Carbo-loading: The best bowls of noodles in Asia

From pancit in Philippines to soba in Okinawa and level-up Indomie dishes in Jakarta, this guide takes you on a delicious tour of Asia’s ultimate comfort food.

Noodles in Asia
  • Cheong Kamei
  • May 2019

Noodles might have originated in China but the ways in which they have been adopted by different Asian cities are staggering. These dishes aren’t just delicious, they are great ways to explore local culture.

Okinawa soba, Okinawa

Okinawa soba isn’t technically a soba (it isn’t made with buckwheat flour). But who cares? It’s delish! Here are three places to try in Okinawa.

Okinawa soba
Okinawa Soba

1. Kishimoto Shokudo

Locals make the drive all the way out to Motobu to get their carb fix at this tiny shack that has been making Okinawa soba the traditional way for over 100 years. For travellers, make this a pit stop on your way to Churaimi Aquarium — don’t be worried about not knowing how to order. It’s simple here — just tell the staff if you want a big or small bowl.
5 Toguchi, Motobu-chō, Kunigami-gun

2. Akisoba

Conveniently located a short walk from Asahibashi Station, Akisoba is a staple in Naha. While the dishes seldom disappoint, the star of this establishment is a soba dish that’s served with Kumamoto horse meat broth. Limited to 38 bowls a day, it usually sells out within two hours of opening.
1-11-5 Tsuji , Naha-shi, Okinawa

Kokusai Dori Yataimura
If you’re pressed for time, head to food enclave Kokusai Dori Yataimura to sample a range of Okinawan dishes including soba.

3. Shimujo

Located in a beautiful, old wooden house on top of a hill, Shimujo is the perfect ambience to slurp a bowl of Okinawa soba. The soup is a labour of love — pork bones and bonito are slow-boiled to extract as much flavour as possible but it’s the time spent skimming impurities and grease that creates a clean and refined taste.
2-124-1 Shuri Sueyoshicho, Naha

Pasta, Singapore

Singapore is a melting pot of cultures so it’s no surprise that it’s easy to find borderless dishes of pasta that draw influences from far and wide.

1. Laksa Pesto Linguine from Relish By Wild Rocket

The Laksa Pesto Linguine created by Willin Low at Relish By Wild Rocket — arguably the first mod-Sin chef in Singapore — is iconic. Basil is swapped for laksa leaves and pine nuts with candlenuts. To reinforce the flavours of Parmesan that would traditionally be used in a pesto, Low adds dried shrimp.

2. Spicy Oriental Bolognaise from Birds Of A Feather

Spicy Oriental Bologanaise from Birds Of A Feather
Spicy Oriental Bologanaise from Birds Of A Feather

At this modern Szechuan restaurant, angel hair pasta is served with a spicy pork ragout and topped with wilted kale, sakura ebi and an oozy onsen egg.

3. Prawn & Hae Bee Hiam Pasta from Redpan

Prawn & Hae Bee Hiam Pasta from Redpan
Prawn & Hae Bee Hiam Pasta from Redpan

When done right, hae bee hiam (spicy dried shrimp sambal) is an umami junkie’s dream. Redpan slow-fries its secret spice mix over a long period of time to intensify the aromas and flavours. It’s then tossed with tagliatelle and finished with sauteed prawns.

4. Risotto Lobster Singapore by Caffe B

Buttered abrorio rice, cooked in a rich lobster broth, mildly spicy lobster meat, parmesan chips … this is Caffe B’s decadent take on Singapore’s chilli crab.

Indomie, Jakarta

Level up your Indomie game by visiting these eateries in Jakarta that whip up gourmet versions of this well-loved instant noodle.

1. Warunk Upnormal

Indoemie goreng with sambal matah from Warunk Upnormal
Indoemie goreng with sambal matah from Warunk Upnormal

This hip concept eatery is one of the pioneers of serving up gourmet Indomie dishes. The Indomie Goreng with Sambal Matah — a raw Balinese salsa made with kaffir lime leaves, bird’s-eye chillies, shallots, roasted shrimp paste and fresh lime juice — is fresh and spicy. More adventurous eaters can try the Indomie Gokil — beef cartilage is braised in spicy green chilli gravy till it’s tender.

2. Ropang Plus Plus

Indoemie Saus Rendang from Ropang Plus Plus
Indoemie Saus Rendang from Ropang Plus Plus

The bestseller here is Indomie in a rich salted egg gravy but we say go for the one with mozzarella (it works, really!) or a soup version in a mala broth. Feel free to add other toppings, request your spice levels or even order a double portion — it’s a safe space.

3. Goedkoop

The specialty of Dutch-themed café might be the traditional pancake, Poffertjes but its nod to the unofficial Indonesian national dish comes in the form of Indomie in a homemade chicken broth and topped with seaweed, corned beef, bean sprouts and an egg.
No. 62, Jalan Bendungan Hilir Raya, Jakarta Pusat

Pancit, Philippines

When Chinese traders first arrived in the 9th century, they brought with them a whole repertoire of noodle dishes that came to be known collectively as pancit. Today, the variations are staggering, with each version speaking of the place it originated from. Here’s where to go in Manila to get a taste of the islands.

1. Pancit Malabon

Pancit Malabon from Dolara’s Hauz of Pancity Malabon
Pancit Malabon from Dolara’s Hauz of Pancity Malabon

Named after a fishing town north of Manila, this dish unsurprisingly comes with generous toppings of seafood that might include shellfish, shrimp or even smoked milkfish. At Dolora’s Hauz of Pancity Malabon, it doesn’t only come with an almost overflowing portion of shrimps, squid and eggs, it is also topped with sinful fried chicken skin and chicharron.

2. Pancit Palabok

Pancit Palabong
Pancit Palabok

With pancit palabok, the thick seafood gravy makes the dish. Like with most well-loved dishes, every household and eatery has their own tricks — some insist crab fat is necessary for an umami oomph, others swear adding bacon fat is the secret to a well-rounded savoury flavour. At Leoning’s in Quezon City, a third-generation family run business, they think a combination of shrimp and tinapa (a local smoked fish) is what keeps the crowds coming back.

3. Pancit Batil Patong

The official pancit dish of Tuguegarao, a city northeast of Luzon island, this stir-fried dish traditionally features miki noodles (a fresh egg wheat noodles), local water buffalo, mung bean sprouts and a fried egg. On the side, a hearty beef broth soup and a dish of chopped onions and calamansi. Cagayan’s Best Pancit Bantil Patong might be out of the way, but it’s worth hunting down — the miki noodles are sent from Tuguegarao daily, and the water buffalo doesn’t have the funky gamey taste it can have sometimes.
SDRC Bldg., 1318 G. Tuazon St., Sampaloc