Udon

うどん脳 (Udon nou)
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Kagawa's Mascot has udon for brains

Many people have never heard of うどん(udon) before coming to Kagawa, but it is one of Kagawa‘s most famous meibutsu ("famous things," 名物.) Udon is noodles made from white wheat flour, often hand-rolled, and cut thickly. It’s slightly chewy and it's eaten all through the year and at any time of day. The best udon shops will open around 5.30AM and sell out before lunch. With over 700 udon shops and a city mascot (right) with udon for brains, it is definitely the number 1 food in Kagawa.

History

In the Heian Era, a young man from the Zentsuji area in Kagawa moved to China to study Buddhism. When he returned, he brought back new Buddhist teachings, engineering techniques and wheat. He went on to build Manno Dam and start a new type of Buddhism (Shingon) which soon became one of the main schools of Japanese Buddhism. On top of all this, he is claimed to have inspired the creation of udon after similar Chinese-style noodles. Nowadays you can eat udon in a nice little restaurant overlooking the dam he built.

Types of Udon

Udon is enjoyed all year round; it is eaten hot in winter and cold in summer. There are hundreds of different toppings, but they are all based on a few types:

  • Kake: the most basic udon variety – warm noodles, warm and lightly flavored dashi broth; noodle texture: medium
  • Bukkake: cold udon served with thick dashi broth and grated radish; noodle texture: firm
  • Kitsune udon: kake udon with a piece of sweet deep-fried tofu; noodle texture: medium
  • Tempura udon: kake udon with a piece of tempura on top; noodle texture: medium
  • Niku udon: Udon served with Japanese stewed beef; noodle texture: medium
  • Kare udon: udon noodles served with thick Japanese curry instead of broth; noodle texture: medium
  • Zaru: cold udon served on a bamboo sieve-like tray with a very thick dipping broth; noodle texture: firmest
  • Kama-age: udon served hot, straight out of a boiling kettle, with a very thick dipping broth; noodle texture: soft
  • Kama-tama udon: udon noodles served with dashi, soy sauce, and raw egg; noodle texture: medium

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Kake (simple) udon

Lots of udon shops have just these main types of udon, but some will have a special or signature dish like walnut udon, tomato udon, or wild boar udon, to name a few.

Udon menus may also change throughout the year, or for special promotional campaigns. For example, in the summer you can find mountain vegetable udon, and in the winter you can find shippoku udon (winter vegetable udon.)

How to Order

Many udon shops are self-serve (セルフ), and customers usually order a main udon dish (bukkake, kake, etc.) first, choose your own toppings and side dishes from the ready-made buffet, and then pay at the end of the line. Here are the steps:

  1. Choose your udon from the menu above or from the special options they have in the shop
  2. Choose the size: 小 sho (small), 中 chuu (medium), 大 dai (large)
  3. Choose hot (atsui) or cold (tsumetai)
  4. Choose any side dishes and toppings
  5. Pay

Useful udon vocabulary (Udon-go! うどん語!)

  • あつあつ、ひやひや, atsu-atsu, hiya-hiya, "hot-hot (hot noodles, hot broth)," "cold-cold (cold noodles, cold broth)," and there are other combinations of this
  • ざる, zaru, it's a type of bamboo seive; the udon noodles are piled on top, drained, and you can dip them in your sauce
  • 焼き, yaki, "grilled/stir-fried." Some places (festivals!) serve stir-fried udon.
  • 釜, kama, the clay pot used to make kama-age, kama-tama, etc.
  • 温玉, ondama, "hot springs egg," a half-boiled egg with runny yolk sometimes added to udon.
  • うどん屋, udon-ya, "udon shop"
  • 手打ち, teuchi, "hand-made," "hand-beaten"
  • セルフ, serufu, "self-serve," (you serve yourself the sides and oden, but they serve you the noodles)
  • 小, shou, "small"
  • 中, chuu, "medium/middle"
  • 大, dai, "large"
  • 特小, tokushou, "extra small" ("special small")
  • つるつる, tsuru-tsuru, "slurping" (onomatopoeia)
  • だし, dashi, the broth used for udon
  • おススメ, o-susume, "recommendation"
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