Yakisoba (Japanese: 焼きそば [jakiꜜsoba]), is a classic Japanese stir fry noodle dish with pork and vegetables, and it’s seasoned with a sweet & savory sauce similar to Worcestershire sauce.
What is yakisoba?
Nothing says “Japanese food” like yakisoba. It is perhaps one of Japan’s best-known street foods. In Japanese, yaki means grilled and soba means buckwheat noodle, but even though yakisoba has “soba” in its name the noodles grilled in this dish are similar to those found in ramen and not the buckwheat soba noodles.
However, yakisoba is not ramen. Ramen noodles are made in a soup broth, while yakisoba is a stir fried dish.
Most people outside of Japan associate soba with buckwheat noodles, because soba literally means “buckwheat” in Japanese, but the word was historically used to refer to any long, thin noodle. In fact, ramen was originally known as chūkasoba (Chinese noodles).
What is the origin of yakisoba?
Yakisoba is thought to have originated from Chinese cuisine and the Chinese stir-fried noodles, chowmein which changed to yakisoba when teriyaki sauce was added in the early 20th Century.
It became a popular fast food meal in the black markets that popped up around Japan after the war. In an era when food was in short supply, and the country was busy rebuilding, the basic ingredients needed to make yakisoba, and the possibility of preparing it on large steel griddles called a teppan (鉄板), made it ideally suited for these makeshift outdoor markets.
The dish first appeared in food stalls in Japan during the early 20th century. In Okinawa, yakisoba is popular with Okinawans and U.S. service members stationed on the island alike.
After the 1945 hostilities ended on Okinawa, the US military command supplied American food products to the malnourished residents. Yakisoba was prepared from spaghetti, Spam, ketchup, any available vegetable (usually canned), and mayonnaise.
Mess halls and other on-base eateries often serve yakisoba. Chopped hot dogs are a popular addition to yakisoba made on Okinawa, in addition to other meats such as ham, chicken, and pork.
Yakisoba (焼きそば) or Japanese stir fry noodles started to appear in the 1930s as so-su (sauce) yakisoba (ソース焼きそば), and it was a popular children’s snack at the mom-and-pop candy stores (dagashi-ya 駄菓子屋 in Japanese) in the late 50s.
Since then, yakisoba has been cooked and enjoyed at home and teishoku-ya (Japanese diners), became an icon for Japanese street food. As it is easy to set up an iron plate teppan and find ingredients to make this recipe, yakisoba food stalls are popular at school events, festivals, snack shops, etc.
Which type of noodle is best for yakisoba?
The most common noodles used are wheat-based. They look similar to egg noodles but they are not. They look like this because of the addition of an alkalizing agent called kansui, which is a water that is rich in sodium carbonate and potassium carbonate.
How to prepare yakisoba?
Yakisoba is prepared by frying ramen-style wheat noodles. In most groceries, these noodles are available in pre-boiled packs specifically for this dish.
The most common type of meat used for yakisoba is thinly sliced pork belly. Not only does it add a ton of flavor to the noodles, but it also contributes some fat that helps keep the noodles from sticking together.
As an alternative to pork, chicken or shrimp are both excellent options, and it’s also okay to just leave out the meat altogether to make vegetarian yakisoba.
Yakisoba is one of those dishes where you can add a lot of veggies as well. The standard trinity of vegetables for yakisoba includes cabbage, carrots, and onions, but you can use any combination of vegetables, like mushrooms and snap peas.
In Japan, people make yakisoba on a teppan, but there are ways to get a great grilled flavor without having a large griddle at home.
The traditional teppan gives a large heated surface to work with, so cooks can constantly move the ingredients around to keep them on a hot part of the pan. This not only cooks the ingredients through quickly, retaining their vibrant color, but also allows the ingredients to take on just a bit of char, which is where that wonderful flavor comes from.
To replicate this authentic flavor at home, try using a large pan with a heavy bottom (cast iron or stainless steel both work well). The large pan gives extra surface area to work with while using a heavy pan made of iron or steel (as opposed to aluminum) means the temperature of the pan won’t drop as quickly when adding ingredients.
How to make yakisoba sauce
Of course, yakisoba won’t taste the same without the great sauce to go with it. While there are lots of pre-made store bought yakisoba sauces out there, it is just as easy to make at home with a few basic Japanese condiments.
Just gather sake, mirin, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, tonkatsu sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar. Mix them all together and you have homemade yakisoba sauce.
Yakisoba can be served with a variety of garnishes, such as aonori (seaweed powder), beni shōga (shredded pickled ginger) and katsuobushi (bonito fish flakes).
Yakisoba is so good you will likely end up eating the whole batch yourself.
- 1 small onion , cut into strips
- 1 carrot , julienned
- 3 shiitake mushrooms , rehydrated and diced
- 2 scallions , diced
- 4 cabbage leaves , finely chopped
- 12 oz. sliced pork belly , diced
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Black pepper , freshly ground
- 16 oz. pre-cooked yakisoba noodles
- 5 tablespoons yakisoba sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 4 teaspoons oyster sauce
- 4 tablespoons ketchup
- 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- Aonori (dried green algae)
- Marinated red ginger (beni shoga or kizami beni shoga)
- Whisk together all the ingredients needed for the sauce and set aside.
- In a wok, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the pork until it is no longer pink.
- Add the onion and carrot and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the cabbage and cook until tender.
- Finally, add the scallions and shiitake mushrooms, mix, and cook for 1 minute.
- Season with freshly ground black pepper.
- Place the yakisoba noodles in a colander and let the hot water flow over it quickly. Untangle the noodles by hand.
- Add the well drained noodles to the wok and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly with two large spoons to combine all the ingredients.
- Add the yakisoba sauce.
- Transfer to plates and garnish with aonori (dried green algae) and beni shoga or kizami (pickled red ginger)
- Serve immediately.