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The vast majority of dry pasta/noodles are prepared by boiling water first and then adding them to the already boiling water. However, the instructions on some types of Chinese rice noodles (eg. 南昌拌粉 Nánchāng bànfěn) say to place them in a pot of cold water, bring the water to boil, and then cook for X minutes.

Is there a culinary reason for this? Or is this just a shortcut for soaking before cooking?

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    in fact, you can boil all pasta like this. no need for large amounts of rolling boiling water, that is a myth, at least for dry noodles.
    – ths
    Mar 21 at 19:06
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    I don’t know about this particular noodle, but there was a website years ago that recommended soaking gluten free to hydrate before you boil them. It both lets you get an al dente texture (not usually wanted in Chinese recipes) but also keeps leftovers from congealing into a weird blob. If I had the noodles, I would personally just do a side by side test and see what happens
    – Joe
    Mar 22 at 23:31

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This is not a complete answer, but: bear in mind that rice noodles (and mung bean noodles, etc) do not have gluten. They are held together by amylose, a form of starch. Starch absorbs water readily and can fall apart easily. My guess is that rice noodles need more delicate handling for this reason. Potatoes, which are also made of amylose, are best if started in cold water. You can put potatoes directly into boiling water, but the outer layer comes away, whereas when started in cold water the potato stays together. Harold McGee has more info on this topic. hope this little bit helps!

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    Who is "Harold McGee"; and why should we know where to look for this "more info"; and why not cite it? Mar 23 at 8:08
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    Sorry. I took it for granted that people asking about food science would know McGee. My bad! Harold McGee wrote On Food and Cooking which is probably the best book on the subject. My own copy is in tatters. Its an absolute joy to read McGee. Mar 23 at 19:20
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When cooking thinner rice noodles, due to their delicate nature, adding them to already boiling water can cause over softening. Starting from cold allows the process to be more gradual and keep them from overcooking. Thicker ones, would not require this.

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  • These noodles are not particularly thin though, the diameter is around the same as spaghetti. Mar 22 at 21:45
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    @lambshaanxy Spaghetti is made of semolina which is not at all delicate. Nánchāng bànfěn is made from rice, and is a lot more delicate. Mar 24 at 8:21
  • It's not particularly delicate as far as rice noodles go, there are much thinner rice noodles like 米粉 mífěn. Mar 24 at 10:03
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In addition to the overcooking or uneven cooking issue, starting noodles in cold water also prevents them from sticking or clumping together. Similar but related conversation over here. That said, in my experience, rinsing in cold water after cooking also washes away the starch, which prevents sticking, but doesn't solve the potential uneven cooking issue.

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