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Asian-inspired noodle and rice bowls are a frequent offering on restaurant menus, ranging from traditional Vietnamese vermicelli bowls and Chinese hot pot to innovative dishes that combine global flavors with local flair. Making a decision about which bowl to order may seem like the most challenging part, but mastering your finesse with chopsticks may provide an additional culinary adventure. Need some guidance? Read on—we’ve got you covered.
10 N. Livingston St., 630-9400
Whatever your beef may be with sweet potatoes, Sujeo’s take on japchae—a traditional Korean dish transformed with the typically adept culinary twists offered by Chef Tory Miller—will sway your palate in their favor. A base of translucent sweet potato noodles are stir-fried with an abundance of bite-sized pieces of tender steak, mushrooms, bell pepper and bacon, garnished with scallions and coated with a savory-sweet sauce. Bonus: At Sujeo, they offer to cut the noodles for you (without making you feel like a dork) so they’re easier to eat. $$
600 Williamson St., 255-6910
Bandung’s Global Noodle menu is offered in the Nutty Bar from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and features an array of noodle dishes ranging from Indo Mac, a curry noodle dish, to pad thai. One standout dish, mung bean curry, combines a noodle bowl with a rice bowl. Silky threads of mung bean noodle are coated in a delectable coconut curry sauce made with hints of star anise and lemongrass and just a bit of heat. Bamboo shoots, red pepper, onion and mushrooms add crunch, texture and nutrition. Make it vegan and gluten-free with house-made tempeh, or add beef or chicken. $
7610 Elmwood Ave., Middleton, 831-3458
Open for about a year, Taigu has made a name for itself by serving house-made, hand-cut noodles from the Shanxi region of China, where noodles are said to have originated. Though the decor may feel more Northwoods, the food is authentic. The thick, twisted noodles can be boiled or pan-fried and served with innumerable combos of sauces, vegetables and meats. Pan-fried noodles with chicken lets the chewy noodle texture shine through the light sauce, topped with fresh-cut scallions. The bolder, spicy stir-fried noodles with beef offer a nice kick. $$
6754 Odana Rd., 827-9120
At Saigon Noodles, go straight for the pho or vermicelli bowl, both traditional Vietnamese dishes. The bun ga nuong and cha gio, or grilled lemongrass chicken over vermicelli noodles, is a great starting point with a bowl full of room-temperature bun noodles topped with diced chicken, scallions, peanuts, lettuce and bright herbs with a light sweet and sour sauce. A crunchy Vietnamese eggroll topper completes the dish. $
10 W. Mifflin St., 630-9222
One of the hottest spots on the Square offers one of the coolest noodle offerings. The charred salmon with soba noodles, maitake mushrooms and nori is one of the most soothing and delectable Asian-inspired noodle dishes downtown. The salmon and noodles are served cool, while the broth and mushrooms are warm. The charred salmon (that’s shortly cured in salt water before it’s charred to medium rare) lays on a bed of buckwheat noodles with a raw egg yolk that melds into the light broth when you break it. Bursts of salty goodness from the roe add just the right pop of flavor and texture. $$$
2098 Atwood Ave., 819-0140; 1146 Williamson St., 280-0104
A large and inviting space awaits at Lao Laan-Xang on Atwood Avenue (and another on Williamson Street) for you to enjoy your favorite Thai and Lao dishes. Belly up to the Atwood Avenue location’s bar, hand carved with elephants, and grab a cocktail while you wait, or share a table with friends. The Lao version of what is commonly called pad thai reigns at Lao Laan-Xang. Stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, tamarind, bean sprouts, scallions and broccoli, are topped with ground peanuts. The dish is not too dry or too oily, but is perfectly cooked, with plenty of toppings with each bite. $$
Sol’s on the Square
117 E. Mifflin St., 251-0116
Sol’s which is in fact just off the Square, is one of Madison’s rare authentic Korean restaurants, and it just recently changed ownership. New owners Tommy Kim, Daniel Jin and Jung Ae Choi are changing and expanding the menu here, but the bibimbap will still be a featured menu item. This quintessential Korean dish, which combines the flavors of minced beef, lightly cooked vegetables, spicy red sauce and a fried egg, is sure to remain one of Sol’s best sellers. $
461 Gilman St., 467-7387
This university-area restaurant offers homestyle cooking that draws a diversity of folks to eat. Try the ramen, composed of a thickened broth that’s somewhere between a soup and a gravy, tender chunks of pork, bok choy, carrots and ramen noodles. The matcha or mango ice cream is a fun treat if you have a sweet tooth. $
Mini Hot Pot
1272 S. Park St., 709-6558
