Yakisoba is one of the few childhood comfort foods that my husband and I have in common: he from Tokyo street vendors and his mom’s Saturday lunches, and me from a small-town supermarket outside Seattle. It has the irresistible salty-sweet soft-crispy taste and texture of junk food, but in essence it’s a healthy pile of stir-fried cabbage and onions with some noodles mixed in—crowned with a mess of condiments and toppings. It’s a quick meal that’s easy to cook in both Japanese and American kitchens.
Sosu (sauce), a Japanese version of Worcestershire, usually flavors the noodles. Some purists prefer just salt and pepper, but there are variations with curry powder or even tomato and “cheese.” Old Bay (my own unconventional variation) tastes an awful lot like the seasoning powder that usually comes with store-bought packages of the noodles. Yakisoba is made for improvisation: Add thinly sliced pork, rings of squid, or small shrimp as you like, use up whatever vegetable odds and ends you have, and substitute the noodles (if you must) with instant ramen or any curly yellow noodle (Chinatowns are rich with them).
- Halve the onion, and cut pole-to-pole into ½” slices. Cut the carrots into 3” sections and julienne about ¼” thick. Split the cabbage half lengthwise, then cut into ½” strips. Trim the scallions and cut into 2” lengths.
- Heat a large (at least 12”) skillet or griddle on medium-high until it’s sizzling hot. Meanwhile, rinse the yakisoba noodles under warm tap water until you can easily separate them with your fingers (if you’re substituting another noodle, blanch it very al dente). In a small bowl, mix together the ketchup, Worcestershire, Old Bay, and ¼ cup water; this is your sauce.
- Add the neutral oil and the onions to the hot pan or griddle, and stir-fry for about 30 seconds, until they just begin to color. Add the carrots and cabbage, and continue to stir-fry for 3-5 minutes, until the cabbage softens but still has a little bite.
- Push the vegetables into a mound on one side to make room for the noodles. Add the sesame oil to the empty side, then the noodles and scallions so they have contact with the hot surface. Cook for about 1 minute until the bottom of the noodles brown a little (you may need to stir the mound of vegetables so it doesn’t scorch). Flip the noodles over, then pile the vegetables on top and allow that side of the noodles to crisp for about 30 seconds.
- Pour the sauce over everything, and stir it all together until the sauce evaporates and the noodles are evenly distributed through the vegetables (chopsticks are the best tool for this). Remove from heat (you can leave it in the pan or pushed to one side of the griddle while you fry some eggs; you’ll get lots of good brown crispy bits).
- Plate and top each portion with a zigzag of mayonnaise and a fried egg. Sprinkle with a little more Old Bay. Add additional toppings to your liking: aonori, katsuobushi, and beni-shoga.
Hannah Kirshner is a Brooklyn-based food stylist and writer (and lapsed artist who sometimes illustrates her own stories). She's been raising chickens, obsessing about Japan, and throwing dinner parties since her childhood in the Pacific Northwest.