You would have to have been hiding under a pork belly not to notice the headlines that kale and quinoa have been getting in the restaurant and foodie press these days. They seem to be all that we’re talking about. And even though both of these simple ingredients have been around for centuries, they are new to many diners, kitchens and restaurant menus. There aren’t many of us who remember and crave that soul satisfying, unctuous, and familiar quinoa dish that mom or grand mom used to make. We do, however, often have those feelings stirred when we think about noodle dishes from growing up. No matter where you grew up, chances are good that noodles figure prominently in your food memories. They’re a classic across cultures, from a hot, umami-filled bowl of ramen or silky, spicy Sichuan dan-dan to buttery crunchy spaetzle or a plate of smooth tagliatelle with traditional ragù Bolognese. When craving comfort, nothing will satisfy better than noodles. And noodles are the perfect canvas for chef’s creativity, especially with the only other ingredient equally as authentic and ubiquitous – pork.

Noodles are reappearing on menus. Not overflowing platters of fettuccine or linguine covered in cream sauce, but thoughtful and authentic dishes that expertly incorporate noodles with broths, vegetables, herbs, and well-prepared, moderately portioned proteins. Meats, seafood and eggs share the headline and complement one another. But one thing is certain: pork is the perfect protein pairing for noodles in any culture and with any flavor. It offers authenticity, great flavor and versatility – not to mention profitability.

This delicious pairing is a top trend for 2014. Take a look at what’s happening with pork and noodles on menus around the country:

Spaghetti Carbonara

Italian/Wheat Pastas

  • Spaghetti alla Carbonara is a classic Italian dish that complements pork perfectly. With 26 percent incidence, it’s the leading preparation method on menus.* Traditionally made with eggs, cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), bacon (guanciale or pancetta), and black pepper, restaurants are transforming it using new pork cuts and different noodles and egg styles.
    • At Grassa in Portland, OR, Rick Gencarelli meticulously crafts bowls of fresh handmade pastas. His take pairs pork belly and bucatini with a fried egg and pecorino cheese.
    • At Old Major in Denver, CO, Chef Justin Brunson serves his carbonara with smoked pork shank, orcchiette, broccolini, a soft poached egg and Grana Padano. The dish sits in a rich pork jus broth.

Malfatti al Maialino

  • Sunday Gravy, Ragùs or Sugos are most commonly found in independent restaurants. Food Genius reported that 44 percent of all ragùs contain either pork or sausage.* Beyond the traditional pork bolognese served over tagliatelle, operators are inspired by dish’s classic flavors and customer demand.
    • Grassa menus a Mezze Rigatoni with Sunday Pork Ragù.
    • At Maialino in New York, NY, Executive Chef Nick Anderer serves Malfatti – a bed of eggy, hand-torn malfatti pasta covered in a cream-based suckling-pig ragù.
    • Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, CA serves gnocchi tossed with pork shank ragù and mustard greens.
    • At Incanto in San Francisco, CA, Chef Chris Cosentino menus a Handkerchief Pasta and Rustic Pork Ragù.
  • Other classic Italian pasta dishes popping up on menus – either in their traditional form or with a twist – are Bucatini alla Amatriciana and Orecchiette with Rapini and Italian Sausage:
    • Incanto’s take on Orecchiette with Rapini and Italian Sausage replaces the pasta with cavatelli and the rapini with turnip greens. The dish is served with house-made pork sausage, chili and pecorino.
    • Osteria Mozza menus the classic Bucatini All’ Amatriciana with long, hollow Italian pasta, guanciale and tomatoes.

