The Best of Japanese Cuisine: Gluten-Free Vegetarian Yakisoba Noodle Recipe

yaki31.jpgWhen we first moved to Japan, I discovered the joys of many types of Japanese cuisine, from the elite kaiseki ryouri (a multi course meal) to Japanese “fast foods” like okonomiyaki (a cabbage based savory pancake/pizza), takoyaki (dough balls with bits of octopus), or yakisoba (fried chinese-style noodle dish with cabbage and sauce). I was able to enjoy some of the multi-course traditional Japanese meals, although finding gluten-free dishes was often made difficult due to liberal usage of soy sauce, but the more everyday, wheat-based snack dishes were off limits. I tried to enjoy the dishes vicariously through my DH, watching him eat the foods and asking about the flavor, or maybe trying a sniff here and there, but really, there was nothing I could do but go to my own kitchen and try to come up with gluten-free versions.

In March of last year I blogged about my time honored recipe for Okonomiyaki (pescatarian with veg variation)

But recently, I’ve been thinking about yakisoba, or Japanese fried noodles. DH always enjoyed this dish in Japan, and it was one of the few gluten foods that he occasionally made. You can buy a little package of the noodles with a packet of sauce in the refrigerator section, and combine it with some fresh cabbage and carrots and fry it up in a pan- almost as easy as instant ramen! Of course, I couldn’t do this, but I always wanted to make a gluten-free vegetarian yakisoba.

What is yakisoba?
“Yakisoba is a noodleIt is prepared by stir-frying ramen-style noodles with bite-sized pork, vegetables (usually cabbage, onions or carrots) and flavoured with sosu, salt and pepper. It is served with a multitude of garnishes, such as aonori (seaweed powder), beni shoga (shredded pickled ginger), katsuobushi (fish flakes), and Japanese mayonnaise.

Yakisoba is most familiarly served on a plate either as a main dish or a side dish. Another popular way to prepare and serve yakisoba in Japan is to pile the noodles into a bun sliced down the middle in the style of hot-dog, and garnish the top with mayonnaise and shreds of pickled ginger. Called yakisoba-pan, pan meaning bread, it is commonly available at local matsuri (Japanese festivals) or conbini (convenience stores).” (source: Wikipedia)

The entry for yakisoba in the Japanese Wikipedia is almost the same as the English site, but it also mentions that now, for flavoring a so called “sauce yakisoba” is the most typical, but previously in Kanto (Eastern Japan, around Tokyo) yakisoba flavored with soy cause was common, and in Kansai (Western Japan, around Osaka) yakisoba flavored with a Japanese worcestershire based sauce was common. Apparently Kansai Osaka style yakisoba won out in the end in just one more example of the delicate struggle for cultural supremacy between Kansai and Kanto.

yakisobasauce.gifYakisoba is a simple thing to make, if you can eat wheat. Even if you don’t buy one of the yakisoba packs with noodles and sauce packets, or don’t buy the instant yakisoba that just requires water, you can buy the sauce pre-made like the one one the left. Obviously this sauce is no good for us, though, because it contains wheat ingredients, so the first challenge was coming up with a sauce. I found several ideas online, such as this one for Vegetarian Yakisoba sauce or some variations that use a homemade tonkatsu sauce recipe as sauce. Personally, I just don’t see using any sauce with ketchup in it, but some people seem to like it. Ultimately my version came about from reading a post on a message board where a woman said that a Japanese friend of hers had showed her how to make yakisoba just using three ingredients for the sauce. It sounded simple, and reasonably authentic, without either tomato or chili paste.

If you’re wondering about Japanese worcestershire sauce, it is quite different than american worcestershire and I really enjoy using it in Japanese recipes. Here’s what Wikipedia had to say about it:

“Japanese Worcestershire sauce, often simply known as sōsu (“sauce”), or Usutā sōsu (“Worcester sauce”) is made from purees of fruits and vegetables such as apples and tomatoes, matured with sugar, salt, spices, starch and caramel. Despite this appellation, it bears only moderate resemblance to Western Worcestershire sauce. Sōsu comes in a variety of thickness, with the thicker sauces looking and tasting like a cross between the original Worcestershire sauce and HP sauce. There are many variations according to flavour and thickness, and are often named after the foods they are designed to go with, such as okonomiyaki sauce and tonkatsu sauce. It has become a staple table sauce in Japan, particularly in homes and canteens, since the 1950s. It is used for dishes such as tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets), okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes), takoyaki, yakisoba, yaki udon, sōsu katsudon and korokke.”(source: Wikipedia

I do use Bulldog Worcestershire sauce, which at the very least does not contain wheat because Japanese label laws require it be listed as one of the “top seven” but I haven’t contacted the company, so use at your own discretion.

Now let’s explore some Japanese video clips about yakisoba!

