A package of somen noodles.
1 bundle somen noodles (our brand's bundles are 90g)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (for frying)
This recipe involves two major steps: cooking the dried noodles in boiling water, and then frying the cooked noodles in oil.
0. Add the oil to a frying pan (we use a 9" nonstick pan; anything in the 8-10" range should work fine), and prepare to heat the oil over medium-high heat so it is hot just as the noodles finish draining.
1. Bring at least 4 cups of water to a boil in a small pot. Add the somen noodles once the water boils and stir briefly.
2. Cook the somen noodles for the recommended time on the package, or until the noodles are cooked through (2 minutes for our brand). Now would probably be a good time to start heating the frying pan over medium-high heat.
3. Drain the noodles thoroughly, but do not rinse them.
4. Once the oil in the pan is hot, add the drained noodles and use a spatula to quickly spread them around the pan into an even layer. Caution: be prepared for splattering, as water left on the noodles will cause the oil to splatter (have an apron on and be careful with your hands and arms); adding the noodles all at once (rather than dribbling them in) helps reduce the splattering.
5. Cook until the noodles are nicely browned, but not burned, on the bottom (approximately 5 minutes, though the time varies; see the picture below). Check the noodles' browning by lifting up some of the noodles with a spatula. Raise or lower the heat to speed or slow the cooking, as appropriate.
6. Flip the noodles and continue cooking until they're browned on the second side, usually about 3 minutes. They're never as nicely browned on the second side as the first.
7. Slide the noodles onto a plate, and top them immediately with whatever you're serving them with. We top them with our Japanese curry.
Frying somen noodles, just after being flipped
Somen noodles are thin, lightly salted wheat noodles, and should be available at most Asian or Japanese markets; see the pictures above to get an idea of what to look for. Somen noodles typically come in individual-serving bundles; we find that one 90g bundle of the brand we use (Shirakiku Tomoshiraga somen Japanese style noodles) is just enough for a generous plate of curry for one person. We have no idea how Shirakiku's somen noodles compare to other brands of somen noodles; they're just what our local market carries. Also, you could probably use this same technique for other thicknesses of Japanese wheat noodles (e.g., udon).
This can be a difficult dish to serve to many people at once, as the noodles have to be fried in single-serving batches. To speed up the process, heat an extra pot's worth of water in a teapot (or second pot) while the noodles are boiling. Once the first batch of noodles has been drained, transfer the heated water from the teapot into the somen boiling pot, and then start a second batch of noodles cooking once the first batch of noodles has started frying. Using multiple frying pans at once should enable even greater cooking efficiency.
If you can't find somen noodles locally, try ordering them online; AsianWok appears to sell them (though I've never ordered from that company, and thus can't endorse it).