Yakisoba is perhaps one of Japan’s best known street foods and it literally means “grilled noodles”. While most people in the US know the term “soba” to refer to buckwheat noodles, soba has historically referred to any long, thin noodle. In the case of yakisoba, it’s actually made with ramen noodles.
In Japan, yakisoba can be found sizzling away in stalls everywhere from baseball stadiums to traditional omatsuri (festivals). If you’ve ever been to an event in Japan, you probably remember the smell of the fruity, spicy sauce caramelizing on giant teppans (cast iron griddles) with the noodles.
The signature sweet and tart flavor comes courtesy of chuno sauce, known simply as sōsu (sō as in soda, and su as in suzy) in Japan. It’s a condiment poured on everything from tonkatsu to salads and is used in dishes ranging from hamburg steak to to Japanese curry.
Made with ingredients such as tomatoes, prunes, apples, carrots, onions, garlic and ginger and seasoned with spices such as cinnamon and cloves, chuno sauce is sweet, tangy, savory and spicy. I guess the best comparison (and indeed a suitable substitute) is a mixture of worcestershire sauce and ketchup.
While most street food versions of yakisoba are mostly noodles with a few scraps of cabbage here and there, I like loading my yakisoba up with veggies (and sometimes seafood or meat), turning it into a complete meal. I didn’t add any meat this time, but if you do decide to add some, cook it first, before the carrots and onions and then transfer it to a bowl, adding it back in at the very end.
The classic toppings for yakisoba are aonori(green nori flakes) and benishōuga (red pickled ginger), but some people like topping theirs with spicy mustard or even mayonnaise.
- Boil the noodles for 1 minute less than what the package directions say. When the noodles are done, drain and rinse very well with cold water, using your fingers to agitate the noodles. Drain as much water off the noodles as possible by using a dropping motion with both hands and yanking up suddenly. Toss the noodles with 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil to keep the noodles from sticking together.
- Prep the vegetables and make the sauce by whisking together the chuno sauce, oyster sauce, and white pepper.
- Heat a pan over medium-high heat until hot and then add 2 tablespoons of oil along with the carrots, onions and any tougher bits of cabbage.
- Stir-fry until the carrots are tender and then add the cabbage and scallions. Continue stir-frying until the cabbage is cooked.
- Add the noodles and sauce and use two utensils to lift and drop the noodles as if you're tossing a salad to coat them evenly with sauce.
- Sprinkle the katsuobushi onto the noodles, and continue tossing until the noodles are a uniform color and you can smell the sauce starting to caramelize.
- Plate the yakisoba and sprinkle with aonori and beni shoga to garnish.