Earlier I mentioned that yakisoba is a popular dish that you can get at local festivals. Here’s a video clip of one such festival stall:

People love television features on unique restaurants- here’s one segment on a special Yakisoba restaurant in Tokyo:

Sorry, it’s in Japanese, but basically they are just introducing the restaurant and their special variation on yakisoba. They point out the following differences between their yakisoba and typical yakisoba:
The quality of the noodle- it is steamed and contains less water than typical noodles
They don’t use oil to fry the noodles
Only costs 400 yen (like $4)- it’s cheap! (although this isn’t THAT strange- it is a fast food, after all)
They offer fun flavors like Mayonnaise or Curry

And, in case you haven’t gotten your fix of Japanese popular culture, check out these fun commercials (CM) for prepared yakisoba:

Now that you’ve become hungry for yakisoba, try my recipe. Our evaluation? DH scarfed it up and asked for more. His only complaint, and this was totally fair, was that I had overcooked the noodles. So, make sure you just do then very al dente before frying them. We loved the sesame oil flavor and sesame seeds, and I really enjoyed the tang of the slivered pickled ginger and ao nori garnish. (DH skipped the latter.) I was thrilled because it tasted great but was really easy to make- but then, as I said to DH, anything is yummy if you fry it in oil and season it with a rich, salty sauce. It might not be the healthiest dish in the universe, but it is really yummy. And what made me happiest of all was that I finally got to really experience Japanese yakisoba, as authentically as I could make it… And now I can’t wait to make it again! Itadakimasu! (Japanese phrase said just before you dig into a good meal.)

My Other Posts on Gluten-Free Japanese Cuisine:
Japanese Bento
Japanese Green Tea
Vegetarian Onigiri
Lotus Root Chip Recipe
Onigiri with cucumber pickles- Veg and Pescatarian Recipes

Gluten Free Vegetarian Yakisoba Recipe
1/2 package Brown rice Spaghetti Tinkyada pasta (8 oz or so) cooked to be very al dente- NOT completely cooked
Peanut oil
Sesame oil
1/4 cabbage, shredded
2 green onions, white part and green separated and chopped
2 small or 1 lg carrots, shredded
2 or more tbsp. pickled ginger strips/ matchsticks (not the shape for sushi)
kurogoma Black sesame seeds, to taste
Ao Nori/ Blue-green nori sprinkles

Homemade Yakisoba Sauce
1 tbsp. wheat free low sodium San-J tamari
1 tbsp. wheat free worchestershire sauce (Edward & sons has one that is GF and vegetarian, Bulldog Japanese brand is another option- be careful though as I have not confirmed with Bulldog personally, only read the label.)
1 tbsp. mirin

Heat a little peanut oil and sesame oil in your pan. (maybe a tbsp. all together, with a little more peanut oil than sesame)
Toss in your shredded cabbage and let it soften slightly, then throw in the white parts of your green onion (chopped), wait a minute and add your shredded carrot. Add a little more sesame oil to the pan if desired and then throw in your pasta, mixing veggies throughout and letting the pasta brown slightly on each side. You can cook it until the pasta is as brown and crunchy as you prefer. Throw in your pickled ginger strips, mix, add sesame seeds, and serve in a big plate. Sprinkle the ao nori on individual servings to taste.


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8 Responses to “The Best of Japanese Cuisine: Gluten-Free Vegetarian Yakisoba Noodle Recipe”

  1. looks FANTASTIC Sea!! makes me crave the Japanese restaurant we so often went to pre-GF!! YUMMY!! This is definitely on the TO MAKE list!!

  2. I really do miss eating yakisoba… I have to give this a try !

  3. Konnichiwa, Sea-san.
    That last clip there reminds me of something from PGSM (Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon). Not certain if you’re into that part of the Japanese culture in regards to the anime fandom. I love Okonomiyaki to death! I went to the Cherry Blossom Festival and it was crazy at how many fast food stalls there were. I only got sushi this year in the fear of CC and whatnot but in the past, I had made a oinker of myself trying out everything. Zoni (Rice cake soup) was my favorite but that shouldn’t be too hard to convert to GF. Still..yakisoba, yakitori, mm!

  4. I really need to take a trip to Japan after reading that post. Of course I guess I could make the recipe in the meantime…. Thanks for another delicious idea!


  5. This just makes me want to come to California, sit on your deck and eat your cooking all week long while learning Japanese.

  6. Hope you can help with this: Your recipe reminded me of how much I enjoyed yakisoba before that particular avenue of pleasure was closed off to me!! Coeliac disease has a lot to answer for! Anyway, I meant to order Bulldog Worcestershire sauce as part of a consignment from the Japan centre, but I must have got carried away (an easy thing to happen!) and ordered Bulldog semi-sweet tonkatsu instead. I have had a look at the ingredients, and I have a feeling that it is out of bounds. Would you be able to help me? Is it as safe as is possible to judge (given your proviso for the Bulldog Worcestershire sauce)? Or is there gluten present? Thank you

  7. Hi Maeve, I looked online for ingredients and found this list for your tonkatsu sauce:
    INGREDIENTS: Water, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Vinegar, Apple, Salt, Tomato, Soy Protein, Starch, Plum, Carrot, Onion, Garlic, Ginger, Spice

    I’m not sure what the translation is for starch in the Japanese label, but it is the starch ingredient that would give me the biggest cause for concern. I’d really like to see the Japanese label before I can tell you if it is similar in safety to the bulldog Worcestershire. The next time I go to the Japanese market, I’ll take a peek and hope they haven’t covered the label with an english sticker. It does seem fairly similar to the worcest. but I’m just not sure…

    Will try to get back to you on this…

  8. Sea

    Many thanks for following this up – I have taken a couple of pictures from the sauce with the English ingredients list and the Japanese list, which should save you having to remember next time you go to the Japanese market. Would you mind checking these for me? The Englist list has a few worrying ingredients… It’s not what I would normally eat, but I would love to taste it again. Thanks for taking the time.

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