Updated: Jul 9, 2018
Origin - Japan
Udon is a thick and chewy wheat flour noodle that is very popular in Japanese cuisine. It is served hot as a noodle soup in its simplest form, as kake udon, in a mild broth called kakejiru, which is made of dashi, soy sauce, and mirin. It is usually topped with thinly sliced scallions. Other common toppings are shrimp tempura, aburaage (deep-fried tofu), a thin slice of kamaboko (halfmoon-shaped fish cake), and shichimi ( Japanese spice mixture of 7 different ingredients), to add a kick to the dish. There are various types of Udon dishes with different toppings and broth which can vary at every restaurant across Japan.
Udon with a side of crispy tempura
It is said that udon came to Japan from China around the Nara period. A Japanese envoy was introduced to 14 kinds of confections while visiting China during the Tang Dynasty. One of them was called sakubei (twisted wheat noodles), which was listed as muginawa ("wheat ropes") in Shinsen Jikyo, a dictionary that was published in the Heian Era. The muginawa is believed to be an origin for many kinds of Japanese noodles.
The Great Buddha of Nara
One of the interesting things about udon is that the thickness and firmness of the noodles varies from region to region. For example, noodles called kishimen from Aichi Prefecture and hoto from Yamanashi Prefecture are flat and wide, while those known as inaniwa from Akita Prefecture are on the thinner side and easier to eat. The nuances in flavor of the broth also depend upon their different regional origins. For instance, the taste and color of the broth in Eastern Japan, which includes Tokyo, is stronger and richer. However in Western Japan, which includes Kyoto, the flavor is lighter and the broth is thinner.
Kishimen from Aichi Prefecture
Udon is also versatile, depending on the season it is prepared. They are usually served chilled during the summer and hot in the winter. Ingredients are based on what’s available; almost anything goes great with udon, which is why every prefecture in Japan has its own style of udon. Some are prepared with a variety of fresh vegetables, crispy tempura, and soft fish cakes, while others have minimal toppings but with different types of flour or flavorful broth.
Pouring broth over sanuki udon
In Kagawa, Japan, a regional specialty called sanuki udon is so loved that the prefecture has been nicknamed the “Udon Prefecture”! Sanuki udon got its name from the ancient ancestral name of the prefecture, called Sanuki. In this version of udon, the noodles are boiled in hot water, added to a hot broth and topped with an egg and finely chopped scallions. Udon is such a famous dish in Kagawa that “udon meguri”, or udon restaurant crawls, are common activities for locals and tourists alike. Each restaurant features their own take on sanuki udon, with some making broth with their own special recipes and others offering unique toppings. Most people can’t eat more than what they sample at three restaurants, but each day offers a new and interesting group of venues!
All in all, whichever way you choose to eat udon, it will leave you feeling full but not stuffed, comforted but not sluggish, and completely nourished. If you haven't tried udon yet, why not treat yourself to a bowl today?
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