Asian/Wheat Noodles

  • Ramen, the classic pork and noodle pairing of Japan, is trending across menus in the United States for an impact far beyond its Asian roots.
    • Grassa menus an “Italian Ramen” featuring parmesan brodo (Italian for broth), pork belly, shiitakes and a soft egg with capellini noodles.
    • At Slurping Turtle in Chicago, IL, Chef Takashi Yagihashi serves up the flavors of his childhood to raving American palates:
      • Tonkotsu Ramen with thin house-made ramen noodles, silky pork broth, braised pork shoulder, bok choy, pickled mustard greens and braised woodear mushrooms.
      • Tan Tan Men Ramen with homemade thick ramen noodles, spicy ramen stock, pork meatball, pork shoulder, pork miso, bok choy and bean sprouts.
    • Ramen Yebisu, a Sapporo-style Brooklyn, NY ramen shop, offers Abura Soba – blanched ramen noodles with house special sauce, roasted pork, scallion, bamboo shoots, toasted seaweed, lobster oil and poached egg. Eater New York called the dish “Japanese Carbonara.”
    • At Oiistar in Chicago, IL, pork ramen is served two ways:
      • Oiimen – pork belly, egg, scallion, tree-ear mushroom, spicy oil and garlic – is a traditional take.
      • Pozolmen – pork loin, jalapeno pepper, red onion and tomato – is a modern twist.
    • The specialty at Ramen Yamadaya, a SoCal-based ramen chain, is the authentic Tonkotsu broth ramen highlighted by a rich pork stock and slices of roasted pork.

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  • Dan-dan is a noodle dish originating from China’s Chengdu province and their Sichuan cuisine.
    • Peter Chang’s in Richmond, VA serves the classic Sichuan-style Dan-dan – spicy sauce with preserved vegetables, chili oil, Sichuan pepper, minced pork, and scallions served over noodles.
    • Euclid Hall in Denver, CO serves an updated version of Dan-dan Noodles with suckling Yorkshire pig three ways, udon noodles, house-made oyster sauce, Szechuan pepper, scallions, peanuts and aromatic pork bouillon.
    • At Monkey King Noodle Co., the Dallas, TX restaurant serves Chinese street food including dan-dan Noodles – house-made ground pork spiked with an abundance of garlic, ginger and scallions.
    • Chef San Yoon, of Lukson in Los Angeles, has spent more time in his test kitchen on dan-dan noodles then any other dish on his menu. The result is a pairing with kurobuta pork, sesame, preserved mustard greens, Sichuan peppercorns, peanuts and a special sauce built with Kurobuta pork, black bean paste, white sesame paste, chicken stock and house-made prickly ash oil.

Asian/Rice Noodles

  • Pho, a popular street food in Vietnam, is a noodle soup consisting of broth, bánh ph? rice noodles, herbs, vegetables, and meat. Pho is only on one percent of all chain menus, but it’s making its way into the headlines and onto many independent restaurant menus.*
    • 57% of Vietnamese menus have at least one pork soup item.*
    • In Los Angeles, It’s Pho Viet & Thai menus a Pork Pho with fresh cilantro, onions and herbs served with basil, lime, chili peppers and a side of bean sprouts. The restaurant also menus Pho 8 Bo Thi Lon with tender pork slices, fresh onion, fresh vegetables and bean sprouts.

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  • Another classic Vietnamese pork-and-rice noodles dish is Pork Gòi Cuon – cold rice vermicelli noodles with grilled pork, fresh herbs and vegetables wrapped in rice paper.
    • Miss Chi Vietnamese recently opened in Dallas, TX to fill a hole in the Vietnamese food market. The restaurant menus two varieties – one filled with pork and shrimp, the other with grilled pork.
    • Môt Hai Ba, also in Dallas, TX features North Vietnamese cuisine. Their menu showcases Chargrilled Pork Belly and Pork Meatball with vermicelli noodles and herbs in an imperial roll and Steamed Rice Noodles with ground pork, mushroom, crispy shallot, and eggs.
  • Pad Thai is a stir-fried rice noodle dish commonly served as a street food and at casual local eateries in Thailand. It is made with soaked dried rice noodles, stir fried with eggs and chopped firm tofu and flavored with tamarind pulp, fish sauce, dried shrimp, garlic or shallots, red chili pepper and palm sugar, served with lime wedges and chopped roasted peanuts.
    • Dale Talde features Crispy Oyster and Bacon Pad Thai on his menu at Talde in Brooklyn, NY.
    • Pok Pok Phat Thai in New York, NY serves Phat Thai with thin rice noodles cooked in rendered pork fat with tamarind, fish sauce, palm sugar, peanuts, dried tofu, dried shrimp, preserved radish, bean sprouts and chili powder. It’s menued with ground pork or a combination of ground pork and fresh prawns.
  • Chow Fun noodles are wide rice noodles typically stir fried with vegetables and meat.
    • The comfort food gets a new treatment at Talde. Chef Talde substitutes braised pork shank for the usual strips of filleted beef, but his creativity is shown in the chow fun noodles – or noodle, to be exact. He rolls one thick, long strand of chow fun noodle into a curled mass and browns it on one side. Once plated, the curled chow fun noodle is surrounded by a ring of braised pork and pickled greens.

