. You can see in the photo some noodles are very short. The flavor of the sauce was very good. However, because it is powder, I felt that the noodles were rather dry. You could add a bit more oil when stir frying vegetables.
So if you can get hold of powdered yakisoba sauce sold on its own rather than as part of an instant yakisoba set, you might want to try that instead of my sauce. But I thought my sauce was still pretty good. Besides, you know what’s in my sauce!
I used pork in today’s recipe but you can use chicken or beef instead. You can also replace or add other vegetables suitable for stir frying, eg. snow peas, onions, green capsicum/bell pepper.
My daughter Nagi from RecipeTin Eats was at my place when I cooked yakisoba and she of course wanted to eat yakisoba but also wanted some salad to accompany the dish. I happened to have lotus roots (it’s in season here in Sydney) and I know that Nagi loves the lotus root salad I make. So I made Lotus Root and Mizuna Salad to go with the yakisoba. You can click here to see the recipe.
Please see the video at the end of the recipe.
- 300g / 10.5oz yellow noodles (Note 1)
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp oil (vegetable oil or peanut oil)
- 200g (7oz) pork thinly sliced to bite size (Note2)
- 60g (2oz) carrot thinly sliced diagonally
- 100g (3.5oz) cabbage cut into bite size (Note 3)
- 3 shiitake mushrooms sliced into 2mm (1/16") thick
- 2 stalks of shallots / scallions diagonally sliced
- 1 cup bean sprouts
- 40ml (1.4oz) Bulldog tonkatsu so-su Sauce (note 9)
- 50ml (1.7oz) Bulldog usutar so-su Sauce (note 9)
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- ½ tbsp tomato sauce (in Aussie terminology)/ tomato ketchup
- 1 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp dashi seasoning powder diluted in ½ tsp hot water (Note 5)
- 2 tbsp aonori (dried seaweed flakes) (Note 6)
- 2 tbsp benishoga (red pickled ginger) (Note 7)
Add all the Yakisoba Sauce ingredients into a measuring cup or a small bowl and mix well. Set aside until required.
Boil a sufficient amount of water in a sauce pan and boil the noodles for 1 minute. Drain and sprinkle sesame oil over the noodle and mix until all noodles are coated. This is to prevent the noodles from sticking to each other.
Heat oil in a wok or a large fry pan over medium high heat. Add the pork and sauté until the pork is almost cooked through (about 2-3 minutes).
Add the carrots and stir fry for 30 seconds, then add the cabbage and shiitake mushrooms. Stir fry for about 1 minute until the cabbage is nearly cooked, then add the shallots and bean sprouts.
After stir frying for 30 seconds (Note 8), add the noodles. Mix the noodles and vegetables well.
Add the yakisoba sauce and mix quickly to ensure that all the noodles are coated with the sauce and the colour of the noodles are consistent without any patchy light coloured noodles.
Transfer the noodles onto serving plates piling it into a mound. Sprinkle aonori over the noodles and add the benishoga on the top or the side of the noodles, or serve in separate bowl/plate for individual to add topping themselves.
1. Yakisoba noodles are the same as ramen or Chinese non-egg noodles. The thickness of yakisoba noodles is about 2mm but you could use thicker noodles. I would not recommend very thin noodles as it will overcook easily and become doughy. I would not use Hokkien Noodles either as it is quite oily and too heavy for yakisoba in my view.
2. Any cut of pork suitable for stir fry is fine. I happened to have pork scotch steak. I sometimes use thinly sliced pork belly. It makes yakisoba a bit richer but I like it.
3. I ramdomly cut the cabbage into bite size whose area is about 5cm x 3cm (2" x 1.2"). The shape does not have to be rectangular at all.
4. You can adjust the amount of each ingredient to your liking. I used the Bulldog branded sauce but you can use other brands if you like.
5. The dashi seasoning is to add umami to the sauce. If you don’t have dashi seasoning powder (see Home Style Japanese Dashi Stock for samples), you can skip this. But if you have bonito flakes instead, you could add 2 tablespoons of bonito flakes when mixing the sauce with the noodles.
6. Aonori is quite different from yakinori (焼き海苔, roasted seaweed sheets used in sushi rolls). It is green and chopped into teeny tiny pieces. It is used as not only topping for yakisoba but also okonomiyaki which I will introduce later, and sometimes in tempura.
Although the flavour is quite different, you could substitute aonori with yakinori. Julienne the yakinori into about 2.5cm (1") length.
7. Benishoga is red pickled ginger. It comes either in sliced or julienned. If you have sliced red pickled ginger, you can just julienne them. Do not substitute pickled ginger used for sushi for the red pickled ginger as it will not go well with yakisoba.
8. If the wok or fry pan is not large enough to cook the yakisoba in one batch, I would recommend that you cook individual serving portions from this point onwards. You will get a much better result than trying to cook a huge amount of noodles in a small wok/fry pan. I actually cooked my yakisoba in batches.
When cooking in batches: Before you add the noodles, take out the stir fried meat and vegetables leaving one serving portion in the wok/fry pan. Then add one serving of noodles and continue the following steps using one serving of yakisoba sauce. Repeat for the other servings. You could of course cook two servings at a time if the work/fry pan can handle.
9. You can buy Bulldog sauces at Asian/Japanese grocery stores.