Popularized as an early Japanese street dish, today’s yakisoba can be found as either a side or main dish. Some even serve it in a hot-dog-style bun as a grab-and-go meal option. It is a simple dish, but there are many qualities that separate decent yakisoba from great yakisoba.

Thanks to Japanese cuisine’s surge in popularity, yakisoba has become very easy to find. Yakisoba literally translates to “fried buckwheat” and is typically served as a noodle stir-fry dish with sauce and vegetables, among other optional ingredients, typically pork or chicken. The best yakisoba has a delicately balanced yet bold flavor and an addictive quality. Here’s what separates mediocre yakisoba from the best.

1. The Right Noodle Must be Used

Contrary to what you may think, yakisoba typically isn’t made with soba noodles. In fact, many prefer the texture of ramen-style noodles, which are wheat-based.

If you love your Japanese noodles, you may notice a certain “chew” to them that other styles simply don’t have. This comes from the addition of “Kansui”—a mixture of sodium carbonate and potassium carbonate in water. The best yakisoba will have this same quality.

2. The Sauce Must Have the Right Flavor

The sauce can make or break a yakisoba dish. Pre-made and bottled yakisoba sauces are sold in most Asian grocery stores, but it’s also possible to make from scratch. The base of typical yakisoba sauce includes sake, mirin, soy sauce, and oyster sauce. The right yakisoba sauce should always have an oyster sauce undertone.

3. Garnishes Should be Traditional and Pack a Punch of Umami

Most typical yakisoba dishes use bonito flakes, aonori, and beni-shoga, as garnishes.

Bonito flakes, or katsuobushi, is dried, fermented, and smoked tuna. It’s used in hundreds of Japanese dishes to provide umami and a savory flavor. Flakes are finely shaved off a larger chunk.

Aonori is a type of edible seaweed commonly used in Japanese cuisine. It is dried and powdered, making it easy to sprinkle on any dish. It is not the same type of seaweed that’s commonly sold in sheets.

Beni-shoga, or pickled ginger, is a type of Japanese pickle. Typically, it is pinkish in color, which comes from red perilla. Just like aonori and bonito flakes, it can be found on hundreds of Japanese dishes—they really love their pickles!

4. The Dish Must Be Finished Properly

You might think that the dish is ready to eat once all of the ingredients are in the pan, but that is far from the truth.

To prevent soggy noodles and excess sauce, a large pan must be used to make the best yakisoba. Once the noodles are properly fried and all other ingredients are added, the sauce must be added at very high heat. This way, the sauce has a chance to caramelize and really stick to the noodles and other ingredients. Think of the sauce as another ingredient you want to cook!

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