Udon Vs Soba, What’s The Difference?

Along with rice, noodles are also considered as an indispensable dish of Japanese diet. They play an important part from quick lunches to iconic festival dishes. In this article, we will introduce you the most two popular Japanese noodles: Udon vs Soba. Although they are sometimes used interchangeably and not many foreigners can distinguish them, they have quite a few differences.

Udon Noodles

The attractive appearance of Udon noodles.

The attractive appearance of Udon noodles.

1. What Are Udon Noodles Made Of?

Even you are a foreigner and haven’t been to Japan, you must know about Udon’s popularity. Udon noodles are one of the most suitable dishes to tell visitors about Japanese cuisines. People make Udon by kneading wheat flour, mixed with water and salt, into a dough then cut into long, thick noodles. Finally, they are cooked in boiling water. Most visitors recognize Udon stri through its thick, glossy and pure white appearance.

The thick, glossy and pure white Udon noodle strips.

2. Characteristics Of Udon

In terms of flavor, Udon noodles are chewier than Soba noodles but are equally delicious and versatile. Udon noodles are widely known for being easy on the stomach and can easily meet any taster’s demand due to their mild flavor. This characteristic gives Udon noodles great flexibility because they can take on any other flavors and textures.

With mild flavor, Udon noodles can combine well with other flavors.

3. How Are Udon Noodles Served?

Udon noodles are often served with hot broth as noodle soup or enjoyed cold with a dipping sauce. The composition and density of the soup depend greatly on the region so just try your best to enjoy various taste representing each region. Udon noodles are also delicious to be stir-fried with vegetables and meat. Another way to enjoy Udon noodles is Udon snack, which is deep-fried Udon noodles.

Stir-fried Udon noodles with vegetables and meat.

Thanks to its popularity, you can easily buy Udon noodles at many Japanese and Asian grocery stores whether you are in Japan or not. Many prefer the dried noodle because of its convenience, but to tell the truth, the fresh one is a better choice. And if you have a chance to visit Japan or a Japanese restaurant, don’t forget to give Udon noodles a try. The Udon noodles you eat in Japan are much different to the frozen Udon package you buy at the freezer section in a supermarket.

You can find many types of fresh Udon noodles in any Japanese or Asian grocery stores.

Soba Noodles

differences in characteristics between Soba and Udon noodles

Soba noodles, a perfect choice for people who are on diet.

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1. What Are Soba Noodles Made Of?

Just like Udon, Soba noodles have long been favorite of Japanese people. But recently they gain more popularity because research claims that they have positive effects on health. When visiting a high-end restaurant in Japan, Soba noodles are regarded as a luxurious dish. But, in fact, Soba noodles are quite simple to make. When mention Soba noodles, Japanese people refer to a type of thin noodles made of buckwheat flour. People usually use buckwheat flour mixed with water and sometimes wheat flour to make Soba noodles. The process is quite similar to making Udon: kneading into a dough, slicing the dough into long, cylindrical strips and finally boiling in water.

differences in characteristics between Soba and Udon noodles

Long, cylindrical Soba noodles strips.

2. Characteristics Of Soba Noodles

There are some differences between Soba and Udon noodles. Firstly, while Udon has a pure white, glossy appearance, Soba noodles are known to have a dark-grayish brown color. Secondly, while the flavor of Udon noodles is mild and flexible to easily combine with other ingredients, Soba noodles have a nutty flavor with a slightly grainy texture. That’s the reason why Japanese people often recommend to enjoy Soba in the simplest way: with light broth or simple cooking and dressing. To fully enjoy its high-quality taste, you shouldn’t overwhelm it with other flavors, just let the subtle nutty flavor of buckwheat shine through.

Light broth with a few green onions, which is simple but also the best way to enjoy Udon.

Udon vs Soba noodles, which are more healthy? The answer is Soba noodles. Recently, Soba noodles have become the most favorite dish of people who are on a diet because they are low in card and calories. The main ingredient of Soba noodles is buckwheat which offers many health benefits known as being rich in nutrients, restorative and boosting energy. Buckwheat is also gluten-free grain, it is an alternative for anyone who can’t consume wheat. But make sure to check the ingredients list in advance because not all Soba noodles are gluten-free. Like we mention above, people sometimes add wheat flour into the mixture.

3. How Are Soba Noodles Served?

Although there are some differences in characteristics between Soba and Udon noodles, the way they are served is quite similar. There are many options for you to choose, they can be served in noodle soup like Udon noodles or with dipping sauce, but Japanese people prefer to serve Soba noodles cold in salad. The broth that goes along with Soba noodles is very special and delicious. It is called Soba-tsuyu made from soy sauce, sweet rice wine and dashi stock.

differences in characteristics between Soba and Udon noodles

Cold Soba noodles salad.

Unlike Undon noodles, which you are recommended to buy fresh noodles, Soba noodles are commonly sold in dried form looking like spaghetti. You can also find fresh Soba and frozen one at most Japanese and Asian grocery stores. Juwary Soba noodles, which are made of 100% buckwheat flour, are a little bit harder to find outside Japan, you can buy it online but it takes you quite a few time to receive.

People often buy Soba noodles in dried from which looks like spaghetti.

Popular Udon And Soba Dishes

If there is a battle: Udon vs Soba and you ask Japanese people to choose the winner, we are sure there’s no winner here cause it’s too hard to choose just one. Despite some differences, the two Japanese noodles are sometimes enjoyed in the same styles. In this section, we want you to take a look at the list of some representative dishes for Udon and Soba noodles.

  • Zaru Soba and Razu Udon

We believe these two are the most favorite dish of Japanese people when summer comes. Zaru Soba and Zazu Udon is cold noodles, which could help to cool off the heat in summer. The noodles are served on a bamboo sieve or a wooden box called seiro. The tsuyu sauce is kept separately in another container for you to dip the noodles before eating.

Udon vs Soba

Zaru Soba will help you cool off the heat in summer.

  • Kake Soba and Kake Udon

The noodles are served with hot noodle soup. In this dish, the broth plays an important part in completing the taste of the noodles. The noodle soup is called kakejiru, it’s a combination of dashi, soy sauce and mirin (sweet rice wine). The simple decoration, with sliced green onion and egg, helps to highlight the texture and flavor of the noodles and broth.

Udon vs Soba

Kake Udon noodles soup.

  • Tanuki Soba and Tanuki Udon

This dish is a combination of Zaru and Kake because it can be served both hot and cold depending on personal preference. What makes it different lies in crunchy tempura bits called tenkasu on top of it, which creates an unique taste.

Udon vs Soba

Tanuki Soba noodles soup.

  • Kitsune Soba and Kitsune Udon

The noodles are also served both hot and cold and it is decorated with a thin sheet of deep-fried tofu called Inariage.

Udon vs Soba

Kitsune Udon noodles soup.

Udon vs Soba, which one deserves the title of Japanese iconic noodles? This question will never have a right answer to every one, it depends on personal taste whether you like the mild flavor of Udon or the nutty and grainy flavor of Soba. But if you have a chance to come to Japan, why not spend time trying both of them and choose your own winner.


About Haruto Suzuki

Haruto Suzuki is a senior food and drinks blogger at Question Japan. He has a background in F&B industry and also experience of running his own Japanese restaurant in Tokyo for over 10 years. Therefore, he has a great knowledge of Japanese cuisine. So if you want to discover Japan through its unique traditional cuisine, Haruto Suzuki’s blog will be a great source of information for you.