Noodles, with the exception of zoodles (please go away), are the arguably the perfect food. This brilliant food genus, which includes everything from rigatoni to udon, banh pho to spaetzle, seems to have endless permutations to slurp, swirl, and stir-fry. Few countries know the joy of noodles better than China, where the foodstuff spread, evolved, and became an integral part of its culinary history for over 4,000 years.
China isn’t a monolith and neither are its noodles. In southern China, rice rules the roost. There, rice flour-based recipes generate bouncy and gummy products that soak up sauce like a sponge. (Through centuries of migration, colonization, and trade, the techniques and dishes developed in that part of China seeped into Southeast Asia, giving birth to regional faves like pho, khao soi, and pad see ew.) Head farther inland in China and wheat reigns supreme. It manifests as a vibrantly diverse array of regional breads, pancakes, and, most importantly, wheat and starch noodles.
To sort it all out for you, here’s a breakdown of some of the most iconic types of Chinese noodles -- many of which are served at beloved restaurants around the country -- and our favorite ways to eat them.