Nagasaki Champon and Sara Udon: Local Specialty Cuisine of Nagasaki
“Champon (noodles) and Sara Udon (literally meaning “plate udon noodles”)” are two major local specialty cuisines of Nagasaki Prefecture. They were both born in Nagasaki and have become well-known nationwide. “Champon,” the dish with a history of over 100 years, preceded in winning a status of one of the favorite local gourmet items for people in Nagasaki, now followed by its relative dish, “Sara Udon.” Photo: ja.wikipedia.org
Nagasaki is a local city on the island of Kyushu. While the city is especially known worldwide as the second site affected by the atomic bomb, after Hiroshima, it is also famous for its historical background where the city prospered with one of the few ports in Japan that were open to overseas trading even after the central government adopted an isolation policy from 17th to 19th century. Back then, Japan only had trade connections with China and Netherland and thus had many Chinese and Netherlanders residing in Nagasaki. As a result, different cultural elements of China, West and Japan were blended and led to the development of the unique culture in the area. The unique food culture of Nagasaki was also created through such a historical background.
Even today, you can see the remains of the earlier days here in Nagasaki, with Glover Garden, part of the world heritage which is collectively referred to as “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining (23 sites in total),” and other Western style buildings, many of which are designated as national important cultural properties, three Todera (old temples established by Chinese priests) and a China Town.
Chin Heijun, the Originator of Champon
Chin Heijun, the originator of champon noodles, was a young man who came from Fuzhou, Fujian of China to Nagasaki in 1892 in search of success on the foreign land. Buffeted about in hardships of the time and all the raging winds against his fate, through years of assiduous effort, he was finally rewarded in 1899 by the successful opening of “Shikairo,” his first Chinese restaurant and inn in Nagasaki City.
Having gone through the hardships after his arrival in the city and out of his kind and obliging personality by nature, he is said to have willingly become a guarantor to many merchants and students from China. We can imagine his tender personality from such accounts.
History of the Birth of Champon
Not only did his newly invented dish rapidly gain great reputation among those students and help improve their nutritional condition, but also spread to many of the China towns around the city.
One day when champon had already established its popularity and many restaurants in the China towns around Nagasaki started to serve the dish, Chin Heijun was advised to patent his invention but refused to do so, saying “My satisfaction is for many people to enjoy the dish, be it students from abroad, people in Nagasaki or whoever else.” We can today share the benefit of enjoying champon easily all around Japan and even outside the country thanks to his sincere and generous dedication to the dish.
While it was not easy in Nagasaki at the time to secure a steady supply of ingredients all through the year, people innovatively devised their cooking methods using the seafood from the inshore waters, kamaboko and chikuwa (both made with fish paste), bean sprout, cabbage and other vegetables, along with various other seasonal ingredients, and developed champon as a local specialty dish of Nagasaki with which you can enjoy an abundance of solid ingredients as well as the taste of each season.
A unique flavor of the noodles used for champon is created by adding a special binding agent called “toaku” to wheat flour in the making process. Vegetables and various other solid ingredients are first simmered in a well-heated pot, chicken or pork broth soup is added to adjust the taste and then noodles are added and simmered with other ingredients. Noodles thus absorb the taste of the soup and create the rich and savory flavor of champon. Today, you can find many Chinese and other type of restaurants in Nagasaki City serving champon of a wide range of flavors from rich to plain. More recently, at some restaurants, you can also find more unique variations such as curry flavor and miso flavor champon.
A Story Behind the Birth of Sara Udon
“Sara Udon” was also invented by Chin Heijun, the founder of the Chinese restaurant “Shikairo,” when he first arranged champon with less amount of soup to make it suitable for delivery. So sara udon at the time was made with almost the same noodles and ingredients as champon with only difference in the amount of soup. It was called “sara udon (plate udon noodles)” because it looked like udon noodles served on a plate instead of bowl, which is a typical dishware for udon.
When thin crisp-fried soba noodles (katayaki soba) were later introduced to Nagasaki and a style of eating them with starchy sauce and similar ingredients as those used for champon was developed, it was also called “sara udon.” In Nagasaki today, it is more common to have this variation with thin crisp-fried noodles served when you order “sara udon” at restaurants in Nagasaki. Thus, the “sara udon” with thin noodles are relatively well known and thus, even local people of Nagasaki tend to prefer the thin noodles.
In Nagasaki style, you enjoy starchy sauce topped sara udon with Worcester sauce as a dressing. At many households in Nagasaki, for family gathering and other occasions, people often order one large plate of sara udon and serve its portions on small plates to share. It is such a highly cherished local cuisine for people in Nagasaki.
Champon and sara udon are two local dishes of Nagasaki that every tourist visiting Nagasaki definitely wants to try. Once you are at a restaurant in Nagasaki and ready to place an order, you may well have some trouble wondering which one to go for. But you can be a little greedy and enjoy both of them! You probably won’t be able to declare which one of the two is the winner.