As much as I struggled with my Asian identity growing up, I have very fond memories of visiting Japan as a kid. One of my favourite activities was going to summer festivals, or Matsuri, which always had rows of brightly colored stalls with games for kids, and even more stalls hawking food. It’s hard to say what my favourite stall food was, but I’ve always loved the sweet spicy aroma of yakisoba sizzling on a flat metal griddle. I vividly remember those lantern lit stalls that were often manned by burly buzz cut men, sporting hachimakis around their heads to catch the sweat dripping from their brow as they furiously stir fried the noodles with 2 metal spatulas.
Yakisoba means “fried noodles” and is commonly found all over Japan at festivals, sporting events, and shops that specialize in okonomiyaki (a type of Japanese pancake). Despite having “soba” in the name, yakisoba is actually made with thin Chinese egg noodles, not buckwheat soba. My hunch is that this is the Japanese descendant of the ubiquitous Chinese dish, chow mein.
It’s very simple to make and is a great way to use up odds and ends in your refrigerator. By adding your choice of meat, seafood and veggies, you can customize it to your tastes as well as what you have available. The sweet, tangy tonkatsu sauce imbues the noodles with a deep mahogany color and gives the dish its unique caramelized flavour.
I made this as part of my meal for the Korea v. Japan WBC championship game, so I wanted to give this dish a Korean kick. Some garlic and gochujang, really took this to a new place, adding more depth and plenty of heat, but if you’re looking for the authentic Japanese classic, omit these two ingredients.
Once the noodles are done, they are topped with aonori, which are dried green seaweed flakes that are a bit different from the sheets of nori used for wrapping sushi. For added color and a briny zing, benishoga (red pickled ginger) is usually added to top the pile of noodles off.
- If you are using meat or seafood, sprinkle with salt and pepper then heat 1 Tbs of oil in a pan or wok and fry until just barely cooked. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Saute the cabbage, bean sprouts, onions, and carrot until they are mostly tender. Add the noodles, scallions and garlic, then cover with the remaining oil (1 Tbs). If the noodles have clumped together, add a few tablespoons of water to the pan to help separate them. Stir fry the noodles until they are completely separated and there is no water remaining. Add the meat/seafood back into the pan along with the tonkatsu sauce, gochujang and white pepper and stir fry until the sauce is evenly coated around the noodles.
- To serve, plate the noodles and top with with a sprinkle of aonori flakes and benishoga.