Garlic Noodles

published Oct 11, 2023
Garlic Noodles Recipe

These easy garlic noodles get maximum umami flavor from oyster sauce, fish sauce, and soy sauce.

Serves4 to 6

Prep10 minutes

Cook10 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Overhead view of garlic noodles in a silver pan with tongs resting in it.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: James Park

I’ve lived in San Francisco (and the Bay Area) long enough to have eaten more than my share of garlic noodles, a popular, delicious dish that originated here and shows no signs of dropping in popularity. These noodles are not only tossed with minced garlic, but also a whole array of deeply savory ingredients, which come together to turn this humble-looking dish into a flavorful powerhouse full of umami. Garlic noodles are actually quite easy to make and cook in mere minutes, so you have no excuse to not try them for yourself.

Where Did Garlic Noodles Come From?

Created at San Francisco’s Thanh Long restaurant in 1972 as a side dish to Dungeness crab, their garlic noodle recipe is so heavily guarded that the restaurant prepares it in a secret kitchen. Their garlic noodles feature long strands of medium-thick Asian wheat noodles tossed in what the menu lists as “special garlic sauce and secret spices.” There’s very little color to the dish, with visible flecks of garlic clinging to the noodles, but no garnishes.

My re-creation of garlic noodles has the same punch from garlic as well as some help from a few pantry ingredients, which create a thin sauce that slicks each strand of noodle with flavor. There are a few optional garnishes, should you want to up the ante, but even without them these garlic noodles are super tasty.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: James Park

The Ingredients You’ll Need for Garlic Noodles

  • Noodles: While dried thin Chinese wheat noodles are the closest to the Thanh Long noodles that are readily available at most grocery stores, spaghetti or dried Japanese ramen noodles also make great substitutes. Always use long noodles, as short noodle shapes don’t have the same slurpable texture.
  • Garlic: Please, please, please use fresh garlic here, as that will shine through in this simple dish. If you truly can’t find fresh garlic, frozen is the only substitute I will use.
  • Trio of Asian sauces: You’ll need oyster sauce, fish sauce, and soy sauce, all easily found at most grocery stores. They add sweetness, umami, and salt to the sauce.
  • Butter: Use unsalted butter here, as there will be plenty of salt from the Asian sauces. The melted butter emulsifies with the sauces and pasta water to coat the noodles.
  • Parmesan cheese and scallions: Both of these are optional, but Parmesan cheese adds another level of savory flavor, and scallions add a little color and mild onion flavor to the noodles.

How to Make Garlic Noodles

  1. Boil the noodles. Add the noodles to boiling water and cook according to package directions until tender. Garlic noodles are meant to have a soft texture, so cook spaghetti past al dente.
  2. Start the sauce. While the noodles are cooking, cook garlic in melted butter, then add in oyster sauce, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Take the pan off the heat until the noodles are ready.
  3. Add the noodles to the sauce. When the noodles are ready, add them to the sauce. If you’re using Chinese or Japanese noodles, save some of the cooking water, then drain and rinse the noodles with cold water. For spaghetti, transfer the pasta straight from the boiling water into the sauce — no rising needed.
  4. Toss the noodles in the sauce. Add some of the noodle cooking water and cook over medium heat until the sauce thickens slightly and coats the noodles. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and scallions if you’d like.

What to Serve with Garlic Noodles

Steamed or roasted crab is delicious with garlic noodles, and Vietnamese grilled lemongrass pork chops would also pair well. If you want to keep the garlic noodles the star of the show, a side of stir-fried bok choy or air-fried broccoli is all you need to make it a complete meal. And while the garlic flavor in these noodles is definitely prominent, cooking mellows it out so that you don’t have to worry too much about having garlicky breath post-dinner.

Garlic Noodles Recipe

These easy garlic noodles get maximum umami flavor from oyster sauce, fish sauce, and soy sauce.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • Salt

  • 8

    cloves garlic

  • 1 ounce

    Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup firmly packed freshly grated or 1/3 cup store-bought grated, optional)

  • 3

    medium scallions (optional)

  • 2 tablespoons

    oyster sauce

  • 1 tablespoons

    fish sauce

  • 1 tablespoon

    soy sauce

  • 1 pound

    dried spaghetti, dried thin Chinese wheat noodles, or dried Japanese ramen noodles

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, mince 8 garlic cloves (about 2 tablespoons). Finely grate 1 ounce Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 packed cup) or measure out 1/3 cup store-bought grated if using. Thinly slice 3 medium scallions if using (about 1/3 cup). Place 2 tablespoons oyster sauce, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, and 1 tablespoon soy sauce in a small bowl.

  2. Add 1 pound dried spaghetti, Chinese wheat noodles, or ramen noodles to the boiling water and cook according to package directions until tender (not al dente). Meanwhile, melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant but not browned, about 30 seconds. Turn off the heat. Add the oyster sauce mixture and stir to combine.

  3. When the noodles are ready, turn off the heat. If using spaghetti, transfer the pasta directly into the frying pan with tongs. If using Asian noodles, reserve 1 cup of the noodle cooking water, then drain the noodles and run under cold water until cool. Drain well again, then transfer to the frying pan.

  4. Add 1/2 cup of the cooking water to the pan and cook over medium heat, tossing constantly and adding more pasta water a tablespoon at a time as needed if the pan is dry, until the sauce thickens slightly and clings to the noodles, 1 to 2 minutes.

  5. Turn off the heat. Add the Parmesan and half of the scallions if using and toss to combine. Serve garnished with the remaining scallions if using.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.