Cuisines and cooking techniques may vary from region to region throughout Asia, but one ingredient remains essentially the same: rice noodles. "Rice noodles play a big part in cooking all over Asia,” says Nona Lim, whose eponymous company packages and sells fresh, all-natural rice noodles. “To make them, rice is ground up, mixed with water and a little starch, then turned into noodles by either a sheeting or extrusion process. When the noodles are sheeted, a little oil is added so that the noodles don't stick together. There are so many different shapes and sizes, but you find the same ones called different names from country to country.”
Learn more about the silky, slippery Asian staples and how you can use them in your own kitchen.
Buyer's Guide to Rice Noodles
Forget trying to remember all the different Asian names for rice-noodle types. Thick or thin, fresh or dried, the strands are usually sold in transparent packaging so all you have to do is look at the size to choose the right ones for your dishes. You can find higher-fiber brown-rice noodles in these sizes as well.
Thin: Rice Vermicelli
Thin as angel hair pasta, rice vermicelli has a tender, moist, fluffy texture that works well in spring rolls, salads, soups, and stir-fries. You'll find them sold in straight lengths as well as tangled bunches.
Thin: Laksa Soup Noodles
These fresh noodles look like spaghetti and work especially well in soups
Medium: Rice Sticks
The fettuccine-size lengths are the go-to noodles for pho and pad Thai. Their thicker width lets you adjust the cooking or soaking time used to soften them so that they won't get mushy when added to stir-fries or soups.
Thick: Wide Rice Noodles
Usually sold fresh in the refrigerated section, wide rice noodles come in widths from 1/2 inch on up and are prized for their toothsome texture. Try them in saucy stir-fries and soups.
Big and Flat: Rice Paper Wrappers
The stiff rounds, squares, and triangles are rehydrated by dampening with warm water. They are then wrapped around fillings and served fresh or fried. Broken rice-paper wrappers are sold as rice flakes, which can be soaked and added to soups or stir-fries. You can also add your own broken rice-paper wrappers to recipes as a noodle option.
Short and Tapered: Silver Pin Noodles
Here's a good example of the different names rice noodles can take. These short, tapered hand-rolled fresh noodles can be called silver pin or rat tails. They make great stir-fry noodles because they won't clump around other ingredients.
Fresh or Dried?
“The difference between fresh and dried rice noodles is very similar to the difference between fresh and dried Italian pasta,” says Lim. “Dry noodles and pasta are a little more robust and won't fall apart, but fresh noodles have a little more texture and juiciness and won't stick together as much. Dry noodles need to be cooked first before adding to recipes, while fresh extruded noodles, such as spaghetti-shaped laksa noodles, can be dropped into the broth directly.” Lim also recommends reading the labels of dry rice noodles carefully. “Look at the fine print on the package to see whether preservatives and coloring have been added,” she says.
Try one of these 5 recipes that highlight the various types of rice noodles.