Getting burned out on the hot grill? Return to pantry staple: the noodle. It’s hard to imagine a food more simple—or more versatile—than noodles. After all, they start with nothing more than two ingredients: flour and water. But then, the sky’s the limit! Add eggs, herbs or puréed vegetables to the dough, roll it into thin sheets and layer with cheese and sauce in lasagna. Cut the sheets into thin or fat strips, cook the fresh noodles or dry them for longer storage, or cut the sheets into rounds or squares to wrap a tasty dumpling filling in. Use a machine to form the dough into all kinds of shapes, from hats to wheels to bow-ties, then bake, boil, sauté or deep-fry. The pasta-bilities are endless!
One of the great things about noodles is their versatility—perhaps that’s why noodles are found across the globe, from steamy tropical countries to colder European climates. When temperatures rise, cold noodles are refreshing in salads or with a citrusy ponzu dipping sauce; in the colder months, noodle soups and stir-fries or a hearty noodle casserole will warm you up quickly.
Noodles are true culinary chameleons, adapting easily to the flavor palettes and agricultural products of every country. In Northern Europe and America, noodle dishes go hearty, incorporating butter, cheese and other dairy products—think of the classic macaroni and cheese casserole. In the dairy-rich north of Italy, pasta also gets the butter, cheese and cream treatment or is served with a Bolognese meat sauce, while in southern Italy, pasta is sauced with local tomatoes and olive oil. In Asia, the savory umami richness of soy sauce and fish sauce, the tang of citrus and rice vinegar, the sting of hot chiles and the sweetness of sugar all play a role in seasoning noodle dishes.
Since noodles have been around for thousands of years, it’s not surprising that they have become thoroughly steeped in superstition and folklore.
In Chinese culture, long noodles symbolize long life, and people avoid cutting noodles before serving, which would symbolize cutting life short. This tradition is especially important on auspicious occasions like the New Year’s celebration and birthdays.
In Japan, a steaming bowl of toshikoshi (year-end) soba is enjoyed on New Year’s Eve. In addition to bringing longevity because of its long shape, soba is thought to attract wealth, from the old custom of metal craftsmen using balls made of kneaded buckwheat to pick up scraps of gold and silver.
When someone moves into a new neighborhood in Japan, it’s customary to present soba to their new neighbors, since the word for soba sounds like the word that means ‘near’ or ‘next to.’
In Iran, noodle dishes are eaten when a change or important decision is imminent, since the shape of the noodles suggests the “reins” of one’s life that are about to be taken in hand.
As we mentioned before, Kikkoman Ponzu, a citrus-seasoned soy sauce and dressing, is the latest Japanese flavor to reach the shelves of American supermarkets. In Japan, it’s used as a dipping sauce to add a splash of savory flavor to hot pots or griddle-seared meats, but ponzu’s perfect balance of salty, tangy and sweet gives it the versatility to enhance all kinds of cooking.
Original Kikkoman Ponzu is seasoned with lemon juice, and now there’s also Kikkoman Lime Ponzu. Either one can be used right from the bottle as a dipping sauce or as an ingredient in dressings, marinades and sauces. Whisk ponzu with a small amount of sesame or vegetable oil to make a refreshing dressing for green salads or cold noodles. Or use it to flavor hot and sour noodle soup or to add a citrusy note to steamed fish.
Ponzu’s blend of citrus and savory flavors makes it ideal for Latin cooking, too. It’s a convenient, all-in-one marinade for carne asada or grilled chicken, and adds the sparkle of lime juice and the savor of soy sauce to mango salsa. But that’s just the beginning—try it wherever you’d use a touch of salt and citrus. The “ponzu-bilities” are endless!