Easy to prepare and even easier to cook, the trick to making good yakisoba is using authentic Japanese ingredients. In cooking this classic Japanese stir fried noodles, I do not use ready-made yakisoba sauce.
Traditionally, pork belly and vegetables (cabbage, onion and carrot are the most common choices) are stir fried with buckwheat noodles to make yakisoba. The curious thing about the dish, however, is that it has become heavily influenced by Western ingredients. Story has it that after World War II ended, American G.I.s in Okinawa were served with yakisoba with SPAM and a sauce made with ketchup, among others.
Personally, I find it amazing how dishes and cuisines evolve as a result of food shortage and strict rationing. Yakisoba with SPAM and ketchup sounds very much like as result of food rationed to American soldiers. Sounds very similar to the story about spaghetti carbonara being born from the ashes of World War II in Europe when Italian cooks had to make do with dried eggs and bacon.
This isn’t yakisoba with SPAM and ketchup. This is yakisoba from scratch. Back in 2009 when I was just discovering Japanese ingredients and learning how to use them, yakisoba became a favorite dish with my family. There was one time I cooked a yakisoba lunch for three people — myself and the two house helpers — but I was able to stretch the yakisoba to a lunch for six. My younger daughter, Alex, who was still in high school at the time, unexpectedly arrived with two classmates and, well, the yakisoba was totally wiped out.
That was in 2009 when I published my first yakisoba recipe. The cooking process has been modified a bit in this updated version but I haven’t changed the seasonings at all.
I start by browning pork belly pieces seasoned generously with salt and pepper. I add onion, garlic and ginger and saute them together until fragrant.
The carrot and cabbage go in next and everything is tossed together.
Then, the seasonings. A packet of dashi, a little mirin and some cooking sake.
I like adding spinach but that is on a case-to-case basis. I add spinach if we have some; I skip it if we have none. The upside of adding spinach is that there is an additional (and very nutritious) vegetable in our meal. The downside is that spinach contains a lot of water and the sauce thins out because of it.
I add the soy sauce after throwing in the noodles. I’ve realized over the years that if the soy sauce is added before the noodles, the vegetables soak up most of the color and they turn too dark while the noodles appear too pale.
Not many cooks garnish their yakisoba with toasted sesame seeds but I do. And if we happen to have bonito flakes in the pantry, I like add some too.
Yakisoba: Japanese Stir Fried Noodles
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 100 grams cooked pork belly cut into bite-size pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 onion or 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 small carrot peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 2 cups cut-up cabbage
- 1 packet powdered dashi
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 200 to 300 grams fresh soba noodles see notes after the recipe
- 2 to 3 tablespoons light soy sauce (I use Kikkoman)
- toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional but highly recommended)
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok.
- Add the pork and stir fry until browned. If the pork is unseasoned, add salt and pepper. If already seasoned, skip the salt and pepper.
- Add the onion, garlic and ginger. Stir fry for 30 seconds.
- Throw in the cabbage and carrot. Stir fry for 10 seconds to coat the vegetables with oil.
- Empty the packet of dashi into the wok. Sprinkle in the sugar. Toss.
- Pour in the sake and mirin. Stir fry for about a minute or until the mixture is quite dry.
- Add the noodles.
- Pour in the soy sauce.
- Stir fry just until the vegetables are done and the noodles are heated through.
- Sprinkle the yakisoba with toasted sesame seeds before serving.
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