Noodles are basically long strips of dough boiled in water. That dough is usually made out of wheat flour which is more common in the north of China, or rice flour which is more common the south. They are mostly long and thin, but in some regions other shapes and forms can be found as well.
If Italian pasta were to grow on trees, Chinese noodle would be the roots of those trees, and I would definitely plant one in my imaginary backyard. It’s well established that noodle originated in China and from there they spread to all the neighboring countries and thanks to Marco Polo they even made it all the way to Europe via the Silk Road.
Soup in the default state of Chinese noodles and unless the menu specifically suggests otherwise that is the way they arrive at your table. That is the case even if the word ‘soup’ is not in any way a part of the name of the dish, so don’t be surprised or disappointed when it happens. Apart from boiling hot water and noodles, the soup may also consist of vegetables, eggs and sometimes meat. Coriander is also commonly added for flavor.
The making of fried noodles is very similar to that of fried rice. After the noodle are cooked boiling hot water there are tossed into the wok together with chopped vegetables and other ingredients. Most foreign people in China like fried noodles better than soup noodle, though in the areas where the winter is cold many of them change their mind.
GaiMian means ‘covering noodles’ so a dish-GaiMian means a dish served over a bed of noodles. This kind of serving is far less common than GaiFan (bed of rice) and it’s available mostly in noodle restaurants and some Muslim restaurants.
Instant noodles are usually not on the menu in Chinese restaurants, but they are so in many internet bars and on train. They also make an excellent backpacking meals and it’s very useful to know them. They are very cheap and come it two kind of packaging. The first kind is a thick paper bowl which has everything inside including a plastic fork and all you have to do is add hot water. The other kind comes in a plastic rap and you need to have your own dining utensils.