It is almost impossible to choose just one way to order hot pot, so in truth, it’s best to let the adventure unfold. My favorite start to this eating adventure is the Korean kimchi broth, full of delicious flavors that seep into the vegetables and meats that you select for your broth. After it comes to a simmer on your personal electric burner (built into the table), drop in some sweet potato slices and napa cabbage and let them cook. The thinly sliced meats and par-cooked noodles take seconds to cook to tender perfection. Head up to the condiment bar to create a dipping sauce. After your noodles and meat cook, dip them in your bowl of dipping sauce on the way to your mouth. Don’t forget the potatoes that are at the bottom of your broth. $$
Asian Sweet Bakery
1017 S. Park St., 665-3988
This corner store on South Park Street offers more culinary options than might first meet the eye. The racks of baked goods are enticing, with small pastries, bao, taro cakes, rainbow rolls and custard-filled tarts. The savory dishes are equally varied and satisfying, including the savory steamed “crepes” filled with shrimp and pork dumpling. The stir-fried noodles with pork and bok choy and pan-fried rice noodles with beef and peppers are perfect one-dish meals. $
Wah Kee Wonton Noodle
600 Williamson St., 255-5580
This cozy restaurant sits in a strip mall at the busy intersection of John Nolen Drive and Blair Street, just a few minutes from the Capitol. The extensive menu showcases house-made egg and rice noodles in dishes from owner Albert Ng’s native China. The tong mein soups stand out, combining long, thin egg noodles with various meats, broth and vegetables. Try the ginger scallion or duck tong mein with wonton and gyoza (dumplings). The gyoza are filled with minced pork, shrimp and seasoning. Chinese cabbage wilts in the piping-hot broth and adds texture to the soup. $$
2045 Atwood Ave., 284-9282
This intimate restaurant on Atwood Avenue offers delicious Thai fare and friendly service from the owner, Pooh, and her business partner, Kitty. The drunken noodles are perfection here: Wide rice noodles are stir-fried with string beans, bamboo shoots, basil, red peppers and slices of hot pepper in a garlic sauce. Mention beforehand if you prefer your food mild; the spice level is typically a bit higher than you might be accustomed to. Or perhaps that’s a perfect excuse to grab a nice bottle of chilled white wine next door at Table Wine after your meal to temper the lingering heat. $$
1336 Regent St., 287-0475
It’s a party in the back, with great eats in the front. It’s hard to decide how to start your meal—Korean spicy seafood noodle soup or the classic pickled cabbage with pork in a rice bowl are two top picks. The soup offers a nice kick, and the combination of shrimp, imitation crab, squid and mussels cooked in the broth sweetens the deal. Plump noodles and diced onion and zucchini round out the filling meal. The rice bowl is manager Zack Li’s favorite childhood dish—ground sautéed pork, finely minced pickled cabbage, scallions and other spices create a perfectly balanced flavor, not too spicy and topped with a fried egg. You can spice it up if you like with the hot sauce provided at each table. After that, head to the back of the restaurant to grab a seat in the karaoke room with friends, order a few drinks and enjoy! $ BOM
Most of us want to get the food to our mouth efficiently and without too much mess, so we tend to go for the fork, knife and spoon in the U.S. But in most Asian countries, chopsticks are the most common utensil (it is thought that chopsticks evolved as a utensil after fuel shortages led chefs to chop ingredients to speed up cooking time). Chopsticks are used for soups and non-broth dishes. There is a technique, however, so get your sticks and keep these tips in mind:
Soups or saucy noodle dishes are often served with a spoon and chopsticks.
In many Asian grocery stores (because that’s where you want to head for the best selection), noodles are shelved by country.
But don’t fear if your local grocery store doesn’t have a Vietnamese section; many noodle types are interchangeable, so feel free to choose your own noodle adventure. And have fun experimenting—green tea noodles retain their beautiful green color after cooking. Flat noodles help hold sauce, while rice and wheat noodles hold up in hot liquid. Here is a small selection of the most popular noodles:
Pho: A Vietnamese soup using a broad rice noodle; usually stir-fried with meat in China.
Vermicelli: Round rice noodle common in Singapore and Philippines, used in pan-fried noodle dishes.
Ramen: Round wheat noodle used in broth-based dishes.
Udon: Thick round noodle found in Japanese cuisine, used in soups.
Soba: Japanese buckwheat noodle used in soup or served cold with dipping sauce.
Mee pok: Flat slender noodle from China, often tossed with a sauce or in a soup with minced meat.
Lo Mein: Long, yellow wheat noodles, typically used in Chinese dishes.
Mung bean or glass: Can also be made from cassava or yam; eaten frequently in spring rolls, soups and hot pots or pan-fried with meat and vegetables.
Japchae: Sweet potato noodle that is translucent after cooking; a Korean staple.
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