Better than Ramen?! 6 Styles of Udon and Recommended Restaurants
The great variety of noodles in Japan showcases how rich the noodle cuisine culture of this country is. Very recently, there has been a worldwide boom of ramen, one of the popular noodles in Japan. Here we are taking a look at udon, yet another popular noodle in Japan, a new boom of which is just about to catch fire.
History of Udon: Older than Ramen
The origin of udon noodles date differs from the history of ramen, and dates back over 1,000 years ago, which is actually older than soba noodles, another traditional Japanese food. Many areas around Japan each has its own variety of udon noodle cuisine such as “Sanuki udon” of Kagawa, Shikoku Island, “Inaba udon” of Akita, “Hoto” of Yamanashi, “Kishimen” of Aichi, “Ise Udon” of Mie, and “Hakata udon” of Fukuoka. They are varied in thickness and shape of noodles and other features.
Inaba Udon (Akita), ja.wikipedia.org
Hoto (Yamanashi), ja.wikipedia.org
Kishimen (Aichi), ja.wikipedia.org
Ise Udon (Mie), ja.wikipedia.org
1. Sanuki Udon
Kagawa Prefecture on Shikoku Island is so famous for udon noodles that it is often referred to as the “udon prefecture.” In the prefecture, people consume udon as much as rice, which is the staple food for Japanese, and there are very many udon shops. Many of the shops are not franchise but individually owned, often adjoined by their own noodle factories, with prices set very reasonably. Comparably to the island of Kyushu, Shikoku Island boasts rich nature and allows you to enjoy fresh seafood, and thus makes a great tourist destination. So an “udon tour” to Kagawa Prefecture, one of the four prefectures on Shikoku Island, would surely be filled with great attractions.
Hanamaru Udon, https://www.flickr.com
“Sanuki udon” is the local specialty of Kagawa Prefecture. Over the past 10 years of so, with many self-service style Sanuki udon shops such as “Marugame Seimen” and “Hanamaru Udon” opening around the country, Sanuki udon has been accepted widely and quickly as a new fast-food. “Hanamaru Udon” already has as many as 57 branches around Tokyo, so one of their branches can be a great place for you to try Sanuki style udon for the first time.
2. Hakata Udon
Fukuoka (Hakata is a ward within Fukuoka Prefecture) is said to be the birthplace of Udon. In contrast with the Sanuki style, in which the firmness of noodles is much cared for, Hakata style udon features soft noodles. The soup in which noodles are served has mild and very savory flavor. Whenever you have a chance to visit Hakata, we urge you to try not only the Hakata ramen but also the Hakata udon.
Kyushu Ramen: Differences by Region and Great Local Restaurants
Daichi No Udon
“Daichi No Udon” is a very popular udon shop in Fukuoka, highly noted for the flavorful dried-bonito stock soup and the beautiful white fine noodles. Large-sized and crispy deep-fried burdock root and kakiage vegetable tempura are among the recommended choices of toppings here. Now one of their branches has opened in Tokyo and can provide us with a great opportunity to enjoy Hakata style udon as one the few places of the kind in the city.
3. Curry Udon
“Curry Udon” is literally the combination of curry and udon noodles, two of the most favorite foods of Japanese people. It is one of the most popular udon variations and served at many restaurants around Japan.
“Nakau,” the restaurant chain especially noted for its udon and oyako-don (bowl of rice topped with chicken and egg), and “CoCo Ichibanya,” the Guinness certified world’s largest curry shop chain, are among the places serving curry udon. It would be interesting to compare the variation of curry udon between these two popular chain shops.
Established in 1969 and located close to Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, Mimikou is an udon shop specialized in curry udon. Besides many variations of curry udon, they also offer vegetarian items. Visited by many overseas tourists, they conveniently provide high level multi-lingual customer service. During summertime, they also serve “cold curry udon,” which you can rarely find elsewhere.
Area: Near Gionshijo Station in Kyoto / Open All Year Round, Map
4. Yaki Udon
A survey conducted in 2014 with overseas tourists to Japan proved Yakiudon (udon noodles grilled with assorted vegetables and meat) to be one of the top 10 most popular foods among them. While many “yakisoba” is seasoned with sweet Worcester sauce, soy sauce based sauce is most commonly used with yakiudon. As yakiudon is served at many okonomiyaki shops, it would be a great idea to visit an okonomiyaki shop and order both yakiudon and okonomiyaki to share with your friend.
Fukiya is a popular okonomiyaki shop chain in Fukuoka, which boasts very addictive thick starchy sauce. Yakiudon with a lot of moyashi bean sprout is one of the top recommendations here. Most items on their menu are quite voluminous, so whenever you have some leftover food, you can have it packed to bring it back to your hotel as do many locals here in Fukuoka.
“Champon” is a dish originated in Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyushu. Champon noodles, which are thicker than those used in ramen, are served with stir-fried vegetables and seafood toppings in paitan soup.
RingerHut is especially famous as a nationwide champon restaurant chain. Their “Yasai Tappuri Champon (hearty vegetable champon)” features as much as 480 grams of vegetables and is especially popular among females.
6. Sara Udon
“Sara Udon” is yet another dish originated in Nagasaki. There are two variations of sara udon; one of them features thin crispy fried noodles served with starchy sauce and the other features thicker noodles that are like stir-fried ramen or a bit similar to yakiudon. (See the difference in their appearance in the photo.)
If you like yakiudon already, you will certainly fall in love with champon as well.
Ganso Pikaichi is a Chinese restaurant in Fukuoka, which is highly noted for champon and sara udon. Both champon and saraudon here are not too strongly seasoned and feature rich flavors of seafood extract. They also offer various other Chinese dishes among which is very popular small-sized gyoza dumplings.
Area: Near Hakata Station in Fukuoka / Closed on Sunday, Map