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Egg Noodles/Spaetzle

  • Anyone of German descent is familiar with the comforting egg noodle favorite, Spaetzle. These soft noodles or dumplings are a typical dish found in southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Alsace and South Tyrol. Braised pork, pork schnitzels, and pork sausages are also authentic dishes to these areas, so pork and spaetzle is a logical, flavorful pairing.
    • Affäre, a modern German restaurant in Kansas City, MO serves up Jägerschnitzel, crispy breaded pork served with mushroom cream sauce and Butterspätzle.
    • Suppenküche, a German restaurant in San Francisco, CA emphasizes classic Bavarian cuisine. On the menu is a traditional German pairing – Jägerschnitzel in Champignon soße, or sautéed pork loin in mushroom sauce served with spaetzle and green salad.
    • Laschets Inn serves German-American food in Chicago, IL. Their menu features a Roast Pork Loin dinner – thick slices of roast pork draped in brown gravy and served with spaetzle and red cabbage. They also serve Goulash Spaetzle – cubes of pork in a paprika sauce over spaetzle and served with red cabbage.
    • Tabor, the food truck in Portland, OR lovingly referred to as the “schnitzelwich truck,” serves Eastern European classic dishes like goulash, spaetzle, and schnitzels. Chef Vitek is also known for his creativity. His Presidential Schnitzelwich adds a slab of melted Munster cheese to the enormous Original Schnitzelwich (breaded pork loin in a Ciabatta roll with lettuce, paprika spread, sautéed onion and horseradish). For a recent special, he paired the sandwich with Halušky, an herbed spaetzle caramelized with onions and topped with feta cheese.
    • Euclid Hall offers a sausage platter with leberkäse, boudin noir, and a butcher’s choice sausage. The platter is recommended with the broccoli and cheese spaetzle dish – a delicious take on mac n’ cheese with broccoli.
  • Asian Egg Noodles
    • Hue Ky Mi Gia was voted one of the best noodle shops in Seattle, WA by Seattle Magazine. It serves a Chinese egg noodle soup with barbecued pork.

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Other

  • Bean Thread/Glass noodles
    • Seven Stars’ Pepper in Chinatown-International District, Seattle, WA serves “Ants on a Tree.” The fine bean thread in this classic Szechuan dish represent the “tree,” while the bits of minced pork that stick to the noodles are the “ants.” It’s a nearly sauceless dish; the noodles absorb the chili soy-sesame sauce. But the combination of the gelatinous noodle texture and the savory flavor make it a can’t-miss.
  • Soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat. It is synonymous with a type of thin noodle made from buckwheat flour. Soba noodles are served either chilled with a dipping sauce or in hot broth as a noodle soup.
    • Cocoron in New York, NY serves Buta Shabu Cold Soba – cold handmade soba noodles with thinly sliced shabu pork and tsuyu, served with wasabi, grated daikon and scallions.

You would have to have been hiding under that same pork belly if you haven’t heard of One Off Hospitality, made up of Chicago restaurateurs Paul Kahan, Donnie Madia, Rick Diarmit and Eduard Seitan, opened Blackbird together in Chicago 16 years ago. Since then, they’ve opened avec, the Publican, Publican Quality Meats, Big Star, the Violet Hour, and most recently, Nico Osteria. Located in the Thompson Hotel on North Rush Street, Nico is described as “an authentically Italian seafood-driven concept.” Their grilled porchetta with Hama Hama clams, Farro and preserved tomatoes is the perfect pairing for many of their satisfying, thoughtful noodle dishes.

Pork is a great foil for noodles and grains of all cuisines and cultures. From traditional dishes that fulfill comfort food cravings to modern variations that keep menus on the cutting edge of flavor and profitability, pork and noodles is a delicious trend that’s sure to satisfy chefs and patrons alike.