Noodling Flavour with Pasta

Uncooked yellow pasta noodles on a floured work surface

From ramen to rigatoni, chefs across Canada are leveraging the familiarity of noodles and making them signature dishes.

The world of noodles is big, encompassing everything from the endlessly popular Italian-born pasta to the globally driven bowls of Asian noodles. Both boast enviable traits for menu investment—they’re satiating, comforting and inherently familiar. Who doesn’t understand and love noodles? But what’s the opportunity in this category today? How are modern flavour preferences and creative recipe development impacting menu innovation here?

Pasta perfection

Pasta is a menu mainstay in Canada, with chefs leveraging its familiarity and popularity. Today, the opportunity seems to embrace both regional authenticity and simplicity. “The trend I’m seeing is a move toward more hand-crafted pastas, interesting shapes, and a focus on regional specialties, like Rome’s cacio e pepe, which has taken off like crazy,” says Michael Viloria, Customer Solutions Specialist and Culinary Chef for Gordon Food Service in Delta, B.C.

Comfort-centric pasta builds, starring flavour-rich ragus, sugos and Sunday sauces, are perfect for fall and winter, promising a hearty, warm dish. They also weave a powerful narrative of homespun, hand-crafted food—a value that’s important to today’s dining consumers.

Menu examples:

  • Pink Pappardelle Pasta: Creamy leek sauce, pancetta and smoked salmon—La Pasta, Victoria, B.C.
  • Porcini Fettuccine: Hand-crafted pasta with wild and field mushrooms, chilli, garlic, lemony gremolata, pangrattato and Parmigiano-Reggiano—Jamie’s Italian, two locations in Toronto
  • Pappardelle alla Toscana with wild boar ragu and Parmigiano-Reggiano—Uccellino, Edmonton, Alberta
  • House Made Ricotta Gnocchi with pork cheeks “sugo,” soffrito and basil—Lupo, Vancouver

Using your noodles infographic

Asian noodles

This is a big umbrella, hosting everything from Vietnamese pho to Japanese ramen and everything in between, including mashups that borrow from the Asian pantry while turning noodle dishes into eclectic Canadian ones. David Chang’s Momfuku has certainly helped move Asian noodles into the spotlight, as has the proliferation of hip food trucks and small mom-and-pops that specialize in these aromatic, soothing, filling bowls of comfort.

Menu examples:

  • Dry Noodle Bowl: Minced pork with soybean sauce, bean curd, cucumber, tea-infused egg—Rhino Fish Noodle Bar, Vancouver, B.C.
  • Chicken Hunan Kung Pao: Ginger soy sauce, wok fried vegetables and noodles, peanuts—Earls, multiple locations

Ramen deserves its own star in the constellation of Asian noodles. “Thanks to the food truck scene, ramen has become more familiar, encouraging chefs outside of Asian concepts to think outside the box and make ramen a menu standout,” says Jason Kalinowski, Customer Solutions Manager for Gordon Food Service in Milton, Ontario.

“Apart from the cool factor with ramen, it brings with it a health halo, as many consumers equate freshness with well-being.” As it incorporates bone broth, fresh vegetables and often leans into the veg-centric trend, the opportunity to twist ramen into a signature, on-trend item is significant. 

Menu examples:

  • Chicken Yuzu Ramen with corn, katsuobushi, sansyo—Momofuku Noodle Bar, Toronto
  • Ramen Sarada: Ramen noodles, ground cherries, cucumber, shiso, cilantro,  Sriracha peas, nori, ginger vinaigrette—Biirū, Montréal

Three modern protein adds for signature ramen

Although there’s nothing wrong with the traditional ramen element of pork belly, chefs might consider switching up the protein in their takes on ramen, lending it a level of intrigue while signaling to the guest that they’re in for a creative take on a traditional dish.

  • Duck confit
  • Char siu
  • Oxtail

Bring the heat

Whether menuing Asian or Italian noodles, there’s big opportunity in adding heat. Consumers show no signs of slowing down when it comes to their adaption of “new” heat sources, moving from chipotle and jalapeño to harissa, sambal and Sriracha at a dizzying pace. For Italian pasta dishes, consider the Calabrian or pepperoncini for regional flair, or dive further afield into Tunisia, with the addition of that beautifully hued, slightly funky sauce, harissa. And with Asian-style noodles, the world is your oyster, from sambal and Sriracha to gochujang, guajillo and Fresno chiles.