Cellophane noodle, also known as glass noodles because of their translucent appearance after they are soaked in water, is an Asian noodle found in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Thai cuisines. It is cellophane noodles that you find in the Korean japchae, Filipino sotanghon and inside Vietnamese spring rolls.
Made primarily with mung bean starch, cellophane noodles may also be made with cassava or canna starch. Below are the local names of cellophane noodles in various Asian countries.
In Indonesian cuisine, they are called soun or suun, and in Malaysia they are known as tanghoon. Sometimes, people confuse them with bihun which are rice vermicelli.
In Japanese cuisine, they are called harusame, literally “spring rain.” Unlike Chinese glass noodles, they are usually made from potato starch. They are commonly used to make salads, or as an ingredient in hot pot dishes. They are also often used to make Japanese adaptations of Chinese and Korean dishes.
In Pakistan, glass noodles are called saewiyan, and are always used in desserts. They are usually boiled with sweetened milk (and cream) with dried nuts and are sometimes coated with chandi varak (edible silver leaf) usually served on religious occasions. They are also eaten with falooda, which could be bought from numerous food stalls throughout Pakistan.
In Korean cuisine, glass noodles are usually made from sweet potato starch and are called dangmyeon… They are commonly stir-fried in sesame oil with beef and vegetables, and flavoured with soy and sugar, in a popular dish called japchae. They are usually thick, and are a brownish-gray color when in their uncooked form.
In Vietnamese cuisine, there are two varieties of cellophane noodles. The first, called bún tàu or bún tào, are made from mung bean starch, and were introduced by Chinese immigrants. The second, called mi?n, are made from canna (Vietnamese: dong ri?ng), and were developed in Vietnam. These cellophane noodles are a main ingredient in the dishes: mi?n gà, mi?n l??n, mi?n m?ng v?t, and mi?n cua. These cellophane noodles are sometimes confused with rice vermicelli (Vietnamese: bún) and arrowroot starch noodles (Vietnamese: b?t hoàng tinh or b?t mì tinh).
In Filipino cuisine, the noodles are called sotanghon because of the popular dish of the same name made from them using chicken and wood ears. These noodles are often confused with rice vermicelli, which are called bihon in the Philippines.
In Thai cuisine, glass noodles are called woon sen. They are commonly mixed with pork and shrimp in a spicy salad called yum woon sen, or stir-fried as pad woon sen.
Cellophane noodles are without any distinct flavor but, rather, derives the flavor of other ingredients they are mixed with, particularly, broth and sauces.
The traditional way of preparing cellophane noodles for cooking is to pre-soak them in water. But because of their ability to absorb flavors, I prefer to add them dry to the pan and allow them to absorb the broth and sauces. They turn out more flavorful that way. The trick is to keep the heat low and the pan covered to allow both the liquids and the steam to soften the noodles. Occasional stirring is